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Shirakawa-go is a World Heritage Site in Gifu Prefecture, renowned for its traditional landscape and thatched roof homes. In this article, we introduce must-see spots, local dishes and street food, and directions to this sightseeing destination.
Shirakawa-go is an area known for its beautifully-preserved traditional Japanese landscape. It is situated in Gifu Prefecture in central Japan.
In 1995, the village was registered as a World Cultural Heritage Site along with Gokayama in neighboring Toyama Prefecture.
In the village, you’ll find about 100 buildings made in gassho-zukuri style (*1), common in agricultural villages of old Japan.
*1 Gassho-zukuri: a traditional Japanese architecture style with thatched roofs with steep slopes that resemble two hands in a prayer position.
Picture courtesy of JNTO
This article covers five ways to enjoy Shirakawa-go and how to get to Shirakawa-go from major cities.
In the next section, we introduce suggested places to go and delicious food to try in Shirakawa-go.
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The main street of Shirakawa-go
It takes around two to three hours walking around Shirakawa-go to see it in full. Stroll around the village to see gassho-style houses, souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafes. At the center of the village is the main street with many shops and other facilities.
After walking for a bit, head to a spot where you can survey the entire village.
Picture from Wada House: A Traditional Thatched Roof House In Shirakawa-Go, Gifu!
This is the observation deck where you can take in a full view of the historic village! It’s also great for taking group photos.
The observation deck is about a 20-minute walk along the promenade from the bus terminal. In the winter, the promenade is closed, but you can ride a shuttle bus to get from the village to the observation deck.
Shuttle buses depart every 20 minutes between 9:00 – 15:40 and cost 200 yen one-way. Buses are operated throughout the year.
Shuttle Bus Terminal
Shirakawa-go is known for its beautiful appearance during winter, when the area receives considerable snowfall. You can see the historic village in its famous snow-covered state from December to February.
Additionally, the village is lit up at night every year in January and February.
The thatched roof buildings and the white snow under the pitch-black winter sky looks magical. However, please note that illuminations are now reservation-only.
In 2020, the village will be illuminated on January 13, January 19, January 26, February 2, February 9, and February 16. The light up is from 17:30 to 19:30.
Admission to the village on the day of the illuminations is reservation only. You can see the light up by reserving your private lodgings, parking permit, bus tickets, or bus tour in advance.
For information on making reservations in 2020, visit the Shirakawa-go Tourist Association website.
Shirakawa-go has many restaurants and food stands where you can satisfy your appetite. Below are recommended places for having a sit-down meal and snacking on during a stroll.
Hida-Takayama Hida Beef Skewer
Hida beef is a variety of wagyu beef from Gifu. Meat considered to be Hida beef has passed strict inspections, a smooth texture, and an exquisite taste. The cattle are raised freely in nature.
A croquette made with Hida beef
In Shirakawa-go, visitors will find many shops that sell grilled Hida beef skewers or croquettes for takeout. You can also eat Hida beef at restaurants.
Restaurants and places throughout Gifu Prefecture serve Hida beef in various forms, including steak, shabu-shabu (hot pot), and grilled skewers. Be sure to give it a try.
Mitarashi dango (mochi with a sweet soy glaze; left); gohei mochi (right)
Gohei mochi is a regional cuisine found in mountainous regions like Gifu and Toyama prefectures. To make gohei mochi, rice is mashed and formed into a flat shape before being put on skewers. It is then flavored with a salty-sweet sauce and grilled.
The sauce usually contains miso, soy sauce, and walnuts, but the ingredients vary slightly depending on the region. It can eaten right off the skewer, making it the perfect snack for a stroll.
The Hida-Takayama area in Gifu, where Shirakawa-go is located, is known for its buckwheat cultivation. We recommend having zarusoba, chilled soba noodles with a delicious buckwheat aroma, or kakesoba, which comes in a warm broth with vegetable tempura.
Wakimoto in Shirakawa-go is a restaurant recommended for diners who want to enjoy Hida beef and soba noodles.
Their generously-portioned set menus, such as the Mini Grated Yam Bowl and Soba Set (1,300 yen) (*2) or the Mini Hida Beef Steak Bowl and Grated Yam Soba Set (2,600 yen), are especially popular. You can also order the dishes separately, like the Grated Yam Bowl (900 yen) or the Hida Beef Steak Bowl (1,500 yen).
*2 Jinenjo: a type of Japanese yam that is not cultivated, but grown wild in the mountains. It grows straight up in the soil and has a long, narrow shape. It is commonly grated.
Yoze, a shop serving gelato
Shirakawa-go also has places where you can enjoy desserts and cafes in old gassho-style Japanese homes. Take a quick break when you’re tired of walking.
Popular gassho-style cafes iclude Ochiudo, known for delicious zenzai (a sweet red bean soup), and Kyoshu, where you can enjoy coffee in a quiet environment.
Some of the houses in the village are open to the public for tours, which will allow you an up-close look at the lives of people in Japan in the past.
The Wada House is a gassho-style home. It is the largest in the village and is designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan.
Be sure to take a picture in front of the sunken hearth!
The house is still used as a residence, but the first and second floors are open for tours. The sunken hearth on the first floor is lit all year round, making the surroundings feel very cozy. Admission costs 300 yen for adults and 150 yen for children.
The first through fourth floors of Kanda House are open for public viewing. Its magnificent beams and pillars are incredible and a must-see.
Wild grass tea that is served for free is another fun part of the house. The tea is made with water heated in an iron kettle on the hearth. Admission is 300 yen for adults and 150 yen for children.
Myozenji Temple, designated by the prefecture as an Important Cultural Property, can also be toured inside its buildings and to see its old tools. The temple has the largest thatch roof in the village that will impress all who visit.
Picture courtesy of Shirakawa-go no Yu
We also recommend Shirakawa-go no Yu to end the day. Here, you can soak in a natural hot spring and relax from your travels. From the open-air baths, you can see the amazing sight of the river flowing below you. Entrance fees are 700 yen for adults and 300 yen for those six to twelve years old (junior high school students).
Shirakawa-go can be enjoyed in one day, but it’s also a good option to stay at a private home in the village.
There are also traditional homes you can stay at that will create a uniquely Shirakawa-go experience.
See this website for a list of lodgings: https://shirakawa-go.gr.jp/en/stay/
The streetscape of Hida-Takayama
There are also several sightseeing spots near Shirakawa-go.
Hida-Takayama is an area nicknamed “Little Kyoto of Hida” for its charming traditional townscape. Hida Takayama is where you can visit a morning market with a history starting from the Edo period. Gero Onsen, a hot spring resort considered one of the three highest-quality hot springs in Japan, is another famous location in the area.
Keta Wakamiya Shrine in Hida Furukawa, a shrine featured in “Your Name.”
There are also several other places to see like Okuhida Onsenkyo, a hot spring area scattered with five hot springs in the mountains, and Hida Furukawa, a town that was the model for the popular animated film “Your Name.” The area is easily accessed from Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture, another popular sightseeing area.
If you’ll be traveling around Shirakawa-go, Hida-Takayama, Kanazawa, or the Toyama area, then it would be beneficial to use the Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass.
As the Shirakawa-go area is in the mountains, it has a cooler climate throughout the year in comparison to Tokyo and Osaka.
Shirakawa-go receives substantial snow from December to February, with a low of zero degrees Celsius on most days. It is best to visit while protecting yourself against the cold. Even during the summertime (around July to September), the temperature will reach a maximum of 30℃ or 20℃ at the lowest, so it is suggested to bring a long-sleeved outer garment with you.
Here’s a summary of how to get to Shirakawa-go from major cities. If you are traveling from Tokyo or Osaka, please note that you will need to make a transfer.
Shirakawa-go is directly accessible from Kanazawa via bus. Board the Nohi Bus on the Takayama-Shirakawa-go/Kanazawa Route from Kanazawa Station. Get off at the Shirakawa-go stop (about one hour and 20 minutes; 2,000 yen).
Nonstop buses for Shirakawa-go also depart from Nagoya. Take the Gifu Bus on the Express Shirakawa-go Route from the Meitetsu Bus Stop in front of Nagoya Station. Alight at the stop for Shirakawa-go (about two hours and 40 minutes; 3,900 yen).
There are no direct trains nor buses from Tokyo, so you will need to make at least one transfer.
Ride the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station and get off at either Toyama or Kanazawa Station (about two hours and a half to three hours; 12,730 – 14,120 yen). Transfer to the Nohi Bus on the Takayama-Shirakawa-go/Kanazawa Route, then exit at Shirakawa-go (about one hour and 20 minutes for 1,700 – 2,000 yen).
Ride the Limited Express Thunderbird from JR Osaka Station, then exit at Kanazawa Station (about two hours and 40 minutes; 7,650 yen). Transfer to the Nohi Bus on the Takayama-Shirakawa-go/Kanazawa Route, then exit at Shirakawa-go (about one hour and 20 minutes; 2,000 yen).
Visitors can spend an entire day experiencing traditional culture in Shirakawa-go. Go and take in the relaxed pace of the agricultural village together with the centuries-old architecture.
Enjoy the best of Shirakawa-go and use this article to help plan your trip.