Ainokura: A tranquil village in the Toyama mountains
Ainokura (相倉集落 Ainokura Shuraku) is a little-known hamlet hidden away between the mountains of Toyama Prefecture’s (富山県 Toyama-ken) Gokayama (五箇山) region. Ainokura is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its thatched-roof homes and temples built in the Gassho-zukuri (合掌造り) style, which is similar to Gifu Prefecture’s Shirakawago (白川郷) Village for the same style of well-preserved architecture. However, unlike Shirakawago, Ainokura is a bit more remote and therefore, not overrun with tourists—making it the perfect place to get away from the crowds and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the Toyama countryside.
An inn set deep among the trees (top) and the Yusuke Inn (bottom). (Image credit: photoAC)
Ainokura is arguably the most authentic hamlet of the several Gassho-zukuri style villages scattered across Gifu and Toyama areas, for nearly all of the 20 houses that make up the hamlet are still maintained as private residences by the 40-some villagers living there. Among these residences, eight of them operate as minshuku (民宿), or Japanese style guesthouses, where you can stay and enjoy the historical and traditional ambience. The structures are very rustic with strong oak beams, tatami mat floors, irori (囲炉裏) fireplaces, and of course the thatched roofs above. Most of the buildings are around 100–200 years old but at least one dates as far back as 400 years ago to the Edo Period (1603–1867, 江戸時代 Edo-jidai).
A gassho-zukuri residence. (Image credit: photoAC)
Despite the isolation of the hamlet, there are things to do here to pass the time besides admiring the tranquillity of the natural scenery. Ainokura is known for its washi (和紙) papermaking—some say the craft was brought from Kyoto hundreds of years ago. There are workshops here teaching the craft for those interested as well as shops that sell the beautiful paper to take home as souvenirs.
A traditional sasara instrument. (Image credit: Jason7825)
Traditional culture is well-preserved in Ainokura. The sasara (ささら), which is a sort of clapper instrument, is unique to the region as are the folk dances and music which can be enjoyed at during the Kokoriko Festival (こきりこ祭り Kokoriko Matsuri), held annually on 25–26 September. The sasara are popular souvenirs as well!
If you want to enjoy the peace and quiet of traditional Japan in the remote Toyama countryside, then the Ainokura Hamlet is the perfect location.
From JR Toyama Station (富山駅 Toyama Eki), it’s approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes. Take the Ainokaze Toyama Railway Line (あいの風とやま鉄道 Ainokaze Toyama Tetsudō) to Takaoka Station (高岡駅 Takaoka Eki). Here, change to the Sekai Isan Bus (世界遺産バス) bound for Shirakawago (白川郷) and descend at Ainokuraguchi Bus Stop (相倉口バス停). There are five buses a day which leave irregularly every couple of hours.
Where to stay
There are eight inns in Ainokura offering traditional lodging. Reservations can be made through the Gokayama Official Travel Guide which has instructions on reserving with the inns.
Header image credit: photoAC