Around 30 miles from Takayama are the villages of Shirakawa and Gokayama, set in spectacular valleys and surrounded by steep mountains. Dating from the 12th Century these villages were founded by the Taira clan who were escaping from a bitter battle with their rivals the Minamoto clan, and these remote valleys cut off by heavy snow for several months of the year were considered the ideal location.
Aside from the dramatic location, this area is most famous for the distinctive Gassho houses, often called 'hands in prayer' which refers to the steeply sloping thatched roofs. This A-frame design was to withstand the weight of heavy snow during the winter, which created an ideal environment for the cultivation of silkworms in the loft space. Several of these ancient houses have been converted into guesthouses offering simple accommodation, and it is a wonderfully romantic experience to stay overnight to experience the peace and solitude of the valleys once the crowds have left.