The plan was to drive from Shirakawago back towards Takayama, bypassing it and taking route 158 deeper into the mountains to Okuhida where we would spend the night. We thought we’d finish most of the sights in Ogimachi by 10am giving us plenty of time to drive to Okuhida and then spend some time in Yarimikan, known as one of Japan’s secret onsen ryokans.

But we were wrong.

The morning swept by as we climbed ladders, bumped heads against trussed up beams, imbibed hot green tea by an irori, witnessed a thatching and spotted fish in the streams. Here’s a pictorial summary:

clouds hang low over Ogimachi in the early morning

breakfast well-spent as we huffed and puffed uphill to the village's lookout point

melting snow in a rice field

the Wada house

the Nagase house

If you think these houses with the pitched roofs don’t have much room – you’d be wrong. Some, like the Nagase house, which belonged to the village doctor, stand at five stories high. The headspace gets narrower the higher you go and the inclines are steep but the view from the top sweep over the village and the mountains beyond. Lovely. In some way, the scene and the structure reminded me of Swiss chalets!

strong knees needed for the vertical clamber

Both the Wada house and the Nagase house are among the largest gassho houses in the village and reflect the prosperity of its owners.

Inside, you’d find blackened beams, with no two identical, trussed together with rope to make a soaring steeple blanketed by a unique hollow-stemmed grass called kariyasu packed densely together. But because it is not easy to grow kariyasu these days, pampas grass is used instead. In Magoemon, we noticed that the roof was made of kariyasu, so this must have lasted for several decades already.

The thatching of the gassho houses usually takes place in spring and is known to be a village affair. We were lucky to see a thatching exercise going on at Myozenji temple. Thanks to technology and modern machinery, fewer men are required for the job. But while not as labour-intensive as the old way, it was no less interesting.

Ogimachi is a pretty place. Like a beauty queen, she is all smiles and great angles – practically every corner was a photo op. In the melting snowy puddles, against a blue sky, it was already picturesque. One can only imagine how much prettier she would get in the height of summer when the white of the fields now turn to lush bright green.

Waterways line the town. Back home we call them longkangs or drains. But these are too pretty to be called longkangs. Clear running waters flow through these. In them, dark grey rainbow trout remain still against the current. I wonder why. Do trout hibernate? A bit silly to be so still, when anyone could so easily just scoop them out like that for a trout dinner.

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