For ages I’ve wanted to visit Shirakawago – that quaint picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Site town nestled in the mountains of Japan. Small enough to take a day to discover, but far away enough to take a day to reach.
Shirakawago is one of those places that are just super out of the way. If you’re wanting to visit the town, you’re best to incorporate it into a more broader itinerary incorporating a visit to nearby Takayama and Kanazawa, both equally interesting towns that are just as far away from your usual arrival at Narita airport.
That said, these days the new bullet train to Takayama has made it even easier than ever to access the town (and hence, Shirakawago) so be assured that at least the half day journey takes faster than before!
Bus station at Shirakawago
Located a 50 min bus ride from Takayama, Shirakawago is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – a village of a hundred gassho-zukuri houses (thatch-roofed houses) in the alpine region of Japan. It is these characteristic houses preserved from so many years ago that give Shirakawago its fame and visitors from all around the world come here on day trips and overnight stays whilst in Japan.
The towns nearest to Shirakawago are Takayama and Kanazawa with Takayama being the closer one (about 50 mins on the bus) and Kanazawa a little more further out. To reach Shirakawago, you’re best off first taking a train to Kanazawa or Takayama before using either the Nohi Bus or Hokuriku Rail Road bus companies to reserve/buy a bus ticket to Shirakawago.
How long to spend at Shirakawago
Shirakawago is really quite small so a half day to full day would be a good amount of time to see the main sights. There is also an option to stay overnight in one of the gassho-zukuri houses and this is an especially popular tourist option so as you can experience what it is like to live in the village.
TIP: Even though you might only allocate one day to Shirakawago, I would super recommend that you allocate an additional spare day, in case you get bad weather. When we were at Shirakawago, the only day we had spare to visit was a day of pretty heavy snow. We ended up not being able to reach many of the sights because of the weather and the fact that it was so damn cold. Next time, I’d definitely allocate a spare day just in case something like this happens again.
Things to do
- Ogimachi Castle Ruins Lookout: probably the most popular attraction of Shirakawago is this lookout where you can see the village so whimsically from above. Unfortunately though, because we had terrible weather, when we climbed to the top we saw nothing. An excuse to come back some time in the future, I guess.
- Roam the streets and appreciate the village: because it is so very picturesque!
- Visit at least one of the houses: we chose Kanda House (however there is also Wada House which you can visit too). For a small entry fee, you can check out the intriguing construction behind the houses here. You’ll be shocked to see just how many storeys are in each thatched roof!
- Visit Myozen-ji temple: this is a thatched roof temple which you can explore inside. It was on our list of things to do however unfortunately the snow got too heavy for us to continue so we had to cut our day trip short.
- Visit Deai Bridge: The walk from the bus stop to Deai Bridge is quite scenic and gives a lovely view of the river that crosses through the village. At the end of the village, you’ll see Deai Bridge – a long suspension bridge that takes you to the other side of the river where you can also visit Gasshozukuri Minkaen Outdoor Museum, a sub village of farmhouses that you can walk through.
Here are some photos of our trip to Shirakawago:
The calm before the heavy snow
View from Kanda House
One of the views we stumbled upon whilst walking from the main street to Deai Bridge
Inside Kanda House
Inside Kanda House
Ogimachi Castle Ruins Lookout – unfortunately we were all snowed in that day so did not see much!
Heavy snow in Shirakawago. At this stage we thought it was best to give up and visit again another time!