Gasshō-zukuri means “praying hands”, because the sixty-degree slope of the thatched gable roofs is said to recall two hands joined in prayer. The sharp angle is a way of coping with the heavy snowfall in this area and the size of the houses is the result of generations of the same family living together. The upper storeys of the home were used for industries such as making gunpowder and cultivating silkworms. The thatched roofs – often with a surface area of around six hundred square metres – are made of susuki grass, native to the northern part of the Hida region (wooden shingles were used in the south), and have to be replaced every 25 to 35 years.
Since it can cost ¥20 million to rethatch an entire roof, many of the houses fell into disrepair until the government stepped in with grants in 1976, which enabled the locals to keep up their house-building traditions. The local preservation society decides which buildings are most in need of repair each year and helps organize the yui, a two-hundred-strong team who work together to rethatch a roof in just one day. Despite these initiatives, however, there are now fewer than two hundred examples of gasshō-zukuri houses left in the Hida region.