What is Gassho-Zukuri?
One of the top things to do in Japan is to spend a night at a Gassho-Zukuri. Gassho-Zukuri are traditional Japanese farmhouses that date back more than 200 years ago. The name Gassho-Zukuri means “constructed like hands in prayer”. (Info source: Japan-guide.com)
A key feature of the houses is the triangular roof which gave this type of houses the name Gassho-Zukuri because the roof resemble palms placed together and fingers pointing upward in prayer. (Info source: JNTO)
No nails or other metal materials are used in the construction of this unique roofs.
The most famous village in Japan for visiting Gassho-Zukuri is Shirakawa-Go, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But probably due to its UNESCO World Heritage status, an overnight stay at one of the farmhouses at Shirakawa-Go is extremely hard to book.
So in this post, I am going to share with you a Gassho-Zukuri that you can easily book from HomeAway. This Gassho-Zukuri is not located at Shirakawa-Go, but in the Kyoto Prefecture. Which makes it an easy side-trip if you have an extra day or two in Kyoto!
Our Gassho-Zukuri Stay
A Gassho-Zukuri stay is something that has been on my bucket list for a long time. However, I have never been to Shirakawa-Go. The closest I have been was to Hida Folk Village at Takayama back in Dec 2007. But that was like a theme attraction, you can’t stay there.
During our self-drive trip to Kyoto last December, I was surfing for vacation homes in Kyoto on Homeaway when I spotted this “Japan Nature Traditional Living“. Without hesitation, I contacted the host Hideo, chatted with him a bit and confirmed my stay with them.
This particular Gassho-Zukuri was Hideo’s family home. It was essentially the house he grew up in. Right now, Hideo stays in the house right next to the Gassho-Zukuri. On the day of check-in, we arrived in our rental car and Hideo was waiting for us there.
The entrance to the house was not unlike the Japan traditional house we stayed at in Central Kyoto prior to this. But once we entered, we were welcomed by the irori (open fireplace) that was a typical feature of a Gassho-Zukuri.
The house was pretty huge with many rooms, and it took us quite some time to orientate ourselves. We started with the kitchen which was right next to the entrance. It was old-school but functional.
With more than enough utensils!
Next to the kitchen was the dining room.
With the help of Hideo and his family, we mananged to put together a superb sukiyaki meal for one of our dinners. It was one of the best meal we had the entire trip!
Hideo drove us to the local supermarket and helped us pick out the ingredients required for a sukiyaki. The beef at the local supermarket was so CHEAP!! That gigantic plate of wagyu beef only cost 2000+ yen. In Singapore, a fraction of that would easily cost SGD70 from Isetan. I was ecstatic over the cheap beef. Like omg, I’m so auntie!
When we returned, Hideo’s wife set up the pot for us. They even gave us some cabbage from their own farm! A homestay experience really doesn’t get much better than this.
The main bedroom was very homely with proper beds and furnishing that made me feel like I have stepped into a time machine to my childhood days.
As I mentioned, this was Hideo’s family home where generations of kids grew up in. So there were random toys, CDs and DVDs hanging around the room that we were free to use.
Next, we explored the sitting room which was very traditional.
I had to take some time to admire the design on the sliding door and all the traditional Japanese items around the room.
We went to another room which had a bathroom and toilet. While the whole house was very traditional, the toilet and bathroom have been refurbished with modern sanitation.
It was hard to miss the Japanese folding divider in the room that Hideo said has been passed down for generations. It was painted with REAL GOLD. Imagine that!
All around the house, we found random objects that you wouldn’t typically find in a vacation home. Because this was the family home of Hideo, it housed all their collections that have been accumulated over 6 generations.
And we came to the most exciting part of a Gassho-Zukuri – the attic!
So up the stairs we went! And since this is a parenting blog, I feel obliged to warn you of the safety hazard here. At the attic, the railing doesn’t go around the whole opening for the stairs.
Please DO NOT allow your young kids to go near the edges without railing because it is going to be a really hard fall all the way down to the first floor. Monitor your kids at all times and don’t let them go up to the attic alone.
The attic was a mix of modern and tradition. The furnishing and lighting were surprisingly modern. Yet over our heads hung an architecture that dated back more than 200 years.
The kids had a lot of fun exploring the attic. We would probably have slept here – if not for the fact that it was winter and the attic was freezing cold!
So we just hung around for a while, while I took the opportunity to observe the knots that held the Gassho-Zukuri together.
After exploring the interior of the house, we checked out the exterior. Since this was a farmhouse, there was a small farm where Hideo’s family grew their own vegetables. This is where the cabbage for our sukiyaki came from.
There was a little balcony with table and chairs were we could chill and relax.
Cannot resist inserting one more photo of MY sitting there. It’s just so cute to see him in a hundred year old house!
How would you like to brew a cup of hot green tea and sit here looking out at the Japanese garden?
The house was located in a rural part of Kyoto prefecture. I heard from Hideo that we were a rare breed of travellers who arrived in our own rental car. Most of his guests took the train to the nearest train station where Hideo would pick them up from. Subsequently, they would join his day trips.
Hideo grew up here and knows the region very well. You would not go wrong joining him on his day tours. However, since we had a our own rental car, Hideo was very kind in suggesting to us places we could visit. For example, he recommended us to visit the ‘Venice of Japan’ Ine – a town we would never have found on our own.
When he learned that we love seafood, he recommended us to visit the market at Wakasa Obama which was SO GOOD!
And if you would like to explore more Gassho-Zukuri, pay a visit to Kayabuki No Sato nearby.
When we were there, the area opposite the house was undergoing some renovation. I checked with Hideo and he said they were building a cafe!
And mind you, Hideo and his friends were building the cafe with their own hands. It was not like they hired some contractor to do it. Hideo said that they were hoping to get it ready by Spring this year.
Speaking of Spring, that is a cherry blossom tree right next to the future cafe. Hideo said he wanted his guests to be able to sit back, relax, have a drink while gazing up at the cherry blossom tree.
So if you are heading to Kyoto this Spring, get off the beaten track and plan a stay with Hideo at this unique Gassho-Zukuri!
Our Host – Hideo
This is Hideo. As you can see, he is very handsome. (I promised him I would say this in my reviews.)
Hideo is a true adventurer and loves meeting people – which makes him the perfect host. He speaks fluent English and has been to many parts of the world before, so it would be very easy to strike a conversation with him, no matter where you are from.
I have been to Japan more than 10 times, and staying at Hideo’s home was one of the most unique and memorable experience I have had to date. I would gladly strike off staying in a Gassho-Zukuri at Shirakawa-Go from my bucket list in exchange for this. Hideo and his family were such great hosts and we got a true taste of what living in a Gassho-Zukuri was like. The house was unpretentious and filled with history and culture, and it didn’t feel touristy at all.
However, it is important to point out that the house gets very cold in winter. Hideo warned us about it before we made the booking. There were a few heaters but given the size of the house, there was a limit to how large an area the heater could heat up. The room we slept in was well-heated, but the rest of the house like the bathroom and toilet were very cold.
Hence, I recommend staying here in Spring through Autumn if you are afraid of the cold. If you have plans to visit Kyoto, put aside an extra two days for this Gassho-Zukuri stay. You will not regret it.
To reserve this apartment, visit this page and click ‘Contact Host’.
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Read about how we spent our time while staying at this apartment:
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