Gokayama, Toyama Prefecture


Toyama Prefecture, just north of Gifu Prefecture, records the third highest snowfall in the world. (First and second places also fall in Japan coincidentally). Accumulating sometimes up to 2 metres of snow, it is indeed no coincidence that I couldn’t help coming back to this snow country, and I will come back for more next time! 😉

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Gokayama was a last minute, impromptu addition to our itinerary. I’m so glad I did not miss it. Truth is, I’ve never heard of this place until I arrived at the Gifu Prefecture. It is not a popular tourist destination at all, even though it carries the same World Heritage title, contrary to the popular Shirakawago which flocks with tourists on the main streets.

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They hour-long journey from Shirakawago to Gokayama itself was a visual feast, white snowy rugged mountainous backdrop against the contrasting emerald green Sho-gawa River snaking below the expressway makes for the picture perfect postcard material. Just the 2 of us in the bus, the driver even told me to sit on the left side so he could stop about 5 seconds on his tight schedule for me to take a picture of Suganuma village from the viewpoint, haha! How kind of him. 😀

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Suganuma was the first village we arrived on the route. It was so quiet here you could almost hear the snowflakes landing on the rooftops of the gassho houses. Such a vast difference from the tourist trap in Shirakawago. A traditional mountain village settlement with only 9 gassho houses, a big gassho camp site (Gassho no Sato), a very modern elevator and tunnel walkway, and a Tourist Information Centre manned by an old guy who speaks no English.

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The second stop at Gokayama. This somewhat one-street little town is not a World Heritage Site, but surprisingly, is the central point of Gokayama, where the only official Gokayama Tourist Information is housed, and the oldest gassho-zukuri house in Gokayama, Murakami-ke is located, as well as a tiny but historical Banishment Hut Rukeigoya (Edo Period Jail). It is also known as the hometown of the Kokiriko, the oldest folksong and folk dance in Japan, and its musical instrument sasara is sold here. This is also the place where you can sample the famous Gokayama tofu.

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A total of 20 gassho houses and 80 residents, Ainokura is the most remote village settlement of Gokayama, and also the most pristine, quiet, peaceful and most importantly, furthest away from all the mainstream tourists. 😀 Located deep in the mountains, I often wondered how these villages were accessed before the expressways and tunnels were built across and within mountains. It must have taken weeks if not months to commute by traditional means of transport in the 17th century.

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I have never seen so much snow in my life! But then again, I came from a tropical country, so what if I’m a mountain turtle (Chinese slang for ignorance). 😉 I was exhilarated that it was snowing rather heavily on the second day of our visit to this very quiet and picturesque village partially buried in snow taller than myself.

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The path to the observatory was an interesting attraction by itself. All you see is a white wash all around. The snow was so thick that the path created by the snow ploughs formed a somewhat snow maze all the way up to the observatory. Covered by the thick whiteness of snow, we didn’t realise that they were actually big rice fields all around us, until we looked at the map.

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It was so amazing, to climb up the hill in between the snowy rice fields, while enjoying the beautiful view of the little village below it every step of the way. I felt like I was inside a pretty gigantic snow globe. 😀

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Walking each step on the white thick powdery snow, watching my boots sink completely into the white, then hearing the soft crunch beneath the feet as the snow flakes crunched under my weight…… I don’t need any fancy place with lots of attractions for a holiday, just a simple walk on snow in a quiet village makes me very happy indeed. I could do this all day long. Or all 10 days of my trip. 😀 So you wonder why I needed 2 days in Ainokura when other tourists could do it in an hour. For the love of snow. 😉

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Snow was accumulating fast on the ground, on the rooftops and on me, with every minute of heavy snowfall. I looked up and smiled at the beautiful sky, welcoming the snowflakes landing onto my face and mouth, tasting them. Mmmm….yummy….! 😀  Seems like the snow globe has just been shook rigorously by some giant invisible hand holding it. I felt like I’ve stumbled upon a shining jewel hidden by the depth of the mountains. 🙂

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Waiting by the bus stop for 5 minutes turned me into an instant snowman. Hehe. 😉

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Picture perfect postcard of Ainokura village from the viewpoint. It seems like a scene only found in fairy tale story books. I feel contented to be here…. 🙂 🙂 🙂


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