A few years back, I chanced upon a photo shared in Facebook of a village with thatched houses covered with snow. The fairy-tale scene piqued my interest and after a little research, I found out that it was in a place called Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which I never heard of until I came across that photo. Sometimes, all it takes is one photo to inspire me to visit a place. Such was the case with Hallstatt in Austria, Perast in Montenegro as well as the Italian Dolomites.
Fortunately, the village of Shirakawa-go is much nearer than any of those European towns I enumerated. The former’s also a lot easier to get to although non-Japanese folks may initially get intimidated with Japan’s transportation system. In this post, I shall explain how to visit Shirakawa-go as well as elucidate how you can do this picturesque visit as a day trip on the journey from Kanazawa to Takayama (or vice versa) if you so wish.
How to get there
From Takayama – There are around 10 departures daily from Takayama (Nohi Bus Center) by bus. Journey time is between 50 minutes to 1 hour 7 minutes.
From Kanazawa – There are around 10 departures daily from Kanazawa (Kanazawa Station Bus Terminal #2) by bus. Some of the buses stop at Gokayama while others are direct to Shirakawa-go itself. For non-stop buses, the journey time is 1 hour and 15 minutes. For buses with stops at Gokayama, the journey time to Shirakawa-go is 1 hour and 25 minutes. If you prefer to get a guaranteed seat, you can also book here for a day tour.
Suggested Route (Kanazawa to Shirakawa-go to Takayama within one day)
Before visiting, I was researching about the feasibility of doing Shirakawa-go as a day trip on the way from Kanazawa to Takayama or vice versa. While there are plenty of buses running between Kanazawa and Takayama, I was checking whether the bus station at Shirakawa-go has any bag storage / coin locker facilities.
Upon arriving at the Shirakawa-go station, you will find coin lockers to store your luggage behind the building. It costs 500 Yen to get one of those lockers. However, these lockers have a tendency to be full and that was the case during my visit. Instead, I left my bags at the manned counter at another building a few meters away from the bus station. They took my bags (3 small bags) and charged me 800 yen to store it for the afternoon.
Map of Shirakawa-go
Click here to download larger version
Ever wonder where that bird’s eye view of the cute little houses at Shirakawa-go is taken? Fortunately, getting to that spot won’t require a helicopter (or a drone). That viewpoint is at the Ogimachi Joseki Observatory which can be visited via a 20 to 30 minute hike or a short bus ride. Here is the bus schedule from the village to the viewpoint. Do note that the village bus stop is around a block away from the main intercity bus station.
Bus: Ogimachi (Shirakawa-go village) to Viewpoint
Starts at 9:00 and ends at 15:40 (departs from the village every :00, :20 and :40 of the hour)
Price: 200 yen
Bus: Viewpoint back to Ogimachi (Shirakawa-go village)
Starts at 9:10 and ends at 16:10 (departs from the viewpoint every :10, :30 and :50 of the hour)
Price: 200 yen
Eating in Shirakawa-go
One of the must-eats when at the Gifu Prefecture is the Hoba Miso which is fermented soybean paste that is grilled on magnolia leaves. I had it at Irori, a restaurant that is only a few meters away from the bus station. It is also one of the most recommended places to eat at Shirakawa-go.
Walking Around Shirakawa-Go
There are plenty of Gassho-zukuri style thatched houses open to visitors (you can refer to the map I attached for the location of these houses) which offer a peek at local life. Honestly, I though the houses are better appreciated from an elevated viewpoint but you do get to see a lot of quirky things at the ground level.
Even if you’re not into entering houses and temples (which was the case for me when I was here), you’ll find the village worthy of a stroll for an hour or two. You’ll walk past scarecrows that seemed to have jumped straight out of a story book, canals by the road which double as fishing ponds as well as chance upon a resident or two. There are plenty of souvenir shops that sell knick knacks and local eats. I personally thought 3 hours in Shirakawa-go is enough but if you have plans of appreciating the scenery for a longer period, you can also stay in a ryokan in one of those charming old wooden houses.