Shirakawago is a group of historic villages where you can see the traditional Japanese houses!
The style of the houses called Gassho zukuri. Gassho means praying hands in Japanese and zukuri means style. The slope of the roofs are so steep and look like Gassho, that is why the style is named Gassho zukuri.
The area is known for heavy snowfall, and the steep-slope roofs help snow slip off so that the houses are not crushed by the white beauty in the winter!
Shirakawa village is the main village of Shirakawago and located in Gifu. Ogimachi is a touristy part of Shirakawa village where around 100 Gassho style houses are preserved. The area is around 45ha.
Shirakawago and Gokayama were registered as UNESCO world heritage sites in 1995. Gokayama is a similar site to Shirakawago, although Shirakago is larger and more well known. Gokayama is located in another prefecture Toyama, but both places are not that far, only 30 min drive away. So you can visit 2 world heritage sites within a day if you wish!
Both heritage sites are marked in blue on the map below.
Shirakawago turns white covered by snow in winter. The majestic scenery will leave you breathless.
It usually snows from late December to early March. But you should check the weather forecast If you really would like to see it in white!
If you are lucky, you may be able to see Japanese serows in Shirakawago.
Indeed, I saw the one below!
In winter, more specifically, on only 6days in Jan and Feb, Shirakawago holds a light up event. The city gets much brighter at night during the event.
It is absolutely mystical!
However, you can not go there to see the event freely any more because it has required reservation in advance since 2019 to minimize troubles caused by the crowds.
The updated info of the event can be seen on the website of Shirakawa-go Tourist Association.
There is an observation deck in Shirakawago where you can take breathtaking photos of the whole area!
The observation deck is located in Ogimachi Castle ruins and it is walking distance from the location of Gassho style houses. It would take around 20 mins. The route is marked in blue on the map above.
There is a restaurant at the castle ruins offering Japanese food and the view at the same time!
How to get to Shirakawago
There are no train stations around Shirakawago, so we usually go there by car or bus.
If you come from Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka, then the most accessible way would be to go to Nagoya by bullet train using JR Pass and catch a bus at Nagoya station. A bus company operating the route is Gifu Bus. It would take around 3 hours from Nagoya to Shirakawago.
Alternatively renting a car at Nagoya station is not a bad idea.
Tour and day trip
The tours and day trips are arranged by many travel companies even from Tokyo since Shirakawago is a very popular travel destination even for locals. You can find the info online easily.
If you would like to go around freely, then renting a car would be the best option as a bus tour usually requires you to follow the tight schedule.
Shirakawago offers a place to stay, you can stay in even Gassho style house!
There are several accommodation types such as hotel, Ryokan, Minshuku and Guest house. you can find the info and book it on the Shirakawa-go tourist association web.
Shirakawago has a Doburoku festival in October. Doburoku is a Japanese traditional alcohol made of rice. It is originally produced for celebrating the harvest and is seen as a holy alcohol.
It usually has lower alcohol content than sake and tastes sweeter. The color is not clear like sake, it is white because less filtered so the texture is thick and creamy!
There is sake named Shirakawago Jyunmai Nigori, however the brewery is not located in Shirakawago. A previous village mayor asked the owner of the brewery to produce Doburoku available in all seasons as Doburoku usually is made in the harvest season only. And the brewery managed to produce the Jyunmai Nigori which tastes very similar to Doburoku.
Some of the restaurants in Shirakawago offer the sake so you could enjoy it there!