Gassho zukuri: Wave of Foreign Travelers to Rustic Village of Aikura
Gong of a temple built more than 400 years ago notifies the small village of Aikura it is 7:30. “It is the gong of morning service. It is quite useful to us villagers because it lets us know what time it is,” comments an okaa-san, or “mother”, of a minshuku, or a Japanese guesthouse.
The village of Aikura is part of the World Heritage, preserving what is known as the gassho zukuri style house which its body is made of wood and roof out of layers of straws supported by timber columns and beams. Gassho means “hands together” like the shape of the rooftop.
The okaa-san of a gassho zukuri Japanese guesthouse explains that all except one family has been living in the same land passed down from ancestors for hundred, two hundred years. With the wave of inbound travelers seeking a very Japanese experience, what looks like a rustic, ancient guesthouse is going through transformation also. For foreign travelers, she endeavors to communicate in English, setting up a homepage in English, and preparing Wi-fi.
Despite being stationed all day in this small village up on a high mountain, she speaks about different ethnicity and their character, as though she has seen and traveled through different countries. “During [spring to autumn], there are many travelers from America and Europe. Most people traveling in the winter are from South-East Asia. Why? Because they want to see snow!” “Travelers from Europe, like Finland and Italy, have their own sense of time. I would prepare dinner, but when I realize, they take a walk around the village and come back at a random time. Asian travelers, like those from Taiwan, travel in small groups and are very lively.”
Although this okaa-san does not have any time to travel around the world nor can she speak perfect English, she communicates with her heart and feels the international environment she is in from a small, hidden village of Aikura.