Can Shirakawa-go survive from over-tourism?

Posted on October 3, 2018 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

Breathtaking scenery from the bus journey

 

Over-tourism is now a global problem, and it becomes more problematic when a historic and tranquil village is suddenly listed as an Unesco World Heritage Site. While many governments endeavour to get their country's famous sightseeing sites listed in order to generate tourism and income, they are also putting these sites at risk of over-tourism and environmental issues. Unfortunately, the remote mountain village in Gifu prefecture, Shirakawa-go, has been suffering from these problems since it (along with its neighbouring Gokayama) was declared as Unesco World Heritage Site in 1995. Around 1,700,000 people visit this small village each year, and it is continuing to grow; it is hard to imagine how it can withstand the impact and maintain its traditional way of life in the future.

 

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

 

When I was doing my research before my trip, I read from many forums that the area's tranquil ambience has been spoiled by numerous big bus tour groups that on average spend less than a two hours there daily. After reading many negative comments online, I decided to spend the night at the less crowded neighbouring village instead, but I still wanted to see for myself the appeal of this area.

Due to the remote and mountainous location, only buses or cars can reach these villages. Since I had already forwarded my luggage to Kanazawa, I was able to travel with a rucksack which made life much easier. During the bus journey towards the village, I was utterly captivated by the beautiful mountain scenery outside of the window. And later I learned that there was a big snowfall only a few days ago, hence there was still snow on the ground when I arrived.

 

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

 

Located on the Sho-kawa River, Ogimachi is the largest village in the region with a population of 1700 people, and it is home to several dozen well preserved thatched A-framed gassho-zukuri (constructed like praying hands) farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. Due to the construction of the Miboro Dam over the Shokawa River in the 1960s, many of the nearby villages were flooded and the gassho farmhouses were moved to Ogimachi's Open air museum for preservation, while others were relocated to the Gassho Village in Gero Onsen.

The structures of these farmhouses are unique to this region, and they are designed to withstand the harsh winters and heavy snow. Aside from the architecture, its folk culture and lifestyles are also quite distinct.

 

shirakawa-go Gohei Mochi  shirakawa-go Gohei Mochi

Gohei Mochi is the region's well-loved snack made of grilled sticky rice covered with a layer of walnut-miso coating and then regrilled

 

shirakawa-go  shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go  shirakawa-go

 

Each year, Shirkawa-go hosts a winter light-up event on selected Sunday and Monday evenings in January and February, and in 2017, over 40000 people visited during the event over six days. Overwhelmed by its popularity and the problems caused, the Tourist Association had to introduce a new system to limit visitor numbers during the light-up events by requiring advance reservations. But is this enough to combat the long-term problems caused by mass tourism?

During my visit, I noticed that there were coaches of tourists flocking in and out of the village in no time; I think they probably spend about an hour in the village for some photo opportunities. Apparently, the village is much quieter in the evenings since these tour groups do not stay in the village overnight.

 

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

 

It is understandable why this the idyllic village would attract so many tourists, but I cannot imagine this is sustainable in the long-term. I did not encounter one tourist when I visited the Jin Homura Art Museum showcasing art works by the the painter, Jin Homura, who used to live in this house. I am not sure how much income these tourists are bringing to the village if they only spend so little time here.

 

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

shirakawa-go

Top: The open air museum; Bottom two rows: Jin Homura Art Museum

 

After a visit to the art museum, I had some freshly made soba noodles at the moderately-priced and casual Soba Wakimoto located inside a large gasso house. But due to the restricted bus timetable, I had to leave after lunch in order to catch the bus to the nearby and even more remote Ainokura, where I will be spending the night in a traditional minshuku.

I don't think the problem of over-tourism can be solved overnight, but I hope that local Tourist Associations can find a balance so that these picturesque and important villages will not be destroyed in the years to come.

 

shirakawa-go Soba Wakimoto

shirakawa-go Soba Wakimoto

shirakawa-go Soba Wakimoto

Soba Wakimoto

 


This post was posted in Architecture, Travel, Nature, Social issues, Anything Japanese, Architectural conservation, Japan, Mass tourism and was tagged with nature, Japan, Architectural conservation, Japanese architecture, mass tourism, Shirakawa-go

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