Unique Gasshō-zukuri Farmhouses are a Japanese National Treasure
An historically significant style of farmhouse built in Japan hundreds of years ago the Gasshō-zukuri style farmhouse is unique in both its design and focused location.
Found only in villages in the mountainous Chubu region of Japan, they are considered an innovative architectural device developed by ordinary Japanese people for adapting to life in incredibly harsh conditions. With their steeply pitched thatched roofs, they are uniquely suited to deal with the severe winter conditions of this area, allowing the heavy snows to slid off the homes easily and prevent the house from being crushed.
Because of their rarity and distinctiveness, the remaining Gasshō-zukuri houses in Chubu region have been designated World Heritage Sites.
Now only a few
In terms of historic architecture, the Gasshō-style farmhouse is also significant because of its rarity.
Once there were over 1,800 of these houses in over 90 villages, but now only about 150 remain, most of which are located in the three historic villages of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama, which are registered on UNESCO's World Heritage list. Ogimachi village is the biggest of the villages with fifty nine gasshō-zukuri houses, followed by Ainokura, which has twenty gasshō-zukuri houses and Suganuma, which is the smallest village and has only nine gasshō-zukuri houses.
Once difficult to access, improvements have made to make travel to these areas somewhat easier, however, heavy snowfalls in winter, with yearly accumulations in excess of twelve feet, continue to keep the area isolated to a degree.
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A Gasshō-zurika house is considered a minka, or hand-built farmhouse, with a thatched roof and held together entirely by wooden pegs, joinery, and rope. No nails or screws are used in the construction at all.
Farmers could not afford to import anything expensive or difficult to come by, so cheap and readily available materials were used in the construction of Gasshō-style houses. Inside the structure, there were usually three or four levels with room for large extended families to live together and still provide plenty of work space for a variety of industries, such as raising silkworms. Living in an area that to this day is still 96% mountain woodlands with little agricultural opportunities, these houses lent themselves to a variety of work that provided important sources of income to the families that lived there.
The thatched roof of a Gasshō-zurika house will last between 30-40 years. When it needs to be replaced hundreds of villagers will gather to work together and in about 2 days can complete an average house.
Owning, restoring and living in a Japanese farmhouse
Fifty years ago, journalist John Roderick bought a dilapidated Japanese farmhouse for $14 and began a journey of discovery of Japanese architecture, culture, and family. It is a lively, entertaining and engaging story of restoration, and of falling in love with a home, and a people.
Also available in a Kindle version