Preserved as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the quiet Japanese villages of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama are a beautiful example of the gasshō-zukuri, or “prayer-hands construction,” historic building design. Originally developed to support silk production in the 17th Century, the villages are the only example of Gassho-zukuri construction in all of Japan. The strong, sustainable homes were built with a direct relationship to the land, each having a steeply slanted thatched roof to help the snow slide off. UNESCO describes the villages as “outstanding examples of a traditional way of life perfectly adapted to the environment and people’s social and economic circumstances.”
As the villages are surrounded by dense forest area, these structures have been specifically designed to withstand the extremities of the region, the shape of the roofs helping to shed heavy snowfall. The upper stories of the slanted thatched roof were traditionally set aside for sericulture.
Dependent on the silk industry along with nitrate production, the villages have survived on local production throughout unstable social and economic circumstances. They continue to be incredible examples of how design can be perfectly adapted to suit the surrounding environment and a community’s needs.
Images courtesy of Kiyo Photography