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House of Straw and Paper in Gokayama

Have you ever seen Japanese animation, which describes life situation of traditional Japanese people? Shows Japanese traditional houses with sliding door covered by washi paper and enormously thick thatched on the roof. In some part, you can sometimes view the rice paddy fields and peasant couple living under the hut built around it.

Last week, we had opportunity to visited Gokayama where many Gashoo style houses were built. Since 1995, UNESCO designated Gokayama along with Shirakawa-Go as a cultural heritage sites and as examples of traditional human indigenous knowledge.  This village also represents traditional human settlement as well as social life that adapted with the environment and nature[1]. As written above, the Gashoo style roof is a traditional technique to craft roof from thatch that is enormously thick (almost 1 meter of thickness) and mostly forming an ‘A’ shape. According to our guide, this style of roofs main function is to absorb the heat from sunlight in the daytime and distribute it to the interior at night.

In addition to see Gashoo-style houses, we tried to make Japanese traditional paper (washi), unfortunately we could not accomplish the whole processes (because it was only for short experiencing), and after few minutes the paper was finished, it was very fast. This paper was often used as a cover for doors or windows; however, Japanese also use this paper as a media for writing or sketching. Sometimes we can find new functions such as cardholders, wallets, or stationeries. Maeda-san (the craftsman) said, a long time ago, farmers could not cultivate the rice paddy field in the winter; therefore they made washi in the winter. In this modern era, only a few people are living in this village, which means few people farming and owning rice paddy, as well as making washi. Nearby the washi workshops, there are folklore and traditional industrial tools museums. We could see several kind of farming tools, interior goods and watch the videos explaining history of this village. Some of the tools that were exhibited were from the people who live around the area and visitors were able to touch and play with traditional music instruments. This experience will leave wonderful impressions about this village for visitors.

All in all, preserving cultural heritage sites is not merely to maintain tangible objects (e.g buildings, farming tools, etc), but also to activate the space along with living creatures inside. This washi paper making experience in this village is gaining number of visitors as well as keeping the skills of washi making through generation to generation. Indeed, tourism activities are an option to empower the village, however, community and government should to find another way as a backup if the tourism is no longer a trend in the future.(Prananda Luffiansyah)