Shirakawa-go is one of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is a traditional mountain village that changes its beauty throughout the year. When your mind is stuck with a simple question “what is the best time to visit Shirakawa-go?” then this post could reveal it, seriously! Just wait and see what happens, maybe it would be hard to decide. However if you are a nature fanatic you would like go there upon arrival of each season. In addition, I share with you my ultimate travel guide to this historic place so that you don’t miss a thing. Glimpse of each season beauty with travel tips could help you decide planning your dream trip to Shirakawa-go.
Whether you believe it or not that Shirakawa-go is a four season destination. Each season has their distinct style of beauty which in fact breathtaking to experience. When people decide to Shirakawa-go they first think of its gassho-zukuri (traditionally thatched houses). In general, they are much more interested in exploring them and don’t care whether it is in spring, summer, autumn or winter. Being surrounded by the mountainous forests, the village is extremely fabulous to look at in spring, summer and autumn. On the other hand, you will be stunned seeing the beauty of winter night illumination and snowy landscape in the area.
About Shirakawa-go Village
Why do people want to visit it? What’s the hidden gem that people want to see there? What makes this place so unique? Seriously, only one single answer could disclose this and that’s the traditional Gassho Style architecture or so called houses with thatched roofs. Currently, 114 gassho style buildings in Shirakawa-go can be found though it is said that once there were approximately 300 such kind of houses. Most of the remaining houses you see there are more than 200 years old which were built between the end of the Edo period and until the Meiji period. While experiencing some 250 years old gassho zukuri farmhouses is not an unusual thing to admire in this historic village.
The village of Shirakawa-go is located at the foot of Mt. Haku-san and lies in the mountains of Gifu prefecture in central japan. This small village is surrounded by forested mountains. Near the village a beautiful river runs through it. It is a great source of producing quality paddy field in the area. Picturesque landscapes of the Shogawa river valley, rice fields, and village houses along with mountains slopes make the village pretty unique destination to travel to. The whole area consists of temple & shrines, museums, souvenir shops, restaurants, bridge, viewing platform, and other important landmarks.
Once it was one of the very remote and isolated areas in Japan. The extreme winter weather and climate often hamper the life of the villagers. Though the communities settled in remote areas like this have developed distinctive cultural tradition and found a way of adapt this mountain environment by creating Gassho style houses.
There is an area of which you can find an outdoor museum called Gassho-zukuri Minkaen. It comprises total 27 thatched roof houses that have been relocated from various areas in Shirakawa-go. The reason behind this was to preserve the old scenery and atmosphere. Visitors there can have some hands-on craft and cooking experience. In addition, you can watch some live performances of traditional arts such as weaving and dyeing.
In 1995, the village was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with Gokayama in Nanto, Toyama. With beautiful unique architectures and all these attracting features, it deserves to be listed as a World Heritage Site. I think you do agree with me.
Shirakawa-go in Spring
When spring is in the air, different plants around the village burst into life. It is said that nature is at its most busy in spring. After the end of harsh cold winter, plants of different kinds start showing their beauty day by day. In spring, birds start singing and you can hear it when you take an early morning walk along the village paths.
Various flower plants including sakura (cherry blossom) are usually at their best, so don’t miss this amazing spring spectacle when you visit Shirakawago.
Rice is being planted in the fields at this time of the year and experiencing lush green paddy fields is guaranteed in late spring. The cherry trees that are scattered in the village are in their full glory in late-April. Want to see beautiful backdrop of stunning snow-capped mountains with cherry blossoms?
Then go to the Shiroyama Viewpoint and enjoy the spring beauty. And don’t forget that it is still cold there in spring, so wear a jacket or sweater.
Shirakawa-go in Summer
The trend of blooming flower begins in spring and summer expands it highlighting various summer flowers on the grounds of Shirakawago. Though viewing flower here in summer is not the main attraction but lush green paddy fields.
Snow-capped mountains are no longer visible but stunning views of green fields and mountainous forests could overwhelm you, no doubt. In fact, summer is a really great time to visit this historic ancient landmark. Surly you will be overwhelmed seeing the summer beauty out there.
It rains a lot during the rainy season. New leaves of the trees get matured. The weather gets warmer and it makes you possible to roam around the whole village area without wearing winter attires. You can spot some sunflowers and hydrangeas there including other seasonal flowers, surprised?! Don’t be, that’s typical.
A late summer inspires, especially in August. Incredible scenery at the time will blow your mind. In summer, you are suggested to wear a sunhat or use an umbrella when walking through the village paths.
Shirakawa-go in Autumn
If it’s getting colder outside then surly autumn is visiting us soon. Splendid autumn colors can be seen in Shirakawa-go. It is one of the most exciting times of the year when farmers start harvesting and surrounding mountains slopes change their colors. The deciduous trees in the mountains slope ablaze with colors in autumn.
Days become shorter, leaves change their colors, locals prepare themselves to survive the upcoming winter months, the weather gets chilly and sometimes nasty but what does not change – is the traditional houses. Though, if the villagers find that roofs need to be repaired then they do it in autumn before winter rolls in.
It is just amazing to gaze at the mountains slopes that are pretty shiny with vivid colors from different angles in the village, especially the best way to see it from the observation platform. If you come here in mid autumn then ripe paddy field will amaze you, in fact that is the ideal time for harvesting.
Shirakawa-go is famed for viewing autumn leaves in Japan. A lot of visitors from different parts of Japan especially from Tokyo, Nagoya, Kanazawa, Toyama, Takayama, Osaka, and Kyoto visit this site and enjoy the fall colors. In addition, you can participate in a festival called Doburoku Matsuri, held at multiple shrines throughout the village.
Shirakawa-go in Winter
Winter is a special season in Shirakawa-go, though life there is hard to carry on. Don’t you like winter season? It is a magical season, snow is everywhere in the village. It is gets severely cold and heavy snowfall occurs. Here, heavy snowfall and severe cold often accompany blizzards.
The roofs of the thatched houses are covered in thick snows that create amazingly stunning views in winter. Don’t be surprised when you see a lot of snows all over the place in the morning just right after you wake up. It happens, no magic as snows piled up more than two meters thick. The snow has to be shoveled off to extend the life of the thatched roof.
The surrounding areas are filled with snows which make you feel like you are nowhere but in a winter wonderland. Excessive snowfalls make the trees in the mountains pretty nice to look at and they would remind you of the snow monsters of the Mount Zao.
You may get tired of the severe cold, therefore you will not bother call the trip off all of a sudden and go back to your farmhouse. Every year, winter illumination is held in January and February. The farmhouses are lit-up individually at night and it makes the area breathtaking.
Insight into Gassho-Zukuri (Farmhouses)
What makes the gassho-zukuri so unique? Gassho zukuri, the thatched roof house is completely different than the houses you see across Japan both in rural and urban areas. What makes it famous is that the structure of each roof looks triangular that resembles two hands together or standing open book. Here the word “Gassho” literally means praying hands or put your hands together with the fingers pointing upwards. The houses were built for large extended families. Inside a farmhouse you see Buddhist prayer room, living room, bed rooms, and dining room. When it is for re-thatching a roof, all community of the village join in and get the job down with harmony.
The major characteristics of this style house are: the roof is steep (triangular shape), built of solid wooden beams, it faces north to south in order to minimize the wind resistance. Shirakawago is one of the few places in Japan where excessive snowfall takes place. Keeping this in mind, locals there decided to design this sort of unique shaped roof that could resist the whole house from heavy snowfall. An interesting fact about this roof is that – no nails or other metal materials are used while making one single roof but only straws and ropes.
Visiting this historic site and staying in a farmhouse or so called minshuku (some farmhouses are now used as minshuku) would like to you stepping back in 250 years ago. It means you feel like you go back into the ancient time. I felt this when I stayed in a farmhouse. It was neat and clean. If you are a foreign tourist then staying a night is highly recommended as it leads you to meet with local families and experience the traditional Japanese lifestyle. Please note that, many of the farmhouses are now used as shops, restaurants, inn and museums.
Best Things to do in Shirakawa-go
Walk along the paths throughout the village and experience the seasonal beauty that it offers.
Many visitors come here for a day trip only but I think an overnight stay in a farmhouse could make the trip unforgettable. Book your room here.
Shirakawa-go is one of the best places in Japan for photo shooting. Its picturesque landscapes offer stunning views that you could capture using your camera.
Make sure you pay a visit to each of these houses: Myozen-ji Temple, Zin HOMURA Art Museum, Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine, Kanda House, Wada House, Gassho-zukuri Minkaen, and Nagase House. Also you are suggested to discover the attractions located outside the village area, they are all worth visiting.
You must go to the Shiroyama Viewpoint and enjoy the scenic beauty of the Ogimachi Village from there. Panorama view of the entire village is possible from this observation deck.
Taste the local specialties you find there in the restaurants. They are quite delicious and the food menu varies from season to season. I won’t reveal the food menus here, sorry! I think I should keep it as secrete, though don’t worry that there are mouthwatering dishes for vegetarians as well.
You can avoid the crowds by waking up early in the morning and enjoy the morning scenery. It also lets you take better photos of the houses and surrounding landscapes.
If you visit this place in autumn from the end of September into mid-October then participate in the Doburoku Matsuri. It is an autumn festival, held at Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine (October 14-15), Hatogaya Hachiman Shrine (October 16-17), and Iijima Hachiman Shrine (October 18-19). Enjoy the lion dance and traditional folk song performances including drink Doburoku – the white unrefined sake.
How to get to Shirakawa-go?
Getting to Shirakawa-go from cities like Tokyo, Kanazawa, Toyama, Takayama, and Osaka is not a daunting task. If you are planning on visiting this site from Takayama then the best way to reach there is by bus. Take Nohi bus from Takayama station and reach Shirakawa-go easily, it would take almost an hour to get there.
When you are coming from Tokyo then take the JR Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagoya, now transfer to the JR Hida limited express train to Takayama. Then take the Nohi bus.
If you intend to visit it from Kanazawa then take either Nohi or Hokutetsu bus, they operate hourly highway buses from Kanazawa to Shirakawa-go. In addition, there are sightseeing tour buses operated by Nohi bus from Takayama, you can make a reservation visiting its official website here.
When would you be visiting Shirakawa-go?
Have not you decided it yet? Is it hard to make a plan to get there? Probably it is, while if you think it wisely then it is easy to decide. In comparison with summer, fall and winter beauty, many people think that spring is not a best time to visit it. No, it is wrong! Spring there is charming as it is for summer, autumn and winter. I admit that you won’t find tons of cherry blossoms there like you find in Takayama and Kanazawa areas. However, it is still worth a visit as you are going to see its main feature – the thatched houses.
Also I notice that other visitors want to avoid the winter season because of heavy snowfall. Maybe you are free from the work and wish to travel to Shirakawa-go but other family members of yours, say for example – your kids, who have school to attend to; in this case you can’t make it alone. You have to wait until they get few days off from school. However, it is up to you. I want you chose a suitable season that would make you spend some times in this beautiful traditional mountain village. I hope you have enjoyed reading this post. Thank you.
Copyright 2016 @ takkhis