Japan has many major cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hokkaido which attract many visitors all over the world yearly. However, there is a hidden beauty that is isolated in the mountain area which is not known to many people – the Historic Villages of Shirakawa-gō. This mountain village is like a fairytale land full with natural and stunning view. You may visit this village in all seasons as it is best seen either covered in snow, amazing golden autumn colours or surrounded by flowers and green fields.
Shirakawa-gō (白川郷, “White River Old-District”) is located in the village of Shirakawa, span from Gifu and Toyama Prefectures. It is declared as one of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1995.
This village is unique for their traditional farmhouses which were built hundreds of years ago. These houses were constructed in the architectural style known as gasshō-zukuri without using a single nail. Gasshō-zukuri, (合掌造り) means “constructed like hands in prayer” which described the triangle shape of the roof which assemble the Buddhist monks held their palms together in prayers. This unique design is to withstand the large amounts of heavy snowfalls in the region during winter. These houses are usually large with 3 or 4 storeys high. Each of the level equipped with doors to allow the family members to move in and out of the house easily as the snow piles up high, sometimes to more than 2 meters.
Locals still can be seen living in “gassho-zukuri” farmhouses, but many have been converted to restaurants and Minshuku, Japanese style bed and breakfasts, usually family run. An overnight stay at one of these farmhouses is a great way to experience a traditional Japanese family home and get more intimate with the locals. Tourists can stay in to enjoy these rooms that are well equipped for a convenient, modern lifestyle while the old wooden farmhouses still transmit a traditional and rustic atmosphere. Approximate cost per room is 10,000 yen.
For those that spend a day trip in this place can visit many of the farmhouses that have been opened as museums.
To get a scenic view of the whole village, tourists can go to the viewpoint on the side of the mountain. A shuttle bus service is provided from the main bus station from the town area. You can also choose to walk up the mountain to the viewpoint, which will take approximately 30 minutes. However, during winter months, walking might be prohibited due to the large amount of snow in this walk way.
If you visit the village during January and February of the year, you can witness the Winter Light-up season. The village organizes special illumination events on selected Saturday and Sunday evenings in January and February. Read more here.
How to get there?
The village is located in the rural mountain areas, thus, the train service do not reach to the village. Take the JR Tokaido shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagoya (100-120 minutes, several trains per hour) and transfer to the JR Hida limited express train to Takayama. This is the nearest city away from Shirakawa- go that can be reached by train. Visitors can take the bus from Takayama to Shirakawa-go which takes 50 minutes one way. Nohi Bus operates 8-9 buses per day between Takayama and Shirakawa-go (see timetable).
Shirakawa-go is a beautiful place and truly remarkable which gives you a totally different experience you must not miss.