A guide to Shirakawa-go
Shirakawa-go is a historic mountain village in Gifu Prefecture in the middle of the Japanese Alps. It is part of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Shirakawa-go is actually only one of three such villages, which are all know for the unique style in which the farmhouses are constructed. In this guide to Shirakawa-go, we will provide all the information you need to plan your day trip from Takayama.
The area is known to get quite a significant amount of snow during the winter. That’s why it was no wonder that there was still some leftover snow, when we visited in April. However, the snow ultimately made it even more magical.
How to get there
Shirakawa-go can be accessed from Takayama by bus.
We booked our tickets one day before the trip at the Nohi Bus Center, which is located directly next to the Takayama train station. You book seats on specific busses. So you need to think about when exactly you want to take the bus and how much time you want to spend in Shirakawa-go beforehand. A round- trip ticket costs ¥4600. You can find more information on the official website of the Nohi bus company.
Then the next day we made our way back to the Nohi Bus Center as the busses also depart from here. The drive takes about an hour. But, you won’t get bored because the views of the mountains are absolutely stunning.
Things to do in Shirakawa-go
Once we arrived in Shirakawa-go we had three hours to explore before the bus that would take us back departed. First, we made our way to an observation platform. This platform is located not far from where the busses drop you off. It is an absolute MUST, even if you have to climb quite a steep road to get there.
While walking through the village, we felt like time stood still in this place. The atmosphere was also very peaceful.
Many of the houses have been converted to little shops where you can buy your typical souvenirs.
Other houses can be visited for a small fee (usually around ¥300). We decided to visit Kanda house to see what a typical farmhouse looks like from the inside. The ground floor was set up quite cozy with a boiler sitting on top of a fire. Two small tables where set out for the guests to serve themselves some tea. They also had a family shrine. On the top floors, agricultural tools were displayed as well as a huge window, which gave a great view over the rest of the village.
In the middle of the town someone had built an igloo that was huge enough for people to be able to enter it.
My favorite part of the whole town was probably the Shirakawa Hachiman shrine. The shrine is located at the end of the village. The Tori gates in combination with the snow made this place look magical. Also, as it was at the end of the village, not many tourists found their way here which is why we had it all to ourselves.
Then we made our way towards the suspension bridge that goes over the Shokawa river. The water of the river has a really beautiful blue tone which would probably have been even more vivid if the weather had been better.
And at that point we realized that somehow our 3 hours were already over, so we walked back to where the bus picked us up and drove back to Takayama.
Is it worth it?
If you are planning your trip through Japan, you might ask yourself: Is Shirakawa-go worth visiting? Now, like always, this is a rather subjective question whose answer strongly depends on your interests, but let me say this: I think that Shirakawa-go is definitely worth visiting. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the houses inside the village are truly unique. We enjoyed our time here quite a bit! However, I would not necessarily drive all the way here from Tokyo just to see Shirakawa-go and nothing else. Because in the end there is not that much to do either, you can easily spend a few hours here but that is it. If you wish to come here, I would definitely also spend some time in Takayama, like we did (see: Ultimate Japan itinerary for first-time visitors) or do some hiking in the Japanese Alps.