Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO world heritage site

Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO world heritage site

Shirakawa-go is a group of a beautiful, historic villages remotely located in the middle of Gifu Prefecture, which is situated in the Japanese Alps.

Despite its remoteness, Shirakawa-go is a popular tourist destination. Several buses connect it daily to Takayama and Kanazawa. In fact, it’s so popular that our 9:50 am bus from Takayama filled up while we and dozens of other people were still queuing in line. No worries – a second bus was arranged right away. (Bus timetables and prices can be viewed at the Japan guide website.) Once we got going, our bus took only 50 minutes to reach Shirakawa-go – ideal travel time for a day trip.

Nice printed maps of Shirakawa-go are available from the information center located near the village bus station. Postcards with pictures of the area are also available. We bought a few and asked the guides to indicate on our maps where we could see the scenes depicted on the postcards.

Shirakawa-go lies along the picturesque Shogawa river, tucked away in pine-covered mountains.

In order to reach Ogimachi, Shirakawa-go’s largest village, we had to cross this suspension bridge.

There is also an open-air museum which preserves traditional farmhouses and other structures which have been relocated to Ogimachi.

Shirakawa-go and its surrounding areas feature some of the heaviest snowfall found not just in Japan but in the whole world. During winter, it is not uncommon to see snowbanks well over 2 meters tall. We live in a northern country with winters lasting for half the year, and even so we were really impressed.

Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO world heritage site. Its main attractions are the traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses with steep, thick, thatched roofs. The people of the region developed this architectural style over many generations in order to survive the heavy snowfall that the region experiences during winter.

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The main street has several souvenir shops and restaurants.

Some of the houses are more than 250 years old, making Shirakawa-go a sort of living museum.

We spent about 5 hours in Shirakawa-go and had lunch plus a couple of snacks. Our favorite snack was the Hida beef skewers, which are very delicious and typical of the region, made with high quality beef from black-haired Japanese cows raised in Gifu – Sooooo Goooood!

Halfway through our wandering around Shirakawa-go, we were freezing and so we decided to stop and eat at the first restaurant we saw. This turned out to be a restaurant called Hakusuien, serving Japanese cuisine in a traditional gassho-zukuri style house. We ordered a couple of different hida beef set menus and noodles. Oh boy, was it delicious!

We couldn’t leave Shirakawa-go without visiting the Shiroyama look-out point. During winter it’s only reachable by a shuttle bus departing every 15 mins from the Ogimachi village center (ticket cost: ¥200 one way). The view overlooking the whole village is supposed to be magnificent, but under heavy snow we were unable to see anything – just this white landscape. :)

Good to know:

  • If you are planning a visit at the beginning of the winter season in hopes of seeing snow, it might be a good idea to check a live view camera before going.
  • You can download a Shirakawa-go map from here.

Visited February 2015

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