Gokayama’s Suganuma Village Is A Hidden Gem Of Tradition And Tranquility | CoolJapan

Suganuma Village in Gokayama

Suganuma Village in Gokayama. (Photo from: Toyama Prefecture)

Picture the scene of ancient Japanese villages adorned with expansive, exaggerated rooftops, and Gifu’s Shirakawago Village instantly springs to mind. However, just 30 minutes from this renowned site bustling with tourists year-round lies a lesser-known treasure that embodies the same rustic charm and traditional allure — Suganuma Village.

Gassho-zukuri houses in Suganuma Village
Gassho-zukuri houses in Suganuma Village are covered with their distinct thatched roofs. (Photo from: Toyama Prefecture)

A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Nestled within Toyama Prefecture’s Nanto City, Suganuma Village is part of a 40-village cluster that makes up Gokayama. In 1995, Suganuma, along with its neighbour Ainokura, received the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage status. Set against a mountainous backdrop and nestled along Sho River, Suganuma Village was recognised for their gassho-zukuri houses — farmhouses with distinctive steep thatched roofs and wooden beams. These architectural feats were designed to withstand harsh winters and snowfall, evoking historical resilience.

A gassho-zukuri house in Suganuma Village

A gassho-zukuri house in Suganuma Village accompanied by a cherry blossom tree. (Photo from: Toyama Prefecture)

Year-round appeal and tradition in adaptation

Suganuma Village houses nine gassho-zukuri buildings, all meticulously preserved and repurposed into establishments like restaurants, minshuku (Japanese bed and breakfasts),and museums that exhibit the region’s daily life and its industries of washi paper and saltpetre production.

Suganuma Village appeals to visitors regardless of season. In summer, visitors can bask in the picturesque mountain scenery and admire the rustic beauty of the gassho-zukuri houses. In winter, Suganuma Village captivates with pristine white snow covering the rooftops. The site becomes a magical spectacle, with the village hosting illuminations that cast an enchanting glow during winter, lasting until early spring.

Suganuma Village in winter with illuminations

Suganuma Village in winter with illuminations. (Photo from: Toyama Prefecture)

A unique Airbnb experience

Suganuma Village recently made headlines through its collaboration with Airbnb. The experience, which happened from 17 to 19 July 2023, provided a unique chance for guests to stay overnight at this World Heritage Site. The site is one of the historical homes in the village that belong to fifth-generation locals, the Nakashima family.

During the stay, guests enjoyed a traditional welcome tea and savoured local dishes, including Gokayama tofu, mountain vegetables, and fresh river fish, prepared by none other than Mr. Nakashima himself. These guests also learnt about enduring local traditions, like crafting washi paper from native fibres and creating sasara, a traditional instrument featured in a regional folk song. An evening light show was also enjoyed by visitors, where traditional homes glowed magically. Local songs and dances complemented this event.

The guests were also encouraged to participate in a hands-on workshop crafting symbolic thatched roofs using gassho-zukuri techniques.

Finally, to promote immersion in nature without the distraction of technology, the guests were given a ‘Disconnect to Connect’ kit, which included traditional washi paper stationery, an instant camera, and local aromatherapy.

Access to Gokayama's Suganuma Village

Even without the good fortune to experience traditional Japanese accommodations like the ones that the Nakashima family provided, travellers can still enjoy the charms of Suganuma Village on a day trip. A bus ride from Shin-Takaoka station takes approximately 80 minutes to get to the village. In comparison, a journey on buses that connect Shirakawago and Suganuma Village takes around 30 minutes.