Shirakawa-go in Japan: 5 great reasons to visit this fairytale village
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Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Japan, known for its traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses and is located in the remote mountains of Gifu Prefecture.
The village transforms into a beautiful winter wonderland each winter, making it the perfect destination for a winter getaway. it is one of the most beautiful places in Japan with its breathtaking landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and sublime winter activities.
During my winter road trip in Japan earlier this year, I was able to visit this charming village and one of the best ways to take in its splendour is to simply wander around it and check out the various incredible viewpoints it has to offer. It’s absolutely stunning!
In this article, I’ll share 5 reasons why you should definitely add this bucket-list destination to your Japan itinerary, along with plenty of tips, useful information, and stunning photos to inspire you.
Where is Shirakawa-go located in Japan?
Shirakawa-go is located in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture in the Chubu region which is in the central part of Japan. Specifically, it’s located in the Shokawa River Valley, which is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery and pristine forests.
Getting there can be a bit of a challenge, as the village is located in a remote area and is not easily accessible by public transportation.
How to get to Shirakawa-go from Tokyo?
There are several ways to travel between Shirakawago and Tokyo, but the most convenient options are by bus or train.
The easiest way to travel from Tokyo to Shirakawa-go is by taking a highway bus to Takayama on the Shinjuku Line. From Takayama, you’ll need to transfer to another bus to Kanazawa, Takaoka or Tayoma which stops in Shirakawa-go. Several companies, such as Nohi Bus and Keio Bus, operate daily services between the two locations.
The journey takes approximately 5-6 hours, depending on traffic conditions, and costs around ¥6,000-¥8,000 one way. You can book your bus ticket online or purchase it at the bus station.
Another option is to take a train from Tokyo to either Nagoya (JR Tokaido Shinkansen) or Kanazawa (JR Hokuriku Shinkansen) and then transfer to a bus that goes to Shirakawa-go. From Kanazawa might be easier as there is a direct bus, while from Nagoya, you might have to transfer to another bus in Takayama as mentioned above.
The journey takes around 5-6 hours in total and costs approximately 12,000-15,000 JPY one way if you don’t have a JR Pass.
Get your JR rail pass in advance!
Renting a car can give you more freedom and allow you to stop wherever you like along the way. Before heading to Shirakawa-go, I rented a car and drove to Jigokudani Monkey Park, Matsumoto Castle, and Myoko Kogen for some snowboarding.
I paid about 4000 JPY / €30 per day for a rental car and the journey takes around 4-5 hours, depending on traffic conditions and where you intend to stop along the way.
TIP: You’ll need an international driving license and often translated into Japanese to drive and rent a car.
READ ALSO: Winter in Japan road trip: the best of the Chubu region in 7 days
Parking areas near the village
There are a few options in order to park if you visit the village with your own vehicle. While there are parking areas available in Shirakawago, they can get quite crowded during peak tourist season. If you are looking for additional parking options nearby, here are some suggestions
The Shinshoshayo Parking Area is all year round open but is also the newest parking area and closest to the village. The parking cost about €6 / 1000 JPY for a whole day, however, if you eat in the restaurant you can park for free. From this parking area, you just need to walk across the suspension bridge which leads you to the centre of the Shirakawa-go.
Another parking that is possible to use when it’s crowded or during peak season is the Midashima Parking which is located at the end of the town and close to the famous Three Houses. During my visit on a Monday, this parking area was closed but open during the Light-Up event the day before.
The Ogimachijoato Parking is the parking area on top of the hill near the observation deck and viewpoints. However, this parking is free but can only be used for short periods and during the Light-Up event, this parking is closed to visitors.
A bit further from the village is the Terao Parking area, which was closed during my visit but can be very handy when it’s crowded or during special events.
Best time to visit Shirakawa-go.
The best time to visit Shirakawa-go in Japan is during the winter season, from mid-December to early March when the village is covered in a blanket of snow, and the gassho-zukuri houses look like they are straight out of a fairytale.
This period is known as the Shirakawa-go Winter Light-Up event when the village is illuminated at night, creating a magical and romantic atmosphere.
However, it’s important to note that the winter season in Shirakawa-go can be extremely cold and snowy, so come prepared with warm clothing and footwear suitable for snow and ice.
And if you can’t make it during winter, Spring and Autumn are also wonderful moments to admire the beauty of this mountain village and the surrounding area.
TIP: During the Winter Light-Up event, you’ll have to purchase tickets in advance as you can’t enter anymore after 15h00
READ ALSO: The perfect 4 days in Kyushu: a road trip during Autumn in Japan
Where to stay near Shirakawa-go?
If you plan to visit Shirakawa-go, I would recommend staying in the village or nearby to get the most out of your experience.
When I wanted to go to Shirakawa-go, there was the Winter Light-Up event going on and the tickets were already sold out. So I decided to stay in Kanazawa for one night and explore the village the next day.
Kanazawa is a beautiful city with plenty to see and do, and it’s only a couple of hours away from Shirakawa-go by bus. There are many great hotels and guesthouses in Kanazawa but the rooms of the Torifito Hotel were amazing and very comfortable.
Takayama is another great option to stay, and it’s only about an hour away from Shirakawa-go by bus. The town itself is charming and has a lot of traditional Japanese architecture, and there are many great places to stay here as well.
However, the most unique experience is staying in one of the Gosshu-styled houses in the village but you might have to book this way in advance as these accommodations are booked out very fast.
5 reasons to visit Shirakawa-go
Beautiful mountains and stunning nature surround the village, and each season changes the atmosphere of the village.
During autumn, the leaves of the trees change colours, which creates a beautiful colour palette for the entire landscape. on the other hand, during the winter, the village is transformed into a winter wonderland by the snow-covered roofs and softly illuminated houses.
Special light-up events are also organised during the winter months, for which you have to purchase tickets in advance. During this event, you can enjoy a beautiful light show and see the village as it appears on most postcards or internet sites.
When I went to Shirakawago in January, it was snowing which created a magical atmosphere throughout the entire village.
The scenic beauty
Beautiful mountains and nature surround the village, making the journey to Shirakawa-go an incredible adventure all by itself. You will drive or pass through stunning landscapes, enormous valleys, and winding roads through the mountains along the way.
Between Takayama and Shirakawa-go, there are numerous tunnels, including one of Japan’s longest, the Hida tunnel, which stretches 11 kilometres through the mountains.
If you’re coming from Kanazawa, you’ll pass another Hida Folk village, the World Heritage Suganuma Gassho-zukuri Village, which is a smaller version of Shirakawa-go but well worth a stop to admire the scenery.
A Glimpse into Traditional Japan
Shirakawa-go is a living museum of traditional Japanese culture. The gassho-style houses, for which Shirakawago is famous, are an example of the traditional Japanese architectural style that has been passed down through generations.
The gassho-style houses were built over 250 years ago and are made entirely of wood without using any nails. The thatched roofs are designed to withstand heavy snowfall during winter, and the steep angle of the roof allows the snow to slide off quickly.
The houses are an excellent example of a community that has successfully preserved its traditional way of life and culture and their size and design were influenced by the harsh living conditions of the region.
The gassho-style houses have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and efforts have been made to preserve the village’s cultural heritage.
The delicious local food
Some popular dishes include soba noodles, grilled seasonal vegetables, and Hida beef hotpot. Also noteworthy are their sweet rice cakes or mochi, locally known as shingen mochi, which is soft in texture but rich in flavour.
The village also has a unique sake culture that dates back thousands of years and you can sample some of the best sakes at various breweries located within the village.
You will find several restaurants, food stalls or shops in the village where you can taste and buy all kinds of local dishes. Definitely try the charcoal grilled skewers of meat or vegetables while enjoying hot sake – truly a soul-satisfying experience!
The awesome viewpoints and photo spots
One of the most popular viewpoints is from the Shiroyama Observation Deck, which offers stunning panoramic views of the village and surrounding mountains where also the famous postcard photo from the village is made.
However, The viewpoint is part of the cafe and they don’t allow tripods and during peak moments they dare to ask for money to enter.
Another and better alternative viewpoint is the Ogimachi Castle Observation Deck, which is right next to the café and where you can take photos for free. From here you can see snow-capped peaks on clear days, as well as the unique gassho-zukuri-style houses clustered together below.
My favourite place to shoot some amazing photos was at the three houses at the end of the village. Not many visitors walk this far and therefore they miss the most stunning view.
Either way, you’ll definitely find some great photo spots just by walking around the village and exploring the different streets and alleys.
Shirakawa-go is an incredibly beautiful and culturally rich destination in Japan. Its traditional architecture is breathtaking when blanketed in snow, and the surrounding mountains and valleys make it the perfect place to enjoy some winter activities.
Whether you visit in winter or autumn, you will have an unforgettable experience in Shirakawa-go and it is the perfect place to escape from bustling cities like Tokyo and Osaka.
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Shirakawa-go in Japan: 5 great reasons to visit this fairytale village
Plan your visit to Shirakawa go in Japan with my favorite travel apps
To plan my adventures, I use these FREE websites and apps as they provide the best information, the best deals, and they are user-friendly.
- Skyscanner – Flight deals
- Booking.com – Hotels and accommodation
- TourRadar – Group trips
- TripAdvisor – Reviews and activities
- HostelWorld – Hostels
- GetYourGuide – Activities and excursions
- RentalCars – Car rental
- Omio – Transport
- iVisa – Travel documents
- Wise – Money transfer
- World Nomads – Travel Insurance
PICTURES AND EDITING
All the pictures on this page are made and owned by me. If you are interested in some pictures to use for your magazine, website, blog, or any other purpose, just send me an email and we’ll figure it out.
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The camera gear I used for this trip
I never go out without my camera and many people ask me which gear I use. So to make it quite easy, I listed all the gear I used for this trip below.
Most of the time, I travel with the Sony A7III and the Sony 24-105mm/f4 as my primary lens but depending on the location, I change to another setup. However, I love the Tamron 17-28 to shoot in the big cities.