Wouldn’t you like to live here? I don’t know whose house this is but I sure wish it were mine! Imagine this in summer when the fields are green and the doors thrown open, a light breeze wafting through the house? I don’t know if the owners would do this but I certainly would.

This is a house in Ainokura, a gassho zukuri village classified as one of the World Heritage Sites in the area. Most guidebooks gush over Ainokura, said to be the prettiest of the gassho villages.

From Shirakawago, we drove 50 minutes along route 158 deeper into the countryside to Ainokura. The scenery enroute was beautiful. We passed deep gorges, emerald lakes, rainbow-coloured bridges and always the brown hills flecked with snow.

This bridge spans the Shogawa river which is the border between Gifu and Toyama prefecture. There are seven distinctive bridges, the Hietsu Nanakyo bridges, all painted in different shades of the rainbow which are part of the Toyama Panoramic Route.

Set up in a hill and away from the looping riverbanks far below, it would be quite a hike up to Ainokura from the bus-stop if you don’t drive. For us, it was easy to drive up and just park in the visitors’ carpark. The fact there parking is well-regulated with a TI and gift shop at the entrance clearly show that tourism as an industry has clearly arrived.

Still, Ainokura is small and charming. We wandered round the tiny hamlet which was relatively free of tourists. Practically every building here – homes, minshuku, the general store, temples – has a thatched roof characteristic of the gassho zukuri style.

We especially liked the simple Shounen temple set on a knoll above the village which looked like it was undergoing some restoration work. Loved the stripped bare wood and the carved details:


In one of the small folk museums which used to be a gassho zukuri farmhouse, there is a small collection of farm instruments, old clothes and this unique musical instrument that looked like an accordian made of wood. The cheery lady manning the ticket booth offered to show us how it was used so we were treated to a performance of a folk song accompanied by this. She made it look easier than it really was though!

We were allowed to go up to the second level via a steep ladder which gave us our first look at how these gassho houses were constructed. It really looks like beams, rope, thatch and nothing else!

I also liked the tiny storehouse made of thatch. Something the big bad wolf might have blown down?

You could cover Ainokura on foot in less than an hour if you zip through everything but it was a place worth wandering around in. Just respect the signs for privacy here. The place may be a living museum but it was still first and foremost a living, working village.

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