The World Heritage Site, the "Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama”, located in Gifu and Toyama Prefectures, is known for its wooden houses constructed with a characteristic thatched and steeply slanted roof.
In 1995, this site met the criteria of being an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history, and was registered as a World Heritage site.
Nestled in the mountains in an area where heavy snow falls, the people residing in Shirakawa-go Village have long depended on the silkworm industry to support themselves, rather than rice cultivation.
A space behind the eaves provides good ventilation and the steep slant of the roof alleviates the build-up of heavy snow, making this a product of livelihood created through the knowledge and expertise of people.
The architecture of this roof is known as Gassho-zukuri, or prayer-hands style. It is called this because the angle of the roof resembles a pair of hands being brought together in prayer.
However, to maintain the roof, it has to be rethatched once every 30 to 40 years.
As the population of the village fell, this became an increasing burden.
Further, economic growth after the Second World War and modernization in lifestyles meant that the silkworm industry went into decline.
As a result, the Gassho-zukuri houses steadily decreased.
It prompted a group of local residents though to try and preserve these houses and landscape.
They even established a citizen charter and through their efforts, in 1976 the sites was designated as an important traditional architectural preservation area and now has resulted in being listed as a World Heritage site.
One theory for the development of this unique culture is that this area is prone to heavy snow and the village became shut off from the surrounding communities.
It was most likely this chance environment and people's efforts that led to this wondrous scenery at Shirakawa-go Village and Gokayama. .