Unique accommodation plan will make you feel like you’ve stepped into the world of Studio Ghibli. 

Japan’s Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are famous for their beautifully preserved, culturally important traditional buildings, which have earned them UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

The thatched-roof buildings are known as “gassho” or “gassho-zukuri“, as their triangular frames resemble “gassho” (hands pressed together in prayer). Thousands of tourists from around the world make the trip to see them, but now there’s an opportunity for one lucky person and their guest to actually stay in one of these buildings through accommodation booking site Airbnbfor free.

We had no idea a plan like this was being offered, until our reporter Mari Morimoto was invited on a press tour of Gokayama, located in Nanto City, Toyama Prefecture. Gokayama is home to two gassho villages: Ainokura and Suganuma, and Mari was able to visit both of them to find out exactly what’s being offered on this Airbnb plan.

The Airbnb listing includes a stay at a 170-year-old gassho house in Gokayama as part of an experience-based plan that introduces you to the work of replacing thatched roofs and local crafts such as washi (Japanese paper) making.

▼ When Mari got out of her car at Gokayama, she felt like she’d stepped into the world of Studio Ghibli.

There are 20 gassho-zukuri houses in Gokayama’s Ainokura Village and nine in Suganuma Village, the latter of which is where the Airbnb lodging is located.

Image: Satoshi Nagare

The building houses a restaurant called Gorobei on the ground floor, which is run by Mr Nakajima, the fifth generation head of the restaurant who lives there with his family.

▼ One of the rooms in the house (pictured below) is set up for guests to stay.

Image: Satoshi Nagare

Image: Satoshi Nagare

The previous owner ran a guest house here so the building is well set up to receive overnight guests. It is the first time in several decades that Suganuma village has received overnight guests so this accommodation plan is a big deal for the tiny nine-home village.

The lucky guests who secure their stay here will be able to experience the life and traditions of Gokayama while dining on local cuisine and enjoying the beauty of nature that surrounds the village. One of the activities is assisting with roof replacement work, which is offered under the guidance of an experienced craftsman.

Mari (pictured below right) was able to get up on the roof of one of the buildings in the village, and seeing the thatching up close while learning about the techniques and materials used, and even assisting with the work, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience she’ll cherish forever.

After trying her hand at thatching, Mari was introduced to the sasara, a traditional instrument played by dancers as they dance to the “Kokiriko Bushi”, a local folk song that’s believed to be the oldest folk song in Japan.

▼ It’s meant to be as simple as holding both ends and snapping your wrists back and forth in time with the music, but it’s harder than it looks!

▼ The locals have a wealth of knowledge to share, and are on hand to teach you how to make a sasara…

▼ …and traditional Japanese paper, which is used on screen doors in houses in the area.

Mr Nakajima’s main business is a restaurant so you can expect some fantastic meals during your stay. Mari was able to feast on local cuisine such as locally caught char, mountain vegetables, and Gokayama tofu, which were all absolutely delicious.

During the press tour, Mari ate at the restaurant but overnight guests will eat around the hearth, with Mr Nakajima personally cooking for you. Mari says one of the highlights of the meal was the Gokayama tofu, which is known for being so firm it can hold its shape, even when picked up with chopsticks.

▼ And, of course, the sake was particularly delicious.

The plan also includes a guided electric bicycle tour, which will take you past mountain streams and fields of flowers, allowing you to breathe in the fresh mountain air.

Mari was guided to a spot on the opposite bank of the river, where there was a beautiful view of Suganuma village.

It was such an idyllic sight that Mari almost felt the need to pinch herself to check she wasn’t dreaming. Whoever gets to stay here on the free accommodation plan, which is only available to one group of two guests as a one-off three-day, two-night stay from 17-19 July, is in for an absolute dream holiday.

Despite the very limited nature of the offer, Airbnb says this isn’t a contest, and anyone who’s interested can try their hand at making a reservation online when reservations open at 9 a.m. JST on 30 June.

So if you’re interested in trying your luck, be sure to have your finger poised and ready to hit that reservation button when it appears at the end of the June. While you’ll have to cover your transportation to Suganuma Village, it’s the first time in decades that the village is allowing guests to stay so it’ll definitely be an experience to remember.

Related: Airbnb , Gorobei
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