By Justin Dart
The Wada Family had been one of the leading families of the village from generation to generation. Some parts of the Wada House are open to the public today, and we can see a little of what their lives were like in the old days.
Since 1573, the head of the Wada Family had passed down the name of “Yoemon” therefore protecting the family lineage. Short of land for cultivation in Shirakawa-go, people worked on sericulture in addition to growing rice and vegetables. Lots of workers were necessary for this silkworm business, and kids were engaged in the work from a young age. Only the first son could marry and inherit the family estate. Other children, who were born out of wedlock, were raised in their mother’s house. The Wada's had a big family and that was the base of their home business.
In addition, people secretly produced gunpowder and sold them to feudal clans. Shirakawa-go was an isolated spot located in a deep mountain area. The Wada family kept the rights for this gunpowder commerce and did well with this business, as well.
The Gassho-zukuri (thatched roof houses in Shirakawa-go) are reasonable and functional. They people made gunpowder under the floor, lived on the first floor, and kept silkworms on the upper floors. Within the living space, they had a traditional-style fireplace. The fire for cooking made the house warm, and made the building stronger. The angled roof is good for heavy snow, and also good for collecting sunshine because of its wide surface. The roof itself is quite simple. It is made of logs that are tied together with vines of trees. So, shaking from storms or earthquakes doesn’t come down to the pillars and the base. The house protects itself!
By the way, the thatched roof needs to be repaired after winter, although a total re-thatching should be done every 30-50 years. The partial repair is usually done in spring. The Wada’s storehouse contains various farm tools and dry grass for the restoration of the roof.
Shirakawa-go Video Series:
- Walking around Shirakawa-go: Refreshed by a variety of sounds of nature
- Unique Experience in Shirakawa-go: Enjoy traditional Japanese life at “Magoemon” Inn
- Shirakawa-go’S Yamamoto-ya: Restaurant in spring and summer, guesthouse in winter
- Wada House, Biggest in Shirakawa-go: A glimpse at village life in the old days
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Japan is a small island nation, but we have a huge number of surprising things to discover here. Many of these delights can be found when you step off the main street onto small side paths. I really enjoy studying about and researching various aspects of traditional Japanese culture, and then sharing this information with visitors to Japan. I hope you will enjoy it, too! ARTICLE INDEX & PHOTOS: An index of most of my Japan Travel articles can be found at the entry page of my blog, and my photos are shown here. 日本はとても小さな国ですが、大通りから一本小道に入ればたくさんの発見があります。日本人が積み重ねてきた歴史を学びながら、古い建物や庭を訪ね、物語の舞台となった景色を眺めて、皆様といっしょに日本文化の奥深さを探求していきたいと思います。