It's speculated that the Shirakawa-go area—and particularly Ogi-machi, an Edo-period hamlet deep within—was originally populated by survivors of the powerful Taira family, who were nearly killed off in the 12th century by the rival Genji family. The majority of the residents living here still inhabit gassho-zukuri houses. Their shape and materials enable the houses to withstand the heavy regional snow, and in summer the straw keeps the houses cool. Household activities center on the irori (open hearth), which sends smoke up through the timbers and thatch roof. Meats and fish are preserved (usually on a metal shelf suspended above the hearth) by the ascending smoke, which also prevents insects and vermin from taking up residence in the straw.
Shirakawa-go makes for a good day trip from Kanazawa or Takayama, or as a stop on the way to either. Several of the old houses are now minshuku, making Ogi-machi village a relaxing place to stay overnight.