The village of Shirakawa-go, one of Japan’s numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1995, is situated in the north-western Gifu Prefecture. The historic village is famous for its 114 thatched roofs and the yearly Winter Light-up (usually held in end January to early February) where the villages would turn into a fairy-tale winter landscape as the many farmhouses are illuminated.
We visited the village in February 2016 during a very sunny winter day. We started from Kyoto where we took the JR Shinkansen to Nagoya (fare is about 5,800 JPY), checked in to our hotel in Nagoya, then went on to travel for Takayama. From Nagoya, we boarded the JR Hida Limited Express Train to JR Takayama station (around 6,000 JPY) for a journey that lasted for more than two hours. Don’t be discouraged by the travel time as the views are breath-taking and calming at the same time. Plus, I was uber excited to see snow along the roadside as it was my first (and so far, the only) time to see actual snow. Yay!
Upon arriving at JR Takayama station, we hopped aboard a tourist bus which was booked previously through iSite Takayama. We opted for a half day afternoon tour in Shirakawa-go and paid 4,400 JPY per person. The bus was full and there was a tourist guide on board who kept us entertained for the 50-minute bus ride from the station to the village.
Along the way is a very interesting super loooong tunnel which passes through the mountains, the Hida Tunnel, which,by the way, is the second longest tunnel in Japan at 6.5 miles long! It is a bit scary if you think about it, but the guide assured us that if ever something happens there are a lot of exits all through the tunnel.
We arrived at the village at about ten minutes past two in the afternoon, and there were a large number of tourists, judging from the full parking lot alone. We were given two hours to explore the city, an ample time for us to still catch the 5pm train back to Nagoya.
Connecting the parking lot to the village is a somewhat shaky pedestrian bridge where you can get a magnificent view of the village and the surrounding mountains.
The village in itself was not very big and there were some off limit areas as these are still actual residences so as to avoid being disturbed by tourists.There are a number of houses open to the public plus there is also a museum and an onsen in the village. I presume it would be nice to stay overnight but as we were short of time, we only can spare half a day for this visit.
There is also a viewpoint where you can see the whole village. Sadly, as it was winter, the tour does not go all the way to this part as they do during April to November. The lazy beings that we were, of course, we did not go there but opted to takes lots of selfies in the village instead. Here are some of my very few non-selfie photos.
When two hours was up, we headed back to the bus and started our way back to Takayama station. I bought some sarubobo dolls, a well known souvenir from the Hida area, which literally translates to “monkey baby”. Traditionally, they were said to be made by grandmothers as toys for children during the long winters, and as charms from mothers to their daughters for happy marriage and smooth birth delivery. The traditional color is red, but there are many variations nowadays like orange, green, and pink among others.
After a long day of travelling, from Kyoto to Nagoya, Nagoya to Takayama and back to Nagoya, we were very tired but I really appreciated the village. It was very peaceful despite the tourists and places like these reminds me of how little I am compared to the world around me.
Moving on… time for curry!