Located in the river valley and surrounded by mountains, Ogimachi Shirakawa-go (荻町白川郷) Village is truly a paradise for nature lovers. It has its own charm every season: cherry blossom trees in spring, green fields in summer, wonderful autumn leaves in fall, and a white Christmas village feel in winter. While most tourists spend only a few hours in this village (usually with bus tours), I highly recommend that you stay here overnight, learn from the locals, and discover a lot more about this UNESCO World Heritage Site. And to go with your overnight trip, here are the top five things to do in Shirakawa-go!
If you truly want to discover the way of life of the locals here, try staying in a Gassho-style house. Most houses are open for an overnight stay. You can check the accommodations here.
If you are unlucky to secure a reservation, there are several inns for rent in the area. You can also opt to just visit a Gassho-style house for a day tour. The entrance fee is 300 yen. I personally like Kanda House (神田家 – Japanese only) because they serve tea for free.
The map of Shirakawa-go clearly says, “Let’s walk slowly in Shirakawa-go.” The village is meant for a discovery walk, so don’t hurry. Enjoy getting lost in the little alleys. Discover more than the usual tourist stuff. The key is to walk very early in the morning before the flock of tourists comes (at least before 9 AM) so you can take beautiful pictures, too.
Also, instead of taking the minivan to Shiroyama Observation Deck (城山展望台), walk your way to it. It’s not only good for the body but is also a feast for your eyes because of the picturesque scenes you’ll see along the way.
To make it even better, the village organizes special illumination events on selected Sunday and Monday evenings in January and February that attract plenty of tourists. During the light-up event, many of the village’s gassho-zukuri farmhouses are lit up from 17:30 to 19:30.
Every year, Shirakawago’s winter light-up event attracts a great number of visitors from all over the world as it offers an unique sight of the approximately 250 years old farmhouses covered in snow and lighted-up during winter becoming an unforgettable picture for those who have the opportunity of capturing the moment.
However, due to its popularity over the recent years and the problems caused by the large number of tourists, it is now required to make reservations in advance.
Below you can see more about the dates of the event and the change occurring from this year on.
In Shirakawa-go, the food is heavenly, too. The freshly made coffee from Coffee Shop Hina (コーヒー屋 鄙) is a must-try and their cakes are to die for. It is located near the bus station but you must have enough time to try it because the coffee is made fresh.
I also recommend the curry and zensai (Japanese snacks) at Ochudo (落人), a small and lovely restaurant just beside Kanda House. If you order tea, you have the chance to choose your tea cup from their very own collection – a small gesture but a very homey one!
Shirakawa-go’s street food, like rice cakes and beef buns, are also worth the try. You will find a lot of these on the main street. There are many omiyage (お土産; souvenir) shops, too, so you’ll never run out of things to buy, try, and taste.
With this one, I don’t mean selfies but really nice pictures. Shirakawa-go is heaven for photo enthusiasts because of the mountain and river surrounding the village. Savor the moment and let your eye feast on the majestic creation that this village has to offer.
Feed your eyes and mind with stories of the village by trying to talk with the locals. Most of them can speak basic English; and if you are learning Japanese, it’s also a good time to practice!
It is possible and safe to drive to Shirakawa-go, but here is how to get there via public transportation:
The fastest way: Take a Shinkansen to Toyama City (富山市), then ride a Nohi (濃飛) Bus to Shirakawa-go Village at Bus Stop #1 in front of the JR Toyama Station.
The cheapest way: Take a bus from Shinjuku (新宿) to Toyama or Kanazawa (金沢) City (around 6,000 yen), then ride a Nohi Bus to Shirakawa-go (around 1,400 yen).
My experience in Shirakawa-go was in the winter, but I wouldn’t mind going back in the autumn or summer season. Shirakawa-go is a place that I would want to go back to again and again. It has given me a wonderful glimpse of a Japanese village hidden in the mountains.