Gokayama is an area within the city of Nanto in the Toyama Prefecture in Japan. The area became a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1995. At this village, the thatched-roof houses are precious examples of what towns and villages used to look like in Japan. In Gokayama, there are 23 thatched-roof houses in Ainokura and 9 in Suganuma. Many of the houses are one hundred to two hundred years old, some of the oldest houses were built four hundred years ago.
The houses have a robust structure that can endure harsh climates because this is a region with deep snow. Ainokura and Suganuma are nationally designated historic sites so the buildings there are protected as well. There is a population of about eighty people.
There are two main villages in the area, Ainokura is one of them. It is a World Heritage Site with 23 thatched roof houses still standing. The village has created a nostalgic scenery for visitors, the village looks just like it did the first day with farm lands, stone walls, and snow break forests. In the area, there is the Ainokura Folklore Museum, thatched roof style inns, and souvenir shops. You can experience the way people used to live back then, talk with the local people, and learn their way of life.
The other main village is Suganuma, it became a historic site in 1970, plus the preservation of historic buildings in 1996, and it became a World Heritage Site in 1995. Suganuma is a smaller village with only nine thatched roof houses. Everything there is preserved as much as possible so that visitors can experience the local history and traditions. There is the Gokayama Folklore Museum and Gokayama Ensho no Yakata (gunpowder museum) to learn even more history.
#1. Gokayama Tofu
Photo Credit: Toukou Sousui 淙穂鶫箜@flickr.com
The tofu from Gokayama is known for being very stiff. The tofu is made from locally grown soy beans and crystal clear water. Using a special technique that has been passed down for generations, the tofu has a signature flavor. There are hands-on experiences to make the tofu such as soybean grinding, soy milk tasting, and tofu tasting.
Photo Credit: Yuya Tamai@Flickr.com
Iwana or the whitespotted char, is an East Asian trout. Within the species some are landlocked and some are in the ocean. The landlocked ones grow to 14 inches and they prefer low-temperature streams. The ocean fish can grow up to two feet long.
Photo Credit: [puamelia]@flickr.com
Tochimochi is a sweet from the Jomon period, it is made with tochi berries. This confectionery was made in an area where rice was hardly cultivated. This mochi is made by steaming the rice and tochi berries together. The berries are originally hard, so when steamed the hardness of berries is removed. The berries are quite sour so it can be a turn-off for some people, but the flavor is rich and delicate.
Things To Do
#1. Washi Paper Making
At the Shosoin Treasure House, learn how to make Washi paper, this is a time-honored position in Gokayama. This is a nationally-designated traditional craft, the paper is made with only mulberry fibers. The paper has a very smooth texture and the products are widely used by artists and calligraphers. This is a craft that has been handed down generations. There is a wide variety of products such as calligraphy paper, paper for sliding doors, letter paper, envelopes, notebooks, fancy cardboard squares New Year’s gift envelopes, paper goods, and paper strings. Visitors can make their own paper at the workshop.
#2. Make a Sasara Used for Kokiriko
Kokiriko is an ancient dance and musical performance that is said to have started around an agricultural event in 645 AD. In Kokiriko, dancers play a percussion instruments called “sasara”. The traditional dance has attracted many people, the instrument is made from bamboo. Visitors can make their own sasara at Kokiriko Mingei. It takes 108 pieces of cypress to make one.
#3. Ensho no Yakata
Photo Credit: info-toyama.com
Ensho no Yukata is a museum all about the manufacturing of ensho, an ingredient of black gunpowder. The gunpowder was a large industry in the Kaga Domain in the Edo period.
Stay in traditional thatched-roof house at Gokayama. The roofs are steeply slanting, it is that said that the hands resemble two hands joined together in prayer. The house are built very strong to withstand the weight of the region’s weather because there is heavy snow fall in the winter.
There is a limit of ten people to a house and only one group can stay per night. Experience what it’s like being in a traditional Japanese thatched-roof house, it will surely be an unforgettable experience. Enjoyed a hand cooked meal made with local ingredients while sitting around a fireplace.
#1. Red Turnip
Photo Credit: shokoren-toyama.or.jp
In Gokayama, pickled red turnips are preserved food for the winter. All ages love the color and taste of the turnips, this would be a great souvenir for those who love vegetables. These turnips go well with rice and sake. The pickled turnips are packaged and for sale at the souvenir shops at Gokayama.
Photo Credit : ag-link.jp
Myoga is a deciduous herbaceous perennial native to Japan, China, and the southern part of Korea. The flower buds are edible, the shoots are used in cooking. The flower buds are finely cut-up and uses as a garnish for miso soup, sunomomo, and other dishes.
#3. Gokayama Tofu
Photo Credit: nanto-yui.jp
Gokayama tofu is made with crystal-clear water and locally grown soybeans. It is famous for the stiffness, it is so stiff that you can wrap a straw rope around it and it won’t break. The tofu is good as sashimi tofu, baked, or in miso soup. This is an unusual souvenir.