Shirakawa-go is a village composed of several hamlets, located in the Shokawa Valley, in the Gifu prefecture north of Nagoya. In Japanese, its name literally means “the village of the white river”. Shirakawa-go has 3 main hamlets: Ogimachi (the largest of the three with 59 houses), Suganuma (9 houses) and Ainokura (2 houses).
To get to Shirakawa-go from Tokyo, take the Shinkansen (Hokuriku line) to Toyama station (about 2h11), then the bus (Nohi Bus Express Bus or Toyama Chiho Railway) to Shirakawa-go (about 1h25).
Located in the heart of the Japanese Alps, Shirakawa-go has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, as a historic village. Covered with a thick blanket of snow in winter or dotted with rice fields in summer, the village is a real postcard with its traditional thatched houses, historically used to raise silkworms. Visited by more than 1.5 million people each year, this site is one of the most popular in this region of Japan; a peaceful and pleasant place housed in the Japanese countryside, with only forests and mountains as its neighbours.
The particular architecture of Shirakawa-go houses, with their sloping roofs, is called gassho-zukuri in Japanese (literally, “construction with the palms of the hands joined”). They were thus designed to withstand the snowfall that is particularly heavy in this region in winter. Silkworms were raised in the attic while the other floors were inhabited by families from the region.
Shirakawa-go’s environment, in the heart of the so-called Japanese Alps, is worth a visit on its own, with its mountains, rice fields and forests. The visit of Ogimachi is also essential, although this village is the most touristic of the 3. you can visit the Wada, Nagase or Myozen-ji houses there; and stay in one of the many guest rooms (minshuku) or inns (ryokan) that have made their home in the gassho-zukuri.
The most beautiful viewpoint is the Shiroyama observation point located at the former site of Ogimachi Castle.
In winter, on some Mondays and Sundays at the beginning of the year, you can also see the night lighting of the gassho-zukuri. A magical sight when the sloping thatched roofs are covered with snow! However, it will be necessary to book in advance to get a place, and you can only access Shiroyama’s night viewpoint or sleep on site by drawing lots…