September 20, 2022
TOYAMA — How would you like to live in a UNESCO World Heritage site?
Earlier this month, residents of the Ainokura Gassho-zukuri village in Nanto, Toyama Prefecture, began seeking tenant applications from families for a roughly 100-year-old vacant house in the village. The villagers have helped each other to protect the traditional houses and maintain their community, such as by cutting the grass, however, the village is in need of new residents as its population has been declining and aging, they said.
The house for which new residents are being sought is not a gassho-zukuri style house with a large thatched roof, but a two-story wooden home built in 1924 with a tiled roof and a total floor space of about 200 square meters. The city government, which owns the house, will install air conditioning, screen windows and other features before renting it out for ¥10,475 a month.
Ainokura village is situated in an area where snowfall can reach 3 meters in winter. Twenty of the 35 houses in the village were built during the Edo period (1603-1867) in the gassho-zukuri style, which is designed to withstand snow.
In 1995, the entire village was designated as a World Heritage site. Among the 20 houses, nine are being used as residences and mimpaku inns, while 11 others have been turned into facilities such as a museum and a workshop for making washi paper.
The village’s population has been shrinking, with the figure falling below 100 in the 1970s from more than 300 in the Meiji era (1868-1912). Currently, the village has 51 residents across 17 households, and six houses are vacant. The villagers decided to seek new residents as they thought the best way to manage these vacant houses would be to have people live in them. In 2012, they sought applications for new residents for the first time, and as a result, a family relocated from Ibaraki Prefecture.
As a general rule, new residents must be families willing to participate in local events, such as spring festivals, mowing and community gatherings, and cooperate in preserving the village’s buildings.
Those who want to apply need to fill out their name and reason for relocating to the village on an application form and mail it to the World Heritage Ainokura Gassho Village Preservation Foundation. The form is available on the foundation’s website and must arrive by Nov. 1. The new residents will be selected in February next year after the screening of documents, visits by the applicants and firsthand interactions with the villagers.