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#35 Shirakawago in the Japanese Alps

Japan is littered with historic cities, towns and villages lost in time, home to architectural styles that could only be from this furthest east of Asian countries. But Shirakawago on first view, looks more like a fairytale town from a Disney movie than anything Japanese.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Shogawa river valley, nestled between a dramatic and hard to reach mountain landscape, the roofs of the houses in the village, known as “gassho-zukuri,” are shaped like hands in prayer. Mostly farm houses and all built from wood, some dating back centuries, they are covered in thick thatch roofs designed to hold off thick snowfall in winter.

The houses may appear to provide substantial protection from outside, but actually they are freezing cold inside, and require a lot of heating. Most are 4 stories high, with substantial loft space, but they can easily hold a very large extended family, or more than one. They are clustered in small patches of flatland between 96 per cent forested and mountainous terrain.