Sunday, January 15, 2012

World Heritage Part 3: Suganuma & Ainokura

This is the Part 3 of my World Heritage series and in this episode, I will introduce you to two more World Heritage sites next to Shirakawago. They are located in another prefecture, the Toyama Prefecture while Shirakawago is located in the Gifu Prefecture. Although located in different prefecture, they are just 30 minutes drive away from each other. The two world heritage sites are Suganuma and Ainokura, both located in a place called Gokayama and therefore, some called them the Gokayama World Heritage sites.

You can access Part 1 and Part 2 of my World Heritage series by click on the link below:

World Heritage: Suganuma of Gokayama
World Heritage: Ainokura of Gokayama

Gokayama world heritage sites are more difficult to access and therefore they are a lot more quiet than Ogimachi of Shirakawago, which is often swamped by tourist around the world. However, it is still possible to access these two sites with advanced planning and research. The two world heritage sites in Gokayama are smaller compared to Ogimachi. Read on for information about accessing these two sites.

From Ogimachi of Shirakawago, it takes about 30 minutes riding the Kaetsuno Bus to Suganuma. Kaetsuno Bus is the only bus company that operates between the three world heritage sites. So unless you are driving, you will have to take this bus to get to all three world heritage sites. And note that the bus only make four (4) trips a day between these sites, so make sure you don't miss the bus you're planning to get on or you will be in big trouble. Click on here to access Kaetsuno Bus time table in English and here for Kaetsuno Bus official website time table but in Japanese only. However, if you can understand or recognize Chinese/Kanji characters, below are the translation for the stops that you need to get on and off:

Ogimachi Gassho-zukuri Area Bus Stop = 荻町合掌集落
Suganuma = 菅沼
Ainokura = 相倉口

It cost 840 yen one way for a ride from Ogimachi to Suganuma and 1250 yen one way from Ogimachi to Ainokura. From Suganuma to Ainokura, it cost 560 yen one way.

Suganuma, 菅沼

Suganuma Village

Suganuma is made up of two different areas namely Suganuma Village and the Gokayama Gassho no Sato area. Both are connected by a tunnel and it takes about 5 to 10 minutes walk from one area to the other.

It is the Suganuma Village with nine of it's Gassho-zukuri farmhouses that were declared UNESCO World Heritage together with Ogimachi and Ainokura in year 1995. Some of the farmhouses are converted to restaurants, minshuku and museums.

Gassho-zukuri farmhouses in Suganuma Village

Quiet Suganuma Village with lesser tourist compared to Ogimachi

Gassho-zukuri farmhouses of Suganuma

Across the tunnel with an elevator to access the car park is the Gokayama Gassho no Sato. Here you can find some traditional farmhouses which were relocated from some other areas in order to protect them from destruction. However, no one lives in these farmhouses anymore and they are used by school groups who will overnight here to experience the Gokayama traditional life style.

Gassho-zukuri farmhouse in Gokayama Gassho no Sato

A farmhouse in Gokayama Gassho no Sato

Farmhouses in Gokayama Gassho no Sato

A farmhouse in Gokayama Gassho no Sato

One can have the bird's eye view of Suganuma village from along the road from Ogimachi to Suganuma. One can either walk up to the road from the Suganuma village main entrance or can walk down along the road from the car park area which can be accessed by using the elevator in the tunnel. However, during my visit, the elevator was closed and therefore I have to walk up the road from the main entrance to Suganuma Village.

Ainokura, 相倉

Ainokura is the largest village in the Gokayama region. Although not as large as Ogimachi, it consist of about 20 farmhouses and is a secondary Gassho-zukuri farmhouse accommodation choice for many who failed to reserve a place to stay at Ogimachi.

There is a lookout point for the view of the entire village at a hill just behind the Tourist Information counter at the main entrance car park area. The trail to the lookout point takes about 10-15 minutes hike (during the snowy and slippery season) although the sign only says 5 minutes. I spent my evening at the look out point taking pictures of the beautiful Ainokura village during sunset and after sunset. It was very cold up there.

A farmhouse in Ainokura

A farmhouse in Ainokura

A man clearing up the snow accumulated on the roof of the farmhouse

Tough work. Look at the thickness of the snow!!

Sunset in Ainokura

Evening in Ainokura (when the lights are on)

An evening in the beautiful Ainokura

Ainokura at night

Gassho-zukuri farmhouse at night in Ainokura

My trip to this place was a last minute call and as expected, I couldn't find a Gassho-zukuri farmhouse to stay in. However, I was lucky enough to get a place to stay in a local minshuku in Kaimugura, a place between Ainokura and Suganuma. The minshuku is called Yoshinoya, just in case you can't find a place to stay too, you can try this place. The rooms are all in Japanese style with tatami mat and the bathrooms are shared (they are very clean). There is a hot spring like bathroom where you will be taking your bath. The stay was very unique and was an unforgettable experience for me as I celebrated my 2012 new year in this Minshuku. Let me share the photos of the room.

Japanese style room in Yoshinoya Minshuku

Japanese style room

A personal tea area

This concludes the last part of my Shirakawago and Gokayama World Heritage series. I hope you enjoyed all of the articles and pictures, and also find the information shared beneficial. 

You can access Part 1 and Part 2 of my World Heritage series by click on the link below:

I would love to hear your comment in the comment section. Feel free to share this article with your friends and family.

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