The great American poet Robert Frost once wrote:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
I don’t know if Mr. Frost ever made it to Japan, but I’m sure he would’ve been searching for the harder to find scenic spots in a country rich with things to see and do. Speaking for myself, whenever I go anywhere, I want to feel like I’m experiencing something different; something new. Sometimes tourist attractions and crowds of people can get too much. For those of you looking to find that road “less traveled by” in Japan, fear not! As ever, JAPANiCAN has the answer!
Located in a rural region of Nanto City, Toyama Prefecture, the Gokayama area has been awarded the prestigious title of UNESCO World Heritage Site. Very much off the beaten track, Gokayama has maintained and preserved its ancient aesthetics and also a way of life. Some of the homesteads in the region date back 300 years and still hold onto the aura of a different era. Famed for the distinctive thatched-roof houses that dot the valley, this style of housing is known as gassho-zukuri. Looking like a fusion of a traditional European thatched roof, coupled with the sharp triangular shape of a mountain chalet roof, gassho-zukuri take their name from their resemblance to 2 hands clasped in prayer.
The traditional houses really are beautiful, and the area offers scenes that conjure up a sense of being in a Japan of old. Fortunately for intrepid travelers, a few of these gassho-zukuri houses are open for guests to stay, offering a chance to experience a traditional culture and way of life that has been carried out in this area for centuries. Here are 3 traditional houses offering accommodation in the gassho-zukuri town of Ainokura.
The word minshuku literally means “people’s inn”, and the Gassho Minshuku Nakaya has been serving the people of Japan as a place to rest their heads for around 350 years. The owners pride themselves on their home-cooked kaiseki-ryori cuisine, comprised of the traditional Japanese ingredients, with the delightful inclusion freshly caught fish from the river; cooked over the open fire in the middle of the room. Guests take their meals seated around the fire – which makes for a great chance to sit, relax and have a chat about local life in this picturesque town.
With 4 rooms and a maximum capacity of 15 people at one time, Yomoshiro is the archetypal gassho-zukuri house. As you can see from the photo below, Gokayama gets a fair amount of snow in the winter. The owners must climb on the roof and sweep the snow off. Also, once every 10 years or so, the roof undergoes repair to keep it in tip-top condition. The Yomoshiro serves a dinner of freshly caught river fish, grilled on the hearth, so guests will have the opportunity to listen to stories of local life in this rural hamlet.
The Minshuku Goyomon has 4 guest rooms and can entertain a maximum of 20 people at one time. It has free parking with spaces for 4 cars. Whilst the house has its own bath, there is also a local onsen just 10 minutes away by car. The owners of Goyomon will give entrance tickets to the onsen to guests. Check in is from 14:00, while check out is before 11:00.
Enjoy a lovely meal around the hearth, relax and feel, first-hand the ancient way of life in Gokayama. Experience fresh char, cooked on the open fire, in all seasons except Summer. Choyomon has a lovely sense of friendliness and community, and you are guaranteed to meet some colorful locals in this warm and accommodating environment.
Situated nearby to both Gokayama and Shirakawago – this onsen is in the prime location for those wishing to explore the gassho-zukuri villages. Featuring natural hot springs and delicious local food. Relax and feel at home while enjoying beautiful mountain views in a picturesque setting.