there are two small villages in gokayama (五箇山) named ainokura (相倉) and suganuma (菅沼). both villages are UNESCO world heritage sites for the same reasons as shirakawa-go (白川郷), the houses’ unique architecture called gassho zukuri. there are 20 such houses in ainokura and only nine in the tiny village of suganuma, the oldest of which dates back 1830.
this architectural style is called gassho zukuri (合掌造り) and serves the purpose of shedding and supporting the immense weight caused by the over 4 meters (13 feet) of snowfall averaged in this area of japan. seeking to preserve its unique architecture called gassho zukuri (合掌造り), the villages of ogimachi (荻町) in shirakawa-go, and ainokura (相倉) and suganuma (菅沼) in gokayama (五箇山) were inscribed into the UNESCO world heritage list in 1995.
every few decades the thatched roofs must be replaced and the whole village pitches in to help their neighbors. the villagers have purposely staggered the timing so that only a couple of houses need such work done each year.
the best village and the most accessible is easily ogimachi in shirakawa-go, but if you have a rental car then you can make your way to these other two villages, which are near by. take your time walking through both villages for some up-close photos of the houses, but also make your way to the surrounding hills for great views of the entire village. in suganuma take the elevator up to the parking lot overseeing the village (if you didn’t park there). you will have a nice view of the tiny village and the river that runs through town.
in ainokura you can walk up to the hill behind the village. look for the signs or take one of the available tourist maps. there are a couple of benches there so take your lunch and enjoy the view while you satisfy your hunger. ;) ainokura is on a high plateau surrounded by large mountains, so it looks very different than the other two villages. parking at both villages is 500 yen.
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