Shirakawa-go Overview


The picturesque township of Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture is best known for its gassho-zukuri houses built in a traditional architectural style developed over many generations. It is surrounded on all four sides by rugged mountainous terrain and experiences some of the heaviest snowfall in all of Japan. Shirakawa-go was registered a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

Ogimachi is the largest village in Shirakawa-go and many consider it the main attraction. Nestled among a patchwork of rice fields and split between the flowing waters of the Sho River are a total of 114 beautiful thatched-roofed houses, some as old as 250 years. The roofs, made without a single nail, have been built at steep angles to withstand the vast amounts of snow that falls in the region every winter. The shape of the houses closely resembles the hands of a Buddhist monks when pressed together in prayer, hence the name gassho-zukuri, which translates in Japanese as “constructed like hands in prayer”.

Gassho-zukuri houses which are often between three and five stories tall have large open attics that were utilized for the production of silkworms for generations - they are an outstanding example of a traditional way of life and rare example of this type of architecture in Japan. To maximize the experience of the gassho-zukuri, some offer overnight stays with traditional Japanese meals included. Other gassho-zukuri have been turned into museums where one can read all about the history of the village, entry fees are typically just a few hundred yen. Nestled among the houses are a number of small eateries serving local delicacies such as Hida beef, seasonal vegetables and variations of the traditional Japanese sweet “dango”. There are also tea houses and gift shops to be found along the main strip of the village.

To the south of the village sits a quaint shrine called Shirakawa Hachiman, which plays host to the Doburoku Festival every autumn, where revelers can enjoy sampling local sake as well as learn about and partake in Shishi-mai – a dance inspired by the movements of a lion.
A short trek out of the village to the Shiroyama observation deck affords fantastic panoramic views of the area framed on both sides by mountains and thick forests. The landscape surrounding Shirakawa-go changes dramatically between seasons making it a popular travel destination all year round.

On the outskirts of Ogimachi village, across the Sho River sits the Gassho-zukuri Minka-en, an open-air museum made up of 25 gassho-zukuri style houses that have been relocated from various areas in the region. Several other structures including a watermill, a shrine and a temple are well preserved here allowing visitors to get a feel for how the area was in times gone by. The museum also holds seasonal events and workshops including a Soba Dojo, where one can test their soba noodle making skills.

There is no train station in Shirakawa-go, meaning it can only be accessed by bus or by car. Shirakawa-go is easily accessible by bus in just under an hour from Takayama Bus Station making it a popular day trip for people staying in the town Takayama. There are a number of buses and trains connecting Takayama to Tokyo and Osaka, via Nagoya.

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