The tour conductor waved her flag furiously as she directed the bus driver into the last remaining slot in the parking lot that serves the village of Shirakawa-go.

The jam of large vehicles and private cars was replicated in the droves of visitors streaming through the lanes and between the rice fields of the heritage site, and forming lunchtime queues outside restaurants that, like its souvenir outlets, never existed a generation ago.

Arguably, Shirakawa-go's UNESCO World Heritage site designation came just in the nick of time. Buildings no longer considered apropos the times were being demolished, the wood from disassembled homes left stacked at the side of roads for passersby to help themselves. A weak preservation ethic, lack of awareness of the architectural value of their own homes, and the prevailing poverty of the times, goes some way to explaining why many owners undervalued their residences.