Gokayama consists of two historic villages of gassho-zukuri farm houses in the Nanto district in the very south of Toyama Prefecture: Suganuma and the nearby hamlet of Ainokura.
Gokayama, like Ogimachi village in Shirakawa-go, 15km to the south in Gifu Prefecture is a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its many thatched A-frame buildings, built in a style of rustic architecture known as gassho-zukuri ("praying hands").
Gokayama and nearby Ainokura, 10km further down the road, can both be easily reached in a day or half-day trip from Kanazawa, Takaoka or Toyama to the north or from Takayama to the south. A rental car is probably the easiest way to tour this remote area of rural Japan, though it is possible by rather infrequent buses.
This area of Japan, according to legend, was one of the places the defeated Taira (Heike) clan fled to after their defeat at the hands of the Minamoto (Genji) clan at the Battle of Dannoura (1185) off the coast of Shimonoseki. Gokanosho in Kyushu is another such Taira bolt hole.
Suganuma lies 15km north of Ogimachi in a beautiful location near a bend in the Sho River surrounded by hills.
The village consists of 14 gassho-zukuri farmhouses with the oldest dating back to 1830's during the late Edo Period. The newer farmhouses date from around 1925. The village also has a small Shinto shrine, Jishu Jinja.
Although Suganuma is the smallest of the three gassho-zukuri villages it has two museums: Gokayama Minzoku-kan (Tel: 0763 67 3652; admission 210 yen), which has displays of local folk crafts and Ensho no Yakata (Tel: 0763 67 3662; admission 210 yen), which has displays of the secret gunpowder production that took place here. A joint admission ticket for the two museums costs 300 yen.
From the car park (500 yen) you can walk down to the village or take an elevator to the bottom of the steep slope.
Close to the actual village, a few modern gassho-zukuri have been made as a camp for visiting groups of school children to experience something of the life in these rugged mountain villages.
Nearby Kaminashi has a very old gassho-zukuri farmhouse dating from 1578, the Murakami-ke.
Ainokura, 4km north of Kaminashi and 10km north of Suganuma, is another extremely beautifully located village with 23 gassho-zukuri farmhouses and a small shrine and temple. The village has stone walls and small copses of trees to help protect the vegetable patches and other cultivated areas from the heavy winter snow of the region.
Ainokura has a folk museum the Ainokura Minzoku-kan (Tel: 0763 66 2732; admission 200 yen) dedicated to the area's hand-made washi paper production and local toys. A number of the houses also serve as souvenir shops selling local arts and crafts such as hand-made woodcarvings, straw sandals, baskets and brushes.
The gassho-zukuri farmhouses in the Gokayama district have slightly steeper roofs than those in Shirakawa-go as the snow is heavier in this region.
The Gokayama district is known for its folk songs that have been passed down orally for generations. Both locations are at their best in spring for the cherry blossoms and in fall for the autumn colors.
Gokayama Tourist Information Center
Gokayama Branch, Nanto City Tourism Association
754 Kaminashi, Nanto, Toyama 939-1914
All the villages offer a variety of minshuku lodgings where it is possible to spend the night in a tradition gassho-zukuri farmhouse, complete with sleeping in a futon on a tatami-mat floor and dining around an open fireplace or irori. Charges include breakfast and evening meal.
In Ainokura accommodation options include Yusuke (Tel: 0763 66 2555), Minshuku Goyomon (Tel: 0763 66 2154), Nakaya (Tel: 0763 66 2457), and Yomoshiro (Tel: 0763 66 2377). There is also a camp site here for tents.
There is also minshuku accommodation in Suganuma and Kaminashi including Gorobei Minshuku (Tel: 0763 67 3502) and the Hobikiso Lodge (Tel: 0763 67 3725) in Suganuma and Minshuku Mataemon (Tel: 0763 66 2222) and Minshuku Kitabura (Tel: 0763 66 2321) in Kaminashi.
Access - how to get to Gokayama
Nohi Bus has services to both Takayama and Kanazawa which are more regular from April to November. There are also buses to Nagoya Meitetsu Bus Station (3 hours, 30 minutes) to Shirakawa-go with a regular service April to November and at weekends at other times.
Buses from Kanazawa leave for Suganuma at 8.40am, 9.05am, 10.50am, 1.25pm, 2.40pm and 4pm. The journey takes 1 hour and 15 minutes. Nohi Bus offers a daily bus tour to Shirakawa-go from Takayama with an English-speaking guide leaving Takayama Bus Terminal at 8.30am and returning to Takayama at 3.10pm (6,690 yen for adults).
From Takayama there are buses to Shirakawa-go at 7.50am, 8.50am, 9.50am, 10.50am, 11.25am, 11.50am, 12.50pm, 1.50pm, 2.50pm and 4.30pm. The journey takes 50 minutes. Buses from Shirakawa-go to Suganuma and on to Kanazawa leave at 10.25am, 10.50am, 3.20pm and 4.25pm. The journey takes 25 minutes.
There are two buses from Nagoya Meitetsu Bus Center at Nagoya Meitetsu Station to Shirakawa-go at 9am and 11am. The 9am bus calls at Gujo Hachiman on the way and arrives at 11.53am. The 11am bus arrives in Shirakawa-go at 1.31pm. Return buses from Shirakawa-go to Nagoya leave at 3pm and 4pm. The fare is 3,600 yen (2014).
From Gero Station in Gero Onsen there is one bus a day to Shirakawa-go leaving at 9.30am and arriving at 11.40am (3,090 yen one way). The return bus leaves Shirakawa-go at 1.15pm arriving back in Gero at 3.40pm.
There are also Kaetsuno buses to Ainokura, Suganuma and Shirakawa-go from Johana Station on the Johana Line from Takaoka. Buses leave Johana Station at 7.10am, 9.05am, 10.25am, 11.55am, 1.55pm and 4.55pm. Buses from Takaoka Station via Shin-Takaoka Station (on the Hokuriku Shinkansen) to Johana Station leave Takaoka Station at 8.10am, 9.30am, 11am, 1pm and 4pm.
Kaetsunou Bus timetable
By car, exit the Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway at the Gokamachi I.C and take National Highway 156.
Book Hotel Accommodation in Toyama & Gokamachi
Hotels in Nagoya - Booking.com
Hotels in Sakae - Booking.com
Hotels in Aichi Prefecture - Booking.com
Hotels in Hamamatsu - Booking.com
Hotels in Toyota - Booking.com
Hotels in Nagoya - Agoda
Hotels in Hamamatsu - Agoda
Hotels in Gifu - Agoda
Hotels in Mie - Agoda
Hotels in Toyota - Agoda
Budget Hotels in Nagoya - Booking.com