Thursday, April 3, 2008
day 95 - Ainokura grass houses
After a very early start from Nagano, we climbed the mountains above the snow line to Naoetsu, rewarded with spectacular views of snow-capped alps from the train window. Along the coast, then from Takaoka by a very long local bus to Ainokura Valley to see the famous Gassho-Zukuri houses.
Resembling praying hands, these grass-thatched houses evolved over hundreds of years in geographic isolation and hardship. The local villagers developed the perfect architectural form using local materials to build houses which shed the vast amounts of annual snow and provide space for living, storage, breeding silk worms, making washi paper and developing folk arts in the long winter months. The houses here were awarded UN World Heritage status in 1995 and we had the privilege of staying in one (The Yomoshiro Inn) overnight.
Our delightful host Noriko prepared wonderful meals for us, including koi sashimi, Iwana (a small trout-like river fish) grilled at the irori (hearth), tempura ferns and local vegetables. This was accompanied by a sake we'd brought with us and chilled pre-dinner in a bank of snow next to the house!
After dinner, despite Noriko's limited English and our limited Japanese, we talked about our families, the history of the houses and Noriko even showed and played traditional instruments and sang a folk song for us.