Since its listing on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1995, Shirakawa-gō (白川郷) in Gifu Prefecture has been considered one of the most popular getaway spots in Japan. Located in a remote mountainous region in central Japan, the villages and their people were known to be isolated and hidden from the rest of the world. However, due to the tourism industry boom, it has become a lot easier for people to get to this charming part of Japan!
No matter what season you visit Shirakawagō, the villages in the river valley surrounded by rugged high-mountain will definitely be the ultimate escape from the chaotic urban lifestyle (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ
The Gassho-Zukuri-Style Houses
Throughout Shirakawa-gō, you will find unique traditional houses known as Gassho-Zukuri (合掌造り). The thatched roofs with steep slopes resemble our hands placed together in a prayer position which is why this style of architecture is called “gassho”.
Just like anywhere else in the world, people who live in colder regions construct their houses with an almost vertical slope due to the heavy snow. Villagers of ancient Japan also share the same thoughts and wisdom.
However, probably none of them would have thought that their homes would become one of the most popular tourist destinations hundreds of years later (´▽｀*).
Most of the 100 or so gassho-zukuri houses in the area were built in the late 1600s. If you could travel back in time and have a sneak into those large attics, you would most likely see hundreds of silkworms in front of you (≧▽≦).
The traditional way of life is preserved at Shirakawa-gō. When the thatched roof is due to be renewed for maintenance, this will apply to the whole village (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ
Strolling around Shirakawagō
Ogimachi (荻町) is the most accessible and largest village in Shirakawa-gō. Most of the attractions, including lookouts, cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops, and museums, are located at Ogimachi. If you don’t intend to stay at one attraction for too long, it will probably take you an hour or so to walk around the whole Ogimachi.
On the other hand, if you are like us who like to have a meal at the local restaurant and are willing to explore the interior of gassho-zukuri houses and take pictures here and there, allocate at least half a day to this gorgeous village would be better (‘ω’)ノ.
A List of Attractions in Shirakawagō
- Wada House (和田家)
- Tenshukaku Observatory (天守閣展望台)
- Ogimachi Castle Observation Deck (荻町城跡 展望台)
- Hoba Miso Cuisine at Shirakawa-gō
- Deai Bridge (であい橋)
- Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine (白川八幡神社)
- Shirakawa-gō Three Houses (三小屋)
- The Local Snack – Goheimochi (五平餅)
- Spending a Night at Shirakawa-gō
- Winter Light-Up Event at Shirakawa-gō
Click HERE to skip to Shirakawa-gō’s access information.
Wada House (和田家)
Get a vibe of the rich Japanese lifestyle back in the 1800s lives!
This house was owned by the Wada family, who served as government officials. The family also traded the raw silk farmed locally as well as explosives. The wealth that the family accumulated enabled them to build and live in the largest gassho-zukuri-style house at Shirawakago.
This National Cultural Asset preserves the original state of the architecture. Whether it is the main house, the storehouse, or the waterways, the formation and structure have not changed since 200 years ago!
Can you believe that this whole structure is still so sturdy to withstand the many earthquakes in Japan and the heavy weight of the snow in winter?
The staircases leading to the 2nd floor and the attic are as steep as the thatched roof. So mind your steps and follow the rules by letting the people come down first before you climb up. It will be your turn to use the stairs first once you are done exploring the upper floor of this traditional house anyway!
The attic was home to thousands of cute silkworms a few hundred of years ago. The thatched roof is the perfect insulation for keeping the white worms warm and comfortable from the extreme cold in winter (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
Wada House’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information
- Wada House is open from 9 am to 5 pm
- The admission fee is
- 300 yen for adults
- 150 yen for children.
Tenshukaku Observatory (天守閣展望台)
Coming out from the Wada House, with your back facing the entrance, there is a road on your right-hand side that will lead you to the Tenshukaku Observatory.
This is a great photo spot with this World Heritage Village. It even has a gassho-zukuri board with the date on it for you to pose around (≧▽≦).
Important: Apparently, this observatory is not considered a public facility. Whilst accessing it is free, the Shirakawa-gō Village Office kindly asks all visitors to show some consideration towards the owners of the property during the visit.
The observatory is located in the middle of a hill. The slope is quite small and is only a 10-minute walk from the Wada House.
There are also shuttle bus services departing from the main road in front of Wada House at a 20 minutes interval. You can utilize this service for 200 yen for a one-way trip if you don’t want to walk.
HERE is the timetable for the shuttle bus departing for and from Tenshukaku Observatory.
Ogimachi Castle Observation Deck (荻町城跡 展望台)
There should be an intersection as you come down from the Tenshukaku Observatory and close to the car park.
Instead of following the big road back to the Wada House, why not try the smaller roads? You will come across this Ogimachi Castle Observation Deck that will give you a closer view of the Shirakawa-gō village (^^)/.
Hoba Miso Cuisine at Shirakawa-gō
Shirakawa-gō, being so close to Hida (飛騨) area, also has Hida’s local cuisine – Hoba Miso (朴葉味噌)!
As you can see in the photo, Hoba Miso cuisine is basically created by putting all ingredients on a dried magnolia leaf. The set is then placed on a charcoal grill. After some time, the leaf’s fragrance and baking miso aroma will blend together nicely.
Most of the restaurants in Shirakawa-gō serve this dish with Hida beef. When we visited Shirakawa-gō, Irori (いろり) did have a set menu with tofu instead of meat. So give this a try when you get to Shirawakago. If they cannot do Tofu Hoba Miso, other tofu and vegetable dishes are available.
Important: Whilst this is not confirmed, the broth of all noodle dishes is likely to contain bonito extract. If you are keen on a bowl of noodle soup, check with the restaurant you visit first about your dietary requirements before placing your order.
The other place that may be able to serve you Tofu Hoba Miso is Hakusuien (白水園). Again, check with the restaurant for their vegetarian options first is best.
Tip: Please refer to our Essential Japanese Travel Phrases for Vegetarian article if you need communication assistance with restaurants/café at Shirakawa-gō (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
Deai Bridge (であい橋)
If you stand on this concrete bridge, you should be able to get a nice photo with the great natural landscape as your backdrop.
Although it is made out of concrete, if too many people stand on the bridge at once, it might swing a bit…(;・∀・)
The 107 meters long Deai Bridge connects Ogimachi to the village’s largest car park (村営せせらぎ公園 駐車場). That is why you will find people visiting Shirakawa-gō on tour coming from the Deai Bridge, as the coach buses will be parked in this car park.
Also, if you need a toilet break, there are public toilets available around the car park as well (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
If you are a big fan of museums, a few are located on this side of the bridge for you to explore (^_-)-☆.
Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine (白川八幡神社)
Coming from the Observation Deck and passing through a few shops and restaurants, you will see this old but solemn shrine at the far end of the main road that you are on.
The Doburoku Festival (どぶろく祭) will be held at Shirakawa-gō around mid-October (usually the 14th) to celebrate the harvest of the year. People will often pray for another year of a good harvest as well as the safety of families and peace in the village.
“Doburoku” is sake brewed by the local brewing technique that has been passed down from ancient times. The doburoku is first presented to God and then shared with the rest of the festival participants! As the doburoku is passed around, it won’t take long for the venue to be surrounded by the doburoku’s rich scent (*’▽’).
Important: Doburoku is a type of unfiltered rice wine. It is quite strong in flavor. So if you don’t think you can finish it, sharing it with your companions might be a good idea!
During the two days festival at Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine, apart from the Doburoku offering, there will be exciting performances such as lion dancing and traditional folk dance happening throughout the event. For photos of the festival, check out Shirakawa Village Office’s website HERE.
For other events and festivals at Shirakawa-gō, please check out the event calendar on the official website HERE.
Shirakawa-gō Three Houses (三小屋)
As you return from the lovely Deai Bridge, before wrapping up your visit to Shirakawa-gō, why not take a photo with the three houses that frequently appear on the Village’s promotion materials?
You can also try your luck with the restaurant close to the Shirakawa-gō Three Houses – Chubei (忠兵衛) about the Hoba Miso cuisine, and see whether they can replace the meat with tofu and mushrooms for you (^_-)-☆.
When the village is covered in white snow in winter, the houses will look like gingerbread houses (just think of the fairy tale stories). And in May, when the field in front of the houses is filled with water (in preparation for farming), you will be able to get photos of the houses together with their reflections.
Important: Shooting angle is important. However, be careful not to step on other people’s private property. It is easy to step on the villagers’ crops, especially when the ground is covered in snow during the winter…
For more attractions at Shirakawa-gō, please check out Shirakawa-gō Village Office’s website HERE!
The Local Snack – Goheimochi (五平餅)
Goheimochi is Shirakawa-gō’s local snack. The rice will first be crushed and then pinched into an oval shape before being grilled with soy sauce-infused miso.
There are quite a few shops that sell Goheimochi. If you ever wonder where the delicious smell comes from, we can definitely say it comes from the Goheimochi!
Spending a Night at Shirakawa-gō
Spending a night at one of those gassho-zukuri houses will definitely be an experience you will remember for the rest of your life (^^)/.
With great Japanese hospitality from the owners of the house, your delicious meals will be made with the freshest local ingredients. The hoba miso cuisine will most likely be on the menu too!
At night, the traditional Japanese hearth, irori, might be lit up with fire, especially in winter. Having a conversation with the owner around the hearth will definitely be one of the highlights of the stayover (≧▽≦).
HERE is the list of 19 unique gassho-zukuri houses that you can book to stay overnight. Each of them has different charms (whether it is a house with a great view or whether you want one that includes shamisen – a Japanese guitar performance…etc).
Price-wise…we think it is quite reasonable. Given the maintenance required, 6,000 ~ 15,000 yen a night per person is around the average price for a traditional Japanese Ryokan.
Shirakawa-gō’s Cherry Blossom and Fall Foliage Season
- Cherry blossoms: mid-April to early May
- Fall foliage: mid to late October
Winter Light-Up Event at Shirakawa-gō
At Shirakawa-gō, there will be cherry blossoms in spring, lush greenery in summer, and the village covered in vibrant colors throughout autumn.
However, the most popular season to visit the village is definitely WINTER!
With the candy house-liked gassho-zukuri style houses combined with the light-up event at night, it is no wonder thousands of tourists will be heading to Shirawakago during the winter.
To be able to participate in the light-up event at Shirakawa-gō, not only do extra charges apply, but you have to either be quick enough or lucky enough to be one of the winners in the drawing Σ(ﾟДﾟ).
The Drawing to Participate in Shirakwago’s Light-up Event
If you are eyeing Shirakwago’s light-up event, watch the event space on Shirakawa-gō’s Official Website closely around early August the year before. That is, if you want to join the event in January/February 2023, you will have to apply through the official website. For the 2023 event, the application period is from the 1st to the 31st of October 2022.
There are only a few ways that a tourist can be part of the 2023 event. In addition to the below, please refer to the official website HERE.
- Staying over at the gassho-zukuri style houses:
You must submit your application during the application period. A drawing will take place during that time, and the lucky winners will be contacted shortly after the application is closed (in other words, if you haven’t heard from Shirakawa-gō, it is unlikely that you will be able to stay at the Village overnight).
Important: One group can only apply once. You would not be able to amend your application afterwards. If you breach this rule, your application will be canceled.
- You have made a booking through a hostel (such as Shirakawa-gō Terrace) at Shirakawa-gō:
You can book two nights with the hostels at Shirakawa-gō. As soon as Shirakawa-gō releases the event dates in early August, make a booking to reserve your spots immediately!
- You are driving to Shirakawa-gō:
Reservation for “parking permit” on the nights where the light-up events are held will be opened around mid-September. You have to pay when you make your reservation. Refunds will not be made available.
Parking fee: 4,000 yen per vehicle with a capacity of fewer than 10 people
Observation deck entrance ticket: 1,000 yen
- You are going to Shirakawa-gō as one part of your tour package:
At the end of August, travel agents in Japan will have tour packages made available on their websites
. The downside is that the tours are likely to be held in Japanese. Refer to kkday’s website HERE for their tour package
- You are coming to Shirakawa-gō via one of the light-up event buses:
Bus companies that provide bus services to Shirakawa-gō will normally have light-up event bus services available for customers to book on the 20th of August.
Toyama Chiho Railway You are going to Shirakawa-gō via taxi:
This option is practically the same as option 2. The only difference is that you will not be the driver and will need to contact a taxi company to arrange the trip.
Important: On the days when the light-up event is held, an application to visit the village would not be required if you leave by 3 pm (the car park opens until 1 pm). Nevertheless, if you are planning to go in January or February, make sure you carefully read the details of the event.
The Observation Deck Ticket
An observation deck ticket is required to access the observation deck for a panorama light-up Shirakawa-gō view. This ticket can be obtained from the following three methods:
- Staying at one of the gassho-zukuri style houses (comes with the ticket).
- If you are driving to Shirakawa-gō, when you buy your parking permit, you can choose to add the ticket to your shopping cart.
- If you are coming on light-up event buses, make sure you choose the package that includes the observation deck access.
Things to Look Out for When You Visit Shirakawagō
- If the village is covered in snow, try not to step on where snow may accumulate. There might be a puddle or a pond underneath…
- Follow the manner guide on Shirakawa-gō’s website HERE (manga style!).
- Winter in Shirakawa-gō is extremely cold, so ensure you have packed enough warm clothes. It would also be wise to have your phone and camera fully charged!
- Flying your drone around the village is forbidden.
Gokayama – Ogimachi’s Neighbour
Gokayama (五箇山) in Toyama prefecture is another village close to Shirakawa-gō that is known for its gassho-zukuri-style houses. It also got listed as World Heritage with Shirakawa-gō!
There are only small differences between Gokayama and Shirakawa-gō. Whether it is the slope of the roof being steeper in Gokayama or the details of the entrance of the houses being almost near identical, spotting these differences can be really fun (´▽｀*).
Compared to Shirakawa-gō, Gokayama has a lot fewer tourists. That is probably because fewer buses stop at Gokayama, and the village is a lot less commercialized. But if you hate the crowd and want to visit an area for some peace in the charming countryside, you will probably want to add Gokayama to your itinerary and even spend a night there (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
When you come to Gokayama, don’t forget to grab one of the “Gokayama Washi (五箇山和紙)”. Washi is a type of paper made of fiber produced locally, which is then hand-made into a piece of paper with traditional techniques. The “Gokayama Washi” was appointed as one of the National Traditional Crafts. The industry remains prosperous at Gokayama!
How to Get to Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama by Public Transport
Shirakawa-gō can only be accessed by bus. You will need to transit at different stations depending on where you are coming from.
- From JR Kanazawa Station (金沢駅): There are direct bus services that will bring you to Shirakawa-gō Bus Terminal (白川郷バスターミナル). Travel time is around an hour and 20 minutes.
- From JR Toyama Station (富山駅): There are direct bus services that will bring you to Shirakawa-gō Bus Terminal (白川郷バスターミナル). Travel time is around an hour and 20 minutes.
- From JR Takayama Station (高山駅): There are direct bus services that will bring you to Shirakawa-gō Bus Terminal. Travel time is around 50 minutes.
- From JR Takaoka Station (高岡駅): There are direct bus services that will bring you to Shirakawa-gō Bus Terminal. Travel time is around 2 hours and 10 minutes.
- From JR Nagoya Station (名古屋駅): Direct bus to Shirakawa-gō Bus Terminal departs from Meitetsu Bus Centre (名鉄バスセンター). Travel time is around 2.5 hours. You can also take an express train – Wideview Hida (特急ワイドビューひだ) to JR Takayama Station. The total travel time for this option will be around 3 hours and 10 mins (excluding waiting time).
- From JR Osaka Station (大阪駅): Take the express train – Thunderbird (サンダーバード) to JR Kanazawa Station and change for bus services to Shirakawa-gō Bus Terminal.
- From JR Tokyo Station (東京駅): Take Hokuriku-Shinkansen (北陸新幹線) to JR Toyama Station and change for bus services to Shirakawa-gō Bus Terminal.
Note that the number of bus services departing from JR Toyama Station and JR Nagoya Station is a lot less than those departing from JR Takayama Sation and JR Kanazawa Station.
How to Book Your Bus Services
- By calling the bus companies:
Nohi Bus: +81-577-32-1688
Hokutetsu Bus: +81-76-234-0123
- By visiting a bus center
- By online booking HERE
Cancellation charges apply once an online booking has been made (110 yen). Please follow each company’s refund policy if you choose to book via phone call or at a bus center.
Important: If you are holding one of the free passes that cover this bus journey, such as Takayama-Hokuriku Area Pass, you won’t be able to book online. Also, the return trip discount would not be available for online booking either.
Visiting Shirakawa-gō through Hakusan Shirakawa-gō White Road
If you are confident in driving in Japan and will head to Shirakawa-gō from Kanazawa, instead of taking a bus, we would recommend driving to Shiragawagō through the Hakusan Shirakawa-gō White Road.
Although it is a toll road, the scenery along this motorway is picturesque from late April to November. Along the road, there are multiple hiking trails perfect for some light hiking!
For more information, please refer to our article on Hakusan Shirakawa-gō White Road.
Combine Your Visit with Other nearby Popular Destinations and Save on Transportation
If you plan to Shirakawa-gō and at least 2 of the following spots, the Mitsuboshi Kaidou Three-Star Route Option Ticket will save you money! The ticket is valid for 7 consecutive days, allowing you ample time to sightsee in each of the destinations!
For more details about this ticket, check out our article about Chūbu region transportation article HERE!