Designated a World Heritage Site in 1995, the picturesque villages of the Shirakawa-gō (白川郷) and Gokayama (五箇山) areas, northwest of Takayama, were among the many fabled bolt holes of the Taira clan after their defeat at the battle of Dannoura. Until the mid-twentieth century, these communities, with their distinctive, thatched A-frame houses, were almost entirely cut off from fast-modernizing Japan. The damming of the Shō-kawa in the 1960s, together with the drift of population away from the countryside, threatened the survival of this rare form of architecture called gasshō-zukuri. In 1971, local residents began a preservation movement, which has been so successful that the trio of villages – Ogimachi in Gifu-ken, and Suganuma and Ainokura in neighbouring Toyama-ken – is now in danger of being swamped by visitors. It is still worth braving the crowds to see these remarkable thatched buildings, in idyllic valleys surrounded by forests and mountains, but to feel the full magic of the places, arrange to stay overnight in a minshuku in a gasshō-zukuri house.

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