Shirakawa-Go is part of the Shokawa Valley in the Gifu Prefecture. Its main attraction is the village of Ogimachi, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 along with the villages of Ainokura and Suganuma in Gokayama, Toyama Prefecture, for their unique gassho-zukuri farmhouses.
These houses are known for their steep thatched roofs shaped like gassho or “praying hands.” Amazingly, no nails were used to build the roofs. Most families in these villages were involved in silkworm cultivation and produced silk until the 1970s.
Photos of the Ogimachi Village covered in snow once went viral in social networking sites. I saw it online and, after some Googling, found out that it’s only 5.5 hours from Tokyo. I also found out that Ogimachi was illuminated on selected weekend nights during the winter season.
In 2016, Ogimachi will be illuminated on the following dates:
- January 16, 2016 (Saturday)
- January 23, 2016 (Saturday) & January 24, 2016 (Sunday)
- January 30, 2016 (Saturday) & January 31, 2016 (Sunday)
- February 7, 2016 (Sunday)
- February 14, 2016 (Sunday)
I planned around that information a month before we went, and actually required a significant amount of planning.
The night before the trip, my husband was in a bit of a mood; when he found out that the first bus ride going to Takayama was at 7:20, he became grumpy and accused me of hating sleep. I stayed calm and didn’t argue with him but, inside, my blood was simmering.
I didn’t painstakingly plan this trip only for my husband to complain about the bus schedule.
(Lesson learned #1: Show him the itinerary in advance)
Unfortunately, his crankiness didn’t end there. The next morning, we drove from our house to the parking lot near the train station. When we finally got there, we found out that he left his backpack in the house! He thought that I put it inside the car, and I felt that he blamed me for not putting it in the car.
(Lesson learned #2: When your partner isn’t looking forward to the trip, take charge of his belongings; otherwise he WILL NOT take them with him.)
So, yeah, we had to drive back to the house to get his backpack. Alright, let’s move forward!
What to Expect At The Light-Up Event
I can barely put into words how beautiful the place was; thatched houses welcomed us the moment we stepped off the bus. It was already dark outside, and the lights from the houses looked perfect and lovely.
It looked absolutely magical.
The one exception to that statement is that as it was the last day of the light-up event, and it was jam-packed, making it very difficult for everyone to get selfies with the beautifully lit-up gassho houses.
From the Nouhi Bus Center, we went to the Main Information Center and took an English map of the Ogimachi Village to start the tour.
Since most of the museums and thatched houses were already closed, we decided to just walk around and enjoy the view. The suspension bridge from the bus center going to the main attractions had a good view of the frozen Shokawa River.
People were crossing the bridge cautiously as it was covered in ice and was extremely slippery. Crossing the suspension bridge in this manner took us 8 minutes.
Once you’ve successfully crossed the bridge, I recommend that you head straight to Shiroyama Viewpoint, as there will probably be another long line of visitors walking up the trail just to see the fairy-tale nightscape of the Ogimachi Village.
The Shirakawa-Go Light-Up Event tested me. Apart from the slippery bridge and roads, getting nice photos was very challenging because of the crowd blocking the view – avoiding them is impossible.
In addition to that, it snowed so much that I had to take my camera in and out of its Ziploc bag whenever I took photos. So when it’s snowing heavily, like the day we went, make sure to protect your camera from snow.
In the end, I can honestly say that it was worth all the trouble I’d gone through. The snow made the night look like a scene in a snow globe. Definitely magical.
How to Get to Shirakawa-Go Light-Up Event
JR Takayama Station or Hida Takayama is the main hub to Shirakawa-Go. The bus ride from JR Takayama Station to Shirakawa-Go takes about 50 minutes to an hour, depending on the traffic. There are no rest stops or toilets on the bus, so make sure your bladder is empty before you leave the terminal.
A one-way ticket costs 2,470 yen, while the round-trip ticket costs 4,420 yen. There are select buses that are for reservation only, so be sure to take note of which these are. To reserve, you can call the Nohi Bus Center at (0577) 32-1688 (change 0 to country code +81 if calling overseas), lines are open from 9:00–18:00.
The agent speaks English and will give you a reservation number. Once you get to the bus center, you will need to get the bus ticket from the ticket booth outside the Ticket Office.
Keep in mind that the light-up event starts at 17:20, and the last bus from Shirakawa-Go to Takayama is at 17:20, which means you will need to take a cab when returning and it costs around 22,000 yen.
In our case, we shared a cab with two other travelers we contacted through TripAdvisor forum.
During the light-up event, the parking lot in Shirakawa-Go is closed to private vehicles but there’s another parking lot near the village that is connected by free shuttle buses. Winter tires, snow chains, and winter driving skills are required to access Shirakawa-Go in winter.
Otherwise, outside the winter season, the village is very accessible by car. For Google maps, click here.
Where to Stay
Staying in one of the gassho-zukuri farmhouses in the village is a great way to experience an authentic Japanese family home and get up close and personal with gassho-zukuri houses. Most houses now function as a minshuku, or family-operated, Japanese-style bed and breakfast accommodation.
If bookings at farmhouses are full, the next best option would be staying in Takayama City (this is now my favorite city in Japan).
We stayed in hostels as we wanted to splurge on food and, honestly, you can never go wrong with hostels in Japan. They all have neat rooms and awesome service.
You may check TripAdvisor for the list of hotels and budget accommodation in the area and book through Agoda.
We stayed at J Hoppers Hostel (3,600 per person) during our first day and then, because the hostel was fully booked, transferred to K’s House Takayama (4,100 per person) for the remainder of our stay.
We booked a double bed room in both hostels. I personally liked K’s House better; it was a hostel but, from the looks of it, was almost like a hotel. Both hostels have elevators.
What To Do When You Get There
The Ogimachi Village in Shirakawa-Go features four farmhouse attractions with an entrance fee of 300 yen, an open-air museum with additional 500 yen admission fee, one onsen (hot spring) facility for visitors at 700 yen, and the famous Shiroyama Viewpoint (no entrance fee) that gives you a bird’s eye view of the beautiful landscape of the entire Ogimachi village and its farmhouses.
There are also restaurants and souvenir shops are scattered around the village.
I will definitely come back here in summer and experience the farmhouse stay.
Have you been to Shirakawa-Go?
Original travel date: February 2015