Photo/Illutration ‘Gassho-zukuri’ steep thatched-roof houses in Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage site (Kazuhiro Nagashima)

SHIRAKAWA, Gifu Prefecture--Villagers in this renowned UNESCO World Heritage site came together to re-thatch the roof of a multitiered house here for the first time in five years on May 13.

The traditional re-thatching of the roof of a “gassho-zukuri” structure was undertaken by a mutual assistance group formed by local residents called “Yui,” which has helped preserve the settlement and plays a vital role in the re-thatching of roofs.

Around 150 villagers threw themselves into the effort.

According to the Shirakawa village board of education, this was the first re-thatching in Shirakawa-go in five years.

Work on May 13 involved climbing the steep roof of the living quarters at Myozenji temple, which was built in the latter half of the Edo Period (1603-1867), to lay down the thatch. The roof had not been re-thatched in 36 years.

Craftsmen began working from late April to remove the old roof. About 9,000 bundles of thatch were prepared for the work on the roof by local residents who climbed on top of the 15-meter-high structure. Even village children got in the act, helping to transport the thatch for placement on the roof.

The lack of thatch and the novel coronavirus pandemic pushed back the rethatching work by the Yui.

An education board official said while craftsmen could be asked to do all the rethatching work, having the Yui do it was one way of having younger members of the group learn about how the work progresses as well as heighten awareness among residents about the importance of preserving the landscape and passing down time-honored traditions.