Updated: Aug 15, 2020
Located in the mountainous north-western part of Gifu prefecture, the beautiful town of Shirakawa stands in the approximate center of Japan. It's Gassho-zukuri styled houses are named for their resemblance to hands joined as if they were in prayer. The area of Shirakawago was registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1995 and is considered a spiritual town to the Japanese.
The houses are built and designed in a way to help withstand the heavy snowfalls of Central Japan. Shirakawa-go has an average of 415 inches of snowfall every year, thus the angular design of the roofs help to protect the house from the weight of heavy snow and also reduces the work of snow removal. All the houses face the north or south which helps to melt the snow by day. What is extraordinary and really fascinating is that these houses are constructed without the use of a single nail and are made entirely from natural materials but have managed to survive for more than 300 years.
History & details
Shirakawago possesses an important historical relevance in itself. The village has survived since the 11th century and the people here have a very strong sense of community. Shirakawago is also known as Ogimachi , and the region has two other similar looking villages named Ainokura and Suganuma. All these three are situated along the Sho river of Gifu and Toyama prefectures. Also all the three villages at present are classified as an important preservation districts for groups of historical building under the 1950 law which is mainly for the protection of cultural properties.
Ogimachi is the most popular one out of the three as it has the most Gassho-zukuri houses, around 114. Some of the popular houses have been converted to museums. The Wada house offers the tourists a chance to look inside and experience how life was hundreds of years ago. Two other famous houses are the Kanda house and Nagase house. Be sure to check these museums out as they are definitely worth it.
The main street known as the Kaido street runs through the middle of the village and has a lot of cute shops that sell souvenirs and snacks. Several of the houses offer lodging as well, but since there are not many rooms be sure to reserve first. Just walking through the village will take you back to a pre-modern Japan, the whole experience cant truly be explained in words so you absolutely have to go see it for yourself when you get the chance.
How to get there
From Nagoya: Non-stop buses are available from Nagoya station, Meitetsu Bus stop. The ride takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes and costs around 3900 yen (37$) one way.
From Tokyo: If you wish to travel from Tokyo, keep in mind that there are no direct bus or trains and you will need to make a transfer.Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to either Toyama or Kanazawa which will take around 2/3 hours depending on your departure destination (Shinkansen costs around 12,730 ~14,120 yen 120$~135$ one way) . Then hop on to the Nohi bus that goes directly to Shirakawa go ( about an hour and a half ride- 1700~2000 Yen /15$~18$)
From Osaka: If you are traveling from Osaka you need to take the Limited Express Thunderbird from JR Osaka Station to Kanazawa station. The ride is about 2 hours 45 minutes and costs around 7650 yen/ 70$ one way. From Kanazawa take the nori bus to Shirakawa ( 1 hour 30 minutes; 2000 yen/18$)
Rent a car: I live in Nagoya, so it was comparatively closer to me. I took a rent a car for two days ( 10,000 yen/ 90 $). If you are traveling from Nagoya and wish to look around other places after Shirakawa, renting a car is highly recommended since its mostly a rural area, and so going around is quite difficult.
Cost breakdown in a glance:
Food: If you are on a budget, then you can grab something from the convenience stores. Cost will be around 300~700 yen (3~6$)If you wish to eat in one of the traditional restaurants in Shirakawago , the lunch packages are not that expensive. A whole set ( teishoku) costs around 1700~2000 yen/ 15~18$.
Transportation: depends on where you are getting on from. For me it was around 10000 yen since I rented a car. ( with gasoline and parking it was around 15000 yen/ 135$.
Entrance fee: Entering Shirakawago is free but if you wish to see the museums then it has an entrance fee of 300 yen~600yen/ 2~5$ $
Hotels: Honestly I would not recommend staying in the Gasshoku houses since they are quite expensive. I had plans the next day, so I stayed in a hotel for around 4500 yen (42$). You can even stay in one of the capsule hotels for 2000 yen/ 18$ if you are on a budget. Those are not available in the Shirakawago area, so you need to go to a nearby city for that.
Now to me timing it right was very important since I was on a time sensitive schedule, so I thought of adding this part as well for the reader's benefit. Since Shirakawago is a residential area and people still live in those houses , it closes down pretty early.
Gassho-zukuri Minkaen (open air museum) Hours: 8:40 to 17:00 (9:00 to 16:00 December to February) .Admission ends 20 minutes before closing
Shiroyama Viewpoint : closed during heavy snow. Otherwise remains open.
Wada-ke House (museum) : Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Kanda-ke House(farmhouse now turned into museum) :Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Myozenji Temple : Hours: 8:30 to 17:00 (9:00 to 16:00 December to March)
Shirakawa-go no Yu (minshuku &bathhouse) : Hours: 7:00 to 21:30 (entry until 21:00)
Parking: 8：00～17：00 ( you have to leave by 5:30)
Due to the coronavirus some of the shops and restaurants, museums close one hour earlier than usual.
Trash cans are not available so its better to keep the trash in your bag or your car.
Smoking is strictly prohibited since the houses are extremely vulnerable to fire damage.
You cannot enter any private houses, so check before you wish to go in.
Flying drones are not allowed in Shirakawago. Found that out the hard way.
If you are staying within the village, make sure to park your car provided by the accommodation, since the public parking closes at 5:30.
Shirakawago can be enjoyed all throughout the year since it aesthetically shows different scenery in all four seasons. You can cover the most of Shirakawago village in just a couple of hours and lose the stress of city life. Staying overnight in one of the lodging houses is also fun, but make sure to book in advance. Don’t miss out on this beautiful village if you plan on visiting Japan.