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The Secret of Gassho-style Villages: Do You Know the Relationship Between "Johana" and "Gokayama," Both Highly Praised by UNESCO?

Updated: 5 days ago

Recently, I covered the Johana Hikiyama Festival, but today, I will post about Gokayama, which I visited during that time.


The Secret of Gassho-style Villages: Do You Know the Relationship Between "Johana" and "Gokayama," Both Highly Praised by UNESCO?


Both "Johana" and "Gokayama" Praised by UNESCO


The Johana Hikiyama Festival is elegant, but the silk products supported Johana’s wealth. The raw silk, the material for these silk products, was produced by sericulture in Gokayama. In this way, Johana and Gokayama had a deep relationship. The distance between the two areas is about 14 km, roughly a 20-minute drive by car. Gokayama is part of the World Heritage site "Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama," the Johana Hikiyama Festival is registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Understandably, both are highly appreciated worldwide.


The Secret of Gassho-style Villages: Do You Know the Relationship Between "Johana" and "Gokayama," Both Highly Praised by UNESCO?

The name "Gassho-zukuri" (Gassho-style) comes from the shape of the triangular roofs that resemble hands pressed together in prayer (gassho), and the log frame structure called "gassho." The steeply sloped roofs were also designed to help shed heavy snowfall.


The Secret of Gassho-style Villages: Do You Know the Relationship Between "Johana" and "Gokayama," Both Highly Praised by UNESCO?


The Legend of the Heike Refugees in Gokayama


It is said that the Heike refugees originally settled in Gokayama. In 1183, Kiso Yoshinaka (Minamoto no Yoshinaka) fought against Taira no Koremori (grandson of Taira no Kiyomori) at the Kurikara Pass on the border between Toyama and Ishikawa Prefectures. During this battle, Kiso Yoshinaka achieved a great victory against the Heike with the famous "fire ox strategy," which is also mentioned in Japanese history textbooks. This victory is said to have significantly turned the tide in favor of the Genji (Minamoto clan) against the Heike (Taira clan). The remaining Heike forces are said to have fled to Gokayama as refugees. The "fire ox strategy" involved setting torches on the horns of oxen and driving them into the enemy camp to cause chaos.


Later, during the Nanboku-chō period (1337-1392), samurai who were loyal to the Southern Court began to live in Gokayama, starting sericulture and washi (Japanese paper) production. The Gassho-style houses, with their steeply sloped roofs, often have three stories, where sericulture and washi production took place. Contrary to their simple appearance, Gassho-style houses were functional spaces for cottage industries.


The Secret of Gassho-style Villages: Do You Know the Relationship Between "Johana" and "Gokayama," Both Highly Praised by UNESCO?


The Production of Nitrate, a Raw Material for Gunpowder


In Gokayama, a method called "cultivation method" was used to produce large amounts of nitrate from natural grass and silkworm excrement. This nitrate was a raw material for gunpowder and significantly contributed to the military strength of the Kaga Domain. It is fascinating to consider how the silkworms bred in Gokayama connected to the financial and military strength of the Kaga Domain through the sale of silk products.


The Johana Hikiyama Festival is held every May. When you visit the Johana Hikiyama Festival, it is highly recommended to also visit Gokayama and consider the deep relationship between the two. This will make for a very interesting trip.


The Secret of Gassho-style Villages: Do You Know the Relationship Between "Johana" and "Gokayama," Both Highly Praised by UNESCO?


Experience the Johana Hikiyama Festival at the Kagurazaka Street Stage O-edo Tour


Even if you can’t make it to the Johana Hikiyama Festival this year, you can enjoy the Iori-uta at the "Kagurazaka Street Stage O-edo Tour 2024" held on May 18th and 19th. In this event, musicians and singers from Johana will parade through the backstreets of Kagurazaka, performing Iori-uta and recreating the atmosphere of the Hikiyama Festival. Take this opportunity to experience the traditional culture of Johana, also known as the "Little Kyoto of Etchu." Experience the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Johana Hikiyama Festival in Kagurazaka.


Schedule


May 18 [Saturday] Venue: Starting from Bishamonten Zenkokuji Temple at 17:30

May 19 [Sunday] Venue: Starting from Bishamonten Zenkokuji Temple at 12:00 and 14:00


Access to Kagurazaka


Tokyo Metro Tozai Line: Kagurazaka Station or Iidabashi Station

Tokyo Metro Namboku Line: Iidabashi Station

Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line: Iidabashi Station

Toei Oedo Line: Ushigome-Kagurazaka Station or Iidabashi Station

JR Sobu Line: Iidabashi Station


Book Each Experience





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