Google identifies Gangi as the most beautiful village in Italy. Wikipedia does a little better and identifies gangi   (雁木) as an opening in shogi, named after the covered sidewalks (雁木造) that connect buildings in Japan’s Snow Country.


Gangi are extended eaves of houses to allow passage sheltered from the snow in winter. During the remainder of the year, gangi of course provide equal protection against rain. No luxury in a city that has average annual precipitation of 2.600mm compared to the national average of 1.700mm.  Gangi are found in Niigata as well as in Tohoku. Takada, in the city of Joetsu, has the most extensive gangi network.  The network is described as gangi-dori or simply gangi.  In Tohoku gangi-dori are referred to as “komise”.

Gangi provided a sheltered walkway on one side of the street. However, if you had to cross to the other side of the street after a heavy snowfall, it became necessary to tunnel through the snow. Gangi permitted social interaction among neighbours, for children to play outside and for all to take some limited form of exercise by walking. After the extreme snowfall in January 2021 everyone is fully aware again of the benefits of gangi.

Takada’s gangi-dori are the “face” of the city. They have a uniform width of 1.80 meter and you will find them along about 16 km of Takada’s roads. The origin of gangi dates back to the early Edo-period. However, the combination of supermarkets and the automobile have replaced the multitude of small shops and taken much life out of gangi-dori.

Another city in Niigata Prefecture that still has a sizable number of gangi is Nagaoka (8 km). Kuroishi, in Aomori Prefecture has a relatively small but well preserved gangi area (locally called “komise”). You will find gangi also in Sanjo, Yoshida, Kosudo, Tsugawa and Itoigawa.  

Along these gangi-dori you will find most of Takada’s well-known historical shops and buildings. Also in areas adjacent to Takada you will find smaller gangi areas. Prominent is Tonome whereas also Naoetsu still has a small number of gangi. Most of them were destroyed in fires.

Examples of prominent buildings: Takahashi Sweets Shop, Ogawa Kimono Shop, the cinema Takada Sekaikan, Takano Miso, Machida Miso, the former Imai Dye Shop, and last but not least the beautifully restored Takada Komachi buildings.

Takada’s gangi network has provided the back-drop for the movies “Fumiko no umi” (ふみ子の海) and “Goze” (瞽女).

As Seki Yuko-san explains, gangi are owned and maintained by individual house owners but they are exempted from property tax for the area of the gangi. This ownership structure is different from modern shopping arcades in gangi-dori which are typically owned and maintained by shops collectively. Seki-san is an architect who works in Takada and is specialized in Takada’s machiya. She is the “go to” person for information on Takada’s architecture and the structure of the city.

Unfortunately, the gangi-dori no longer form a contiguous network. Many of the old machiya have been replaced with modern buildings and not every new building owner has taken the trouble of making sure the gangi network remained intact. What may be worse, is the large number of uninhabited machiya, waiting for inevitable collapse. 

There are several organizations that are actively trying to preserve old machiya and the gangi that are part thereof, including “Gangi no Machi Saisei”.

The city itself does not play an active role in maintaining the gangi-dori in their original form but makes subsidies available to 3rd parties for construction and maintenance of gangi.

A number of young entrepreneurs have converted machiya along the gangi-dori into restaurants, bars, coffeeshops, shops, etc. Interesting examples are the French restaurant “Lerch”, bar “Mocomoco”, the “Digmog Coffee” shop, several co-working places. Apart from the need to restore buildings and bring them up to the standards of present-day fire- and building regulations, entrepreneurs sometimes run into an intangible barrier. They have to go to some length to establish good relations with their neighbours; old time machiya residents are not always welcoming to people from outside their neighbourhoods. Yet in the long run it will be new entrants who may perhaps be able to give the machiya and gangi-dori a new lease on life.  

Converted machiya – “Digmog Coffee”
Modern gangi – Honcho shopping arcade in Takada



雁木とは、冬に雪を避けて通るために家の軒先を延長したものです。冬には雪を避けるため、冬以外の季節には雨を防ぐためにも使われます。全国平均の年間降水量が1.700mmであるのに対し、2.600mmの都市では贅沢はできません。 雁木は新潟だけでなく、東北や北海道にもありますが、上越市の高田は、最も広範な雁木ネットワークを持っています。 このネットワークは「雁木通り」または単に「雁木」と呼ばれていて、東北では「小見世」とも呼ばれています。





著名な建物の例として 高橋孫左衛門商店、小川呉服店、映画館の高田世界館、高野醤油味噌醸造店、町田味噌醤油醸造場、旧今井染物店、そして何と言っても美しく復元された高田小町の建物があります。





若い起業家たちは、雁木通りの町家をレストラン、バー、コーヒーショップ、ショップなどに改装しています。興味深い例としては、フレンチレストラン「みんなのふれんちレルヒ」、バー「Mocomoco」、「Digmog Coffee」、コワーキングスペースなどがあります。建物を修復し、現在の防火規則や建築規則の基準に合わせる必要があることに加え、ビジネスを始めようとする人にとって、時に目に見えない壁にぶつかることがあります。昔からの町家の住人は、外部の人間を歓迎しないことが多いからです。しかし、長い目で見れば、新規参入者こそが町家や雁木通りに新たな息吹を与えることができる人たちかもしれないのです。

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