Since its listing on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1995, Shirakawago (白川郷) in Gifu Prefecture has been considered as one of the most popular getaway spots in Japan. Located in a remote mountainous region in central Japan, the villages and its 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 Shirakawago, 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 Shirakawago, 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 into 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 will 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 will most likely see hundreds of silkworms in front of you (≧▽≦).
The traditional way of life is preserved at Shirakawago. When the thatched roof is due to be renewed for maintenance, this will apply to the whole village (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ
Strolling Around Shirakawago
Ogimachi (荻町) is the most accessible and largest village in Shirakawago. Most of the attractions ranging from lookout, 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 likes to have a meal at the local restaurant and are willing to explore the interior of gassho-zukuri houses and taking pictures here and there, allocate at least half a day to this gorgeous village would be better (‘ω’)ノ.
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 has not changed since 200 years ago!
With just 300 yen (150 yen for kids), you will be able to see what a samurai’s house looks like (≧▽≦).
The residence is opened between 9 am and 5 pm. The days where the residence is closed however are not announced…
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 hundreds of years ago. The thatched roof is the perfect insulation in keeping the white worms warm and comfortable from the extreme cold in winter (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
Can you believe that this whole structure is still so sturdy to withstand the many earthquakes in Japan and the heavyweight of the snow in winter?
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 spot to have a photo taken 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 Shirakawago 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 minutes walk from the Wada House.
Before the pandemic, there were also shuttle bus services departing from the main road in front of Wada House at a 20 minutes interval. Hopefully, this service resume after COVID-19 so people who are less mobile can still get to this scenic spot for 200 yen one-way.
Ogimachi Castle Observation Deck (荻町城跡 展望台)
As you come back down from the Tenshukaku Observatory and close to the car park, there should be an intersection.
Instead of following the big road back to the Wada House, why not give the smaller roads a try? You will come across this Ogimachi Castle Observation Deck that will give you a closer view of the Shirakawago village (^^)/.
Hoba Miso Cuisine at Shirakawago
Shirakawago, 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 dried magnolia leaf. The set is then placed on a charcoal grill. After some time, the fragrance of the leaf and aroma of baking miso will blend together nicely.
Most of the restaurants in Shirakawago serve this dish with Hida beef. When we visited Shirakawago, Irori (いろり) did have a set menu that with tofu instead of meat. So give this a try when you get to Shirawakago. If they are not able to do Tofu Hoba Miso, there are other tofu and vegetable dishes available.
Important: Whilst this is not confirmed, the broth of all noodle dishes is likely to contain bonito extract. If you are keen for 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 with Tofu Hoba Miso is Hakusuien (白水園). Again, it is best to check with the restaurant for their vegetarian options first.
Tips: Please refer to our Essential Japanese Travel Phrases For Vegetarian Article if you need communication assistance with restaurants/café at Shirakawago (=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 Shirakawago as a 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, there are a few that are located at this side of the bridge for you to explore (^_-)-☆.