How to plan a day trip to Shirakawa-go (from Takayama)

Are you debating whether or not to make a day trip to Shirakawa-go? Or perhaps you already decided to go and simply wish to know how to best get there, when to go and what to see and do in Shirakawa-go?

In this quick guide, we will provide all the information you need to easily plan a successful day trip to Shirakawa-go from Takayama. So, without further ado, let’s dive right into it!

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Old Farmhouses in Shirakawa-go Japan

A quick Guide to planning a day trip to Shirakawa-go

Located in Gifu prefecture, Shirakawa-go is a historic mountain village in the middle of the Japanese Alps. Well, that is actually not one hundred percent accurate.

In truth, Shirakawa-go is an area containing a few villages and the historic village that is usually referred to as Shirakawa-go is said area’s most famous village called Ogimachi. However, for simplicity we will continue referring to the village as Shirakawa-go for the most part. But, now you know.

The village became part of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to the unique construction style of its farmhouses. The latter are also called Gassho-style houses and characterized by their triangular shaped thatched roofs.

Old Japanese Farmhouse in Shirakawa-go in Japan
Old Farmhouse

What you should know before you go

First, we want to answer a few of the most frequently asked questions surrounding a trip to Shirakawa-go.

How long should you stay in Shirakawa-go?

Since Shirakawa-go respectively Ogimachi is one village, there is only so much you can do there. Spending a few hours i.e. 2-3 hours in Shirakawa-go will be more than enough. Typically, you will need about half a day for your trip to Shirakawa-go from Takayama. And this includes transfers.

What is the best time to visit Shirakawa-go?

The seasons are quite distinct in Shirakawa-go. Which can turn each visit to a vastly different experience depending on the season you are traveling in. That is also why the best season might just depend on your personal preference!

❄️ Winter

The area is known to get quite a significant amount (1-2 meters) of snow during winter. This can make access to the village a little harder. However, the snow ultimately also makes Ogimachi seem even more magical.

In January and February there is a popular illuminations event, where the farmhouses are lit-up each Sunday evening from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.!

Winter in Shirakawa-go (via Viator).
Spring in Shirakawa-go (via Viator)
🌸 Spring

Spring and Sakura season can be experience from mid-April until beginning of May, which is slightly later than the rest of Honshu. For instance when we visited in early April, there was still quite a lot of leftover snow!

🌾 Summer

Summer is supposedly one of the most beautiful seasons to visit Shirakawa-go if you love vivid colors. During the warmer months, the village is set in a lush green mountainous backdrop that is simply breathtaking.

Summer in Shirakawa-go (via Viator).
Autumn in Shirakawa-go (via Viator).
🍂 Autumn

And finally, autumn is always a great choice if you are a fan of the beautifully colored autumn leaves and slightly cooler temperatures. The best time for autumn leaves in Shirakawa-go is late October until beginning of November.

Is Shirakawa-go worth visiting?

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. And the answer strongly depends on your interests. But, we think that Shirakawa-go is definitely worth visiting!

Why? Well, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the village farmhouses are truly unique. We enjoyed our time exploring Shirakawa-go quite a bit as you get an insight into a different side of life in Japan.

However, we would not necessarily advise you to travel all the way here from Tokyo just to see Shirakawa-go and nothing else. If you wish to visit Shirakawa-go, we would recommend you also spend some time in Takayama or do some hiking in the Japanese Alps.

🗺️ If you are wondering how to incorporate Takayama and Shirakawa-go into your Japan itinerary, head to our 14-day Japan itinerary for some inspiration!

How to get to Shirakawa-go

From Takayama, there are actually only two ways to get to Shirakawa-go, if you do not wish to book a rental car. Either you travel to Shirakawa-go on your own by taking a bus or you book a group tour.

Taking the bus from Takayama to Shirakawa-go

Located next to Takayama train station, you will find the Nohi Bus Center, where you can directly book tickets to go to Shirakawa-go. We would recommend booking your tickets the day before your trip as you book seats on specific busses based on availability.

Before going to book your tickets, you should therefore think about when exactly you want to take the bus and how much time you want to spend in Shirakawa-go. For more information on timetables etc. head to the official website of the Nohi bus company.

Although a little more confusing, you can also book your tickets online beforehand. The Nohi Bus Company refers customers to the Japan Bus Online website to do so. You will need to book two one-way tickets: One from Takayama to Shirakawa-go (Ogimachi) and one from Shirakawa-go (Ogimachi) to Takayama. Each one-way ticket will cost ¥2600.

On the day of your trip, head to the Nohi Bus Center, which is where the bus will depart from. The drive takes about an hour. But, you won’t get bored because the views of the mountains are absolutely stunning.

Japanese Alps, view from Shirakawa-go
Views of the mountains behind Shirakawa-go

Booking a tour to visit Shirakawa-go

If you prefer visiting Shirakawa-go with the comforts of everything being arranged for you, you can also easily book a guided tour to Shirakawa-go from Takayama.

While you will loose your freedom to decide how long you want to spend in Shirakawa-go (Ogimachi), there are of course also a few benefits to booking a tour to Shirakawa-go instead of going on your own:

  • For starters you will get more background information on Shirakawa-go and on the way people (used to) live there.
  • Additionally, most tours will visit more stops than just Ogimachi village. So, with a tour you might get to see a bit more of the area than just one village.
Recommended tours to Shirakawa-go from Takayama*

Things to do in Shirakawa-go (in Ogimachi Village)

Once you arrive, depending on how you booked your transfer, you will probably have around three hours to explore Shirakawa-go, before it is time to head back to the bus.

Note: Is Shirakawa-go free of charge?

The village of Ogimachi itself is free to enter and roam around, meaning there is no entrance fee! However, some of the sights inside the village do require a small entrance fee.

🔭 Ogimachi Castle Observation Deck

The first stop you should make is the observation platform from where you can get a picture of the panoramic view that you typically see when looking up Shirakawa-go.

This platform is located not far from Shirakawa-go Bus Terminal, where the bus will drop you off. In our opinion the observation deck is an absolute MUST. Be aware that you will need to climb quite a steep road to get there though.

Shirakawa-go view from Viewpoint
Old House in Shirakawa-go surrounded by trees

🚶🏻Stroll through the village

Your biggest pastime in Shirakawa-go is probably going to be walking around the village and taking it all in. This may have been an effect of the remaining snow, but when we visited the village seemed really peaceful. Almost as if time stood still.

The village might have different highlights depending on the season. For instance, when we visited someone had built an igloo in the middle of the town that was huge enough for people to be able to enter it.

Manbuilt Igloo in Shirakawa-go
An Igloo built by someone. It was big enough for people to enter.

During spring and summer, there will be different kinds of flowers all over town and the rice fields as well as lush green mountains make for a great picture backdrop as well!

Many of the houses in Shirakawa-go have been converted to restaurants or shops where you can buy either souvenirs or snacks. Other houses function as small museums and can be visited for a small fee (usually around ¥300).

Shops in Shirakawa-go
Japanese Scarecrows and Puppets

🏡 Visit Kanda House

Among the houses that are laid out as museums, we decided to visit Kanda House. The ground floor was quite cozy with a boiler sitting on top of a fire. Two small tables where set out for visitors to serve themselves tea.

The house also had a family shrine on display. On the top floor, visitors can marvel at typical agricultural tools. There is also a huge window, which gives a great view over the rest of the village.

Beautiful teacup in Japan
Man looking out an old farmhouse in Shirakawa-go Japan

Kanda House is of course only one of many houses you can visit. A lot of them are similar so there is no need to visit all of them. Pick the ones that most peak your interest!

Down below you can find a quick overview over some of the more famous ones:

🏡 Wada House. The largest Gassho-style house in Shirakawa-go. Exhibits a variety of artifacts and traditional everyday items. Entrance fee: ¥400

🏡 Nagase House. The tallest Gassho-style house in Shirakawa-go with 5 stories. Has a 500-year old Buddhist altar. Entrance fee: ¥300

🏡 Myozenji Museum. The biggest temple in the village. You can marvel at beautiful wall paintings, a clock tower and relax inside a cozy living room. Entrance fee: ¥300

⛩️ Visit Hachiman Shrine

One of our personal highlights was probably the Hachiman Shrine. The Tori gates in combination with the snow made this place look really peaceful and magical.

Also, since the shrine is located somewhat at the end of the village, not that many tourists found their way here which is why we ended up having it all to ourselves. Entrance is free of charge.

Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine
Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine
Bamboo Shishi-odoshi at Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine

☕ Drink a cup of coffee at a local café

If you still have some time left in Shirakawa-go after sightseeing, we would suggest getting coffee or tea at one of the local cafés. Our top pic would be ”Kyoshu” Traditional Coffee Shop, which is located not far from Myozenji Museum and actually also provides quite awesome views of the latter.

🌉 Ogimachi Suspension Bridge

Before heading back to the bus stop, make sure to pass by Ogimachi Suspension Bridge, that leads over Shō River. The water of the river has a really beautiful blue tone which unfortunately is not very vivid in our pictures since the weather was really gloomy. Nonetheless the suspension bridge with the mountains in the background does make for quite a view!

Shokawa River in Shirakawa-go
Shō River as seen from Ogimachi Suspension Bridge.

At this point your time in Shirakawa-go probably comes slowly to an end and it is time to head back to Shirakawa-go Bus Terminal.

Final Thoughts on visiting Shirakawa-go from Takayama

The Japanese Alps are truly a stunning place and if you intend to visit Takayama anyway, be sure to include Shirakawa-go into your Japan itinerary as well, you won’t regret it!

Especially, if you love small towns surrounded by nature. While we would not necessarily consider Shirakawa-go a hidden gem (it is quite a well-known destination in the area), it is definitely still less touristy than a numerous other more accessible spots in Japan.

Either way, we hope you enjoy your day trip to Shirakawa-go and as always: Happy Travels!

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