The village is famous for its farmhouses, which are built in a unique architectural style known as gasshō (合掌). The name means "hands together" as in prayer, referring to the steep roofs that keep the snow off in the winter. Underneath the roofs, the large attic area was used to house silkworms.
Another feature which has brought fame to the village is the Japanese game series 'Higurashi no Naku Koro ni' (2002) and the anime series that followed. Although the village residents are not too altogether thrilled that an anime series depicting large levels of violence has based itself on their village, it has brought the tourists none-the-less. Some locations from the anime series can be visited in Shirakawa; the most prevalent site being the Hachiman Shrine, the site where Rika Furude met an unfortunate end and also the major shrine of the village.
Shirakawa-go can be reached by highway bus from most major cities in Japan. In addition to buses one can catch the Shinkansen Bullet Train to Nagoya, transfer to a standard train to Takayama and take a bus from the Takayama Bus Station to Shirakawa-go. The train ride from Nagoya to Takayama is particularly enjoyable, providing the passenger with much of the mountainous beauty that Japan has to offer (a good break from constant metropolis). Another option is to hire a car (this can be done from several places in Takayama) and drive to Shirakawa-go. A super-highway will have you in the village in under an hour.
Hiring a car is also recommended if you wish to access the many different areas around Shirakawa-go; areas such as Hirase Onsen or Kawai Village (and some mountainous areas). In the snow season many of the roads leading up the mountains will not be open.
Joining a bus tour is easy way to visit Shirakawa-go. iSite Takayama offers a half-day trip from Takayama by comfortable bus every day. The fare is ¥3,800 for round trip.
- 1 Jin Homura Art Museum (焔仁美術館). 9:30AM-4PM. The modern art of Jin Homura's works featured in a traditional farmhouse is an interesting combination of old and new that enhances the art, as well as bringing new intrigue to the houses and architecture themselves. It has a completely different atmosphere from the various preserved farmhouses scattered about that merely contain artifacts. ¥300.
- 2 Gassho-zukuri Minkaen (合掌造り民家園), 2499 Ogimachi. A collection of historic farmhouses moved here from other areas of the village in order to preserve them. Some of them date back to the 18th century. The buildings contain artifacts and objects used by the past residents as well as information about the history of the buildings and surrounding area. ¥600.
- 3 Kanda House (神田家), 796 Ogimachi. 9AM-5PM. A well-preserved farmhouse that always has its fire lit. The second floor has similar artifacts as others in the village. Many visitors enjoy the traditional cat carrier. The third floor offers a good look at the inner construction of the house along with nice views of the rest of the town from the windows. ¥300.
- 4 Wada House (和田家), 997 Ogimachi. 9AM-5PM. This is the largest of the farmhouses in Ogimachi. It contains some artifacts used during its heyday. For those fans of ‘Higurashi no Naku Koro ni’ the Wada residence is Shion and Mion’s home ¥300.
- 5 Nagase House (長瀬家). 9AM-5PM. The house is well-known for its 11-meter length which comes from single trees used as horizontal beams inside the house. The house dates back 250 years when the Nagase family worked as doctors. The artifacts inside include medical objects, and things used in daily life. ¥300.
- 6 Kaerikumo Castle (帰雲城). The castle disappeared into the ground, along with the town surrounding it, when a big earthquake struck one night in 1586. A goldmine near the castle was also swallowed by the earth that night, leaving people to speculate to this day that as much as ¥10 billion may still be buried there. Nowadays there is nothing left but a monument and some greenery.
- 7 Shiramizu Falls (白水の滝). A scenic waterfall near Shiramizu Lake. Free.
Another is the Three Amo Waterfalls: Taka falls, Naka falls, and Ki falls, which can be seen along the pass leading to the Amo highlands.
Another waterfall, Hakusui Falls, pours from the artificial Hakusui Lake, which was created by a dam at an elevation of 1,260 m. To take a rest from hiking and relax a little, the area also has several hot springs, such as the Hirase hot spring bathhouse.
- 1 Shirakawa-go no Yu (白川郷の湯). 7AM-9:30PM. A convenient hot spring for day visitors located right in the historic area. It's especially popular in the winter to warm up after wandering around town in the cold. They also offer rooms for accommodations. ¥700 (additional fees for towels).
- 2 Shiramizu no Yu (しらみずの湯). Apr-Nov: 10AM-9PM, Dec-Mar: 11AM-8PM. A hot spring for day travelers. It's a large area with a variety of indoor and outdoor pools to soak in and relax. ¥600.
Shirakawa-go has numerous tourist shops with a variety of souvenirs available. One of the unique items of the area is the 'Sarubobo' doll. The doll is a faceless red 'monkey' which is intended for a person to imagine the face of one of their children or grandchildren, then pray for the wellbeing of said child whilst you imaging the face.
The actual Shirakawa Gassho village has a couple of places to eat. Look out for ramen restaurants and the like. These will only be open during daylight hours. The village, being mainly day tourist oriented, will close down after the sun sets.
The Hachiman Shrine at Shirakawa-go prepares their own brand of sake which is available both through the shrine and through most of the tourist shops in the area. This sake is mainly used for their matsuri (festival) celebrations. This sake is characterized by the large amount of rice which is still in the bottle. Shirakawa-go also produces a local blend of distilled sake which is quite proof (60% approx). This is available through the various Ryokans and tourist shops in the area. It is a nice drop and one does not understand its strength until it 'hits home' so-to-speak.
Shirakawa-go offers numerous ryokan based Japanese inns for overnight stays. Most of these inns are gassho based inns and offer both dinner and breakfast in the accommodation fee. Dinner is generally traditional Japanese dishes consisting of river fish and exquisite mountain vegetables; you will almost certainly sleep on a futon on a tatami mat. One such establishment is Magoemon, next to the river in Ogimachi.
As Shirakawa-go's buildings are mainly produced of highly flammable traditional materials, smoking is heavily regulated in the village. If one must smoke they must do so at a designated position within the village (indicated by bench seats, a sign and a 1-m-high large ashtray). Please refrain from smoking unless in a designated area. Shirakawa-go has a backup village fire suppression system, however, triggering it via a burning cigarette butt would be a foul end to a good holiday.
Although this is a moderately popular tourist destination, some people do live in some of the traditional houses. Keep this in mind as you tour.
|Routes through Shirakawa-go|
|Toyama ← Gokayama ←||N S||→ Takayama → Gifu|