airport_transferbarbathtubbusiness_facilitieschild_activitieschildcareconnecting_roomcribsfree_wifigymhot_tubinternetkitchennon_smokingpetpoolresturantski_in_outski_shuttleski_storagesmoking_areaspastar
Sign In
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Save to wishlist

Hands in Prayer: The Gasshou Zukuri of the Edo Era

Picture of Alicia Joy
Tokyo Writer
Updated: 6 December 2017
Japan’s famous Shirakawa-go, a small traditional village in Gifu Prefecture, contains some of the best known examples of gasshou (literally ‘praying hands’) architecture, so named because of their sharply steep roofs clasped together like two hands in prayer.
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip

The gasshou zukuri, or simply gasshou, are a type of minka, a general term used during the Edo Era to refer to any house belonging to the non-samurai classes. Gasshou usually applies to the farmhouses built in this style, but other structures not intended for living quarters may be built in the style too. The earliest examples are dated to the 17th century and are associated with the picturesque villages of Gifu Prefecture, like Shirakawa and Gokayama.

Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip

It was thought that the steep roofs provided practical protection against snowy weather, but it turns out there’s another reason for it. The spacious area under the roof was perfect for raising silkworms, and multiple slatted lofts were installed just for this purpose. The silkworm argument is further supported by the fact that re-thatching the enormous roof is an extremely labor-intensive process, requiring much more time, money and effort than it would to keep snow off a more modest roof.

Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip

Some gasshou zukuri may have had an additional loft for sleeping, but for the most part living quarters were located on the lowest floor, bungalow style. This is all the more impressive considering it was common for large extended families to live together in one unit. In some cases, as many as 30 people lived there together. Most gasshou-style farmhouses are now considered Important Cultural Properties, and some of the villages where they are found, like Shirakawa, have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sights.

Shirakawa, Ono District, Gifu Prefecture, Japan

Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip
Shirakawa-gō Village, Japan | Mithila Jariwala / © Culture Trip