Ainokura & Gokayama washi

Posted on October 5, 2018 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

 

Unlike Shirakawa-go in the Gifu prefecture, the remote Gokayama region in the Toyama prefecture is exempt from big bus tourism and seems to attrach more independent travelers. Even though the two areas are both declared as UNESCO world heritage sites, they are located in two different prefectures, and I have a feeling that the Gifu tourist association has been promoting Shirakawa-go more heavily than Toyama. Even the buses to the Ainokura village are less frequent, and I was the only person who got off the bus at the stop, which was a huge contrast from the bus full of tourists all getting off at Ogimachi earlier in the morning.

After being dropped off by the road side up on a mountain, I was slightly hesitant because aside from mountains, there was no sight of the village. I followed a small path and after about 15 mins' walk, I finally saw the village down in the valley. Like Ogimachi, it snowed quite heavily a few days before, and so the grounds of the village was covered in snow.

 

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura  Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

 

Perhaps it is unfair to compare Ainokura with Ogimachi, because the two villages are quite different. However, I was relieved not to see coaches of tour groups in the rather sleepy Ainokura, which to me felt more authentic already. This quaint village is much smaller in size, and there are are not as many tourist attractions. There are 24 Gassho-style houses, including residences, temples, dojo studios, and huts. Most of them were built between the end of the Edo Era and the beginning of the Meiji Era, and many of the residences are unoccupied now.

One of the main attractions here is the wonderful Ainokukura Folklore Museum (with 2 buildings), where visitors can learn about the local culture, festivals, folk art and music. There are also some traditional musical instruments on display like the Binzasara, which is made of many pieces of wooden plates strung together with a cotton cord. There are handles at both ends, and the stack of wooden plates are played by moving them like a wave (which I got to try out later in the evening).

A walk up to the attic enables visitors to appreciate the architecture and structures of the Gassho-style farmhouses. The exhibits also reveal the locals' frugal lifestyles, yet they are compensated by the village's strong community spirit, and this collective and cooperative way of living is called yui.

 

Ainokura Folk Museum

Ainokura Folk Museum

Ainokura Folk Museum  Ainokura Folk Museum

Ainokura Folk Museum

Ainokura Folk Museum Binzasara

Ainokura Folk Museum  Ainokura Folk Museum

Ainokura Folk Museum

 

Gokayama is also famous for washi paper, which was thought to have arrived from Kyoto at the end of the Heian Period when survivors of the Taira Clan escaped to this region after their defeat by the Minamoto Clan.

There is a Washi Workshop Hall and shop in the village, where a washi paper artisan works and sells his work and other local washi paper products. The artisan also conducts short paper-making workshops daily; however, when I arrived, he was busy teaching two other travelers (who turned out to be staying at the same minshuku as me), so I missed the opportunity to do the workshop with him. Nonetheless, I did buy some beautiful and one-of-a-kind washi paper products made by him, and it felt good to meet the face of the artisan behind the products.

 

Ainokura  Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

gokayama washi

gokayama washi

Ainokura washi workshop hall

 

There are a few minshuku in the village, and I chose Minshuku Yomoshirou, which is an Gassho-style houses run by a middle-aged couple. The farmhouse is 250 years old with thatched roof, and in the middle of the house, there is a traditional irori (fireplace) where grilled food is prepared.

On the wall, there are also photos of the variety of local vegetables and herbs, as well as how the community worked together to construct or fix the thatched roofs.

 

Minshuku Yomoshirou

yomoshirou

yomoshirou Binzasara  yomoshirou

yomoshirou Binzasara

Ainokura

Ainokura

Minshuku Yomoshirou

 

Dinner was served in the living/dining area with three other guests, including a Canadian artist, an Amercian/Korean photographer (whom I had already spoken to earlier at the washi paper hall) and a young woman from Russia. We were served grilled local fish with vegetables and herbs that are picked locally – all of which were delicious.

During and after dinner, our host also performed some folk songs with local musical instruments including the Binzasara, and he made us all try it out. It was a sociable and fun evening.

We were told not to wander around outside in the evenings and early in the mornings, which we thought was rather strange – not sure if it is for safety reasons or something more sinister!

 

yomoshirou

yomoshirou

yomoshirou

yomoshirou

yomoshirou  yomoshirou

 

I enjoyed my stay at this minshuku, despite the thin paper partitions (you could hear every sound from the guests next door), shared toilets and bathroom (something you have to get used to when staying in traditional ryokans and minshukus in Japan). I felt that it offered a glimpse into the lives and cultures of the people living in the region, which I believe are slowly changing... I only wish that this village will retain its charm and not become a mass tourist attraction in the future.

 

Ainokura

gokayama

The bus hut and snowy scenery of the region

 

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This post was posted in Architecture, Travel, Paper art & craft, Traditional arts & crafts, Anything Japanese, Architectural conservation, Japan, washi paper, Folk arts & Mingei and was tagged with folk arts & craft, Architectural conservation, Japanese architecture, washi paper, Ainokura, Gokayama

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