Most people travel to the popular Shirakawago for one thing – the gassho houses. However, can we let you in on a little secret? The Gokayama Ainokura Village is actually home to more than 20 traditional gassho homes that you can experience without the crowds.
For those of you who are unsure of what gassho houses are, they are essentially very traditional looking thatched-roof Japanese homes. The architecture and structure of gassho houses are one of the most unique, and cannot be found in many regions around Japan, thus the congregation of tourists to this central area.
On the outside, gassho houses feature steep-looking thatched wooden roofs that look like two hands placed together with palms facing upward. The word ‘gassho’ actually means to join one’s hands in prayer, so this is actually very fitting.
Gokayama Ainokura is a UNESCO world heritage site, along with Suganuma and Ogimachi also located in Gokayama. However, the latter are more developed and easier to get to, thus Ainokura is relatively quieter, attracts less tourists, and generally has a more peaceful and serene vibe.
If you’re planning a trip to Shirakawago, we recommend looking into Gokayama Ainokura as a day trip instead, or even an overnight trip and stay at one of their farmhouses, as you will get the same, if not more, beautiful traditional sights and experiences.
How To Get To Gokayama Ainokura
There are a few options to get to Gokayama Ainokura, however the frequency is low, so you should plan your itinerary accordingly. From Ogimachi in Shirakawago, you can hop on a bus which will stop at Ainokura-guchi bus stop. It will take 45-minutes and cost 1,300 yen. Check out the timetable here.
If you have a rental car, you can take the National Route 156 and reach Ainokura from Ogimachi in 45-minutes.
If you’d really like to remove the hassle of getting to and from, then we recommend booking this Gokayama tour through Klook. With this activity, you completely remove the responsibility of getting to and from, and simply relax on the tour bus as it takes you to some of the prettiest gassho house sights, including Gokayama Ainokura village as well as Shirakawago. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time for you to explore on your own, and lunch is also included! The departure place is Takayama Nohi Bus Station.
If you’re interested, check out the tour here.
Where To Stay In Gokayama Ainokura
Guesthouse in Gokayama Ainokura – Minshuku Goyomon
This gassho-style accommodation is actually 200 years old, and it lies right in the middle of Ainokura Village, so if you’re after the full-circle experience, you need to stay here! From the outside, the only way to describe this place would be historic. However, the interior and all the amenities and features of this place are surprisingly abundant and not lacking at all.
The well-sized guest rooms feature tatami flooring, Japanese futon bedding, and sliding washi paper doors. There is a cosy dining area where you can enjoy a Japanese meal onsite, otherwise there are cafes located nearby for you to walk to if you’d like. It’s located only a 15-minute drive from the Gokayama Onsen hot springs, and 40-minutes from Shirakawago.
Guest Tips: If you’re after a true escape into the mountainous region of Japan, this place is a must. There really are no crowds at any given time, and you are free to do as you please when you’re not being served up delicious seasonal meals by the host.
Book It Now: Minshuku Goyomon
Guesthouse Gokayama Ainokura – Guest House Takazuri-KITA
For a clean and comfortable stay in a humble guesthouse that looks fairly modern but has the feel of a warm traditional home, Takazuri-KITA, located just 15-minutes away from Gokayama Ainokura is where it’s at. This lovely guest house is run by a cheerful husband and wife team, and features an onsite bar, well-maintained garden, free Wi-Fi, and super spacious and cosy lounge. It is kept very clean and a continental breakfast is served.
Guest Tips: One of the best things to do here is head outside in the middle of the night for some star gazing. It’s definitely a highlight! With no light pollution for miles, you’ll be able to witness millions of twinkling lights in the sky.
Book It Now: Guest House Takazuri-KITA
The Best Things To Do In Gokayama Ainokura
- Visit the Ainokura Folk Museum
- Witness the Light Up Displays During the Year
- Get the Best View at Ainokura Observatory
- Washi Workshop Hall
Visit the Ainokura Folk Museum
The Ainokura Folk Museum is made up of two gassho houses, both of which highlight the history and culture of the Ainokura Village and Gokayama District. The nice touch of using historic gassho houses means guests not only get to learn about interesting Japanese facts, but they get to do so within a historic structure – very unique!
Here, you can expect to be able to learn about the daily lives of those living in the Gokayama Ainokura region during the Edo Period. Given the basic lifestyles back then and harsh winter conditions, you can imagine that it was a challenge. You’ll also be able to witness original washi paper production, which is a specialty of this region.
- Address: 204-2 Ainokura, Nanto, Toyama 939-1915, Japan
- Access: From the Ainokura-gushi bus stop, it is a 3-minute walk.
- Hours: 8:30am – 5:00pm
- Price: 500 yen
Witness the Light Up Displays During the Year
Light up illuminations are incredibly wholesome in Japan. In almost every city, throughout the entire year, they’re proudly showing off their amazing talents for setting up amazing light shows, and the seasonal Gokayama Ainokura light displays are no different.
During every season (March, May, September, and November), the village is beautifully illuminated at night. All the gassho houses are lit up and look incredibly charming and breathtaking. During these illumination displays in September, you will actually get to witness local performances of old folk songs and dancing as well. In March, as it’s just after winter, ‘kamakura’ (snow igloos) are built with the remaining snow and candles and lights are placed inside them, making the village quite a delight to photograph at night.
During the March, May, and September events, the light up displays begin at 9:00pm, and in November, they begin at 8:00pm.
Get the Best View at Ainokura Observatory
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What is a visit to a gorgeous sight without viewing it from an observation deck? The viewpoint of Ainokura is actually one of the better observation decks, as it allows you a full view of the quaint village below as opposed to showing you other sights. It’s very easy to get to (only a 5 to 10-minute walk up a relatively mountain path). This view is worth seeing during any time of the year, but if you happen to be going in winter, the snow-capped roofs of the gassho houses and mountains in the distance in conjunction with the snow-blanketed pathways of the village is simply mesmerising.
Access: From the information building at the parking lot, you will need to walk past some fields and end up at a small road along the hill, which you will need to walk up for a few minutes until you get to the observation deck. Depending on how fast or leisurely you walk, it can take between 5 to 10 minutes.
Washi Workshop Hall
Did you know that, aside from the gorgeous gassho houses, Gokayama, especially the towns in and around Ainokura, is known for its washi paper? According to the legends, the technique of creating washi paper was brought over by the Taira Clan during the end of the Heian Period (back in the 700s), and its craftsmanship is still being practiced today.
The Washi Paper Workshop Hall acts as a shop/workshop where you can watch a display of washi paper being made by an artisan right before your eyes, as well as try your hand at making some traditional Japanese washi paper yourself. If you do head here, make sure you buy some one-of-a-kind washi paper as a souvenir and show some support for the local community.
- Address: 835 Ainokura, Nanto, Toyama 939-1915, Japan
- Access: From Ainokura-guchi, it is only a few minute’s walk.
- Hours: 8:15am – 5:00pm
- Price: 700 yen (if you want to participate in the washi-making activity.
As you can see, whilst Gokayama Ainokura’s neighbour Shirakawago may take the spotlight in this area (and some might say rightfully so, as it is stunningly beautiful), it doesn’t deter from the fact that Ainokura offers just as much beauty, traditional, history, and culture to the everyday tourist. Its sheer charisma lays in its ability to retain its much loved and revered nostalgic look and atmosphere throughout the village. If you’re the type to deter from large crowds, we suggest at least a one-day trip to experience the quiet charm of Gokayama Ainokura.
And before to leave this beautiful area, feel free to also visit the beautiful city of Toyama!