Visit Shirakawa-go

Once upon a time, in the sacred Mountain Hakusan of the Gifu prefecture, a fairytale village that was waiting for the most daring of all to discover its hidden treasures. Fortunatelly, it is not only a fairytale story. It has survived over time and today, protected under Unesco World Heritage, we can all visit Shirakawa-go village and live into a fairytale for at least one day.

What makes this place so special it is not only its outside beauty, that of course cannot pass unnoticed, but the inner beauty of its people. The villagers built their lives under the “yui”, which is the spirit of closeness, of supporting each other. It has been the bedrock of the village since old times and it has been carefully passed from a generation to another, with the promise to never die. After appreciating the true beauty, which comes from the inside, let your senses explore the area. Immerse yourself into the fairytale world and give your eyes the pleasure of seeing the gassho-style houses, which creates the real tale.

If you come to visit Japan for the first time, you may easily skip this place just because it is not on the famous list. And the reason may be because the treasures are always well hidden. Well, maybe not so well, as I did visit Shirakawa-go and I am here to tell you all about it.


If you saw pictures with steeply pitched thatched roof houses, sitting in a mountain valley, you most probably saw Shirakawa-go. This is the largest village in Gifu prefecture and the most visited place to admire this traditional beauties. If not, you may have saw some smaller villages nearby, like Suganuma, Ainokura or Kaminashi. At the end of the day it doesn’t even matter which one you chose to visit. However, one thing I can tell you for sure is that Shirakawa-go has a lot to offer and it is easy accesible from Takayama by public transport. So, making a quick summary, we have a traditional village, under Unesco World Heritage and easy accessible which waits for us. Then, lets go!

View point

In principle, you can visit Shirakawa-go only by foot, as the main road will close for sightseeing vehicles between 9am and 4pm. But there’s no issue as this is just a village, so the distances are short. The longest distance will be the one till the observatory, which takes about 20 minutes and it should be the place you start with.

If you start your journey from the bus station, then take the first road on the left and keep going up, until the Ogimachi Shiroato Observatory. From here you can get your first souvenir, a panoramic view of the village. And if it’s not enough, you can get your own picture taken for 1200¥ with the village in the background. Or even better, a smaller one for free!

Once you’re here up, take the time to better refflect on the yui spirit and keep this in mind for the duration of your visit. As you can imagine, this fairytale houses, but mainly their roofs, fray over the years because of the severity of the seasons. And, as the roof is basically the biggest part of the house, it takes a huge amount of time to be normally rebuilt. But not in Shirakawa-go! Under the yui spirit, the locals gather all together to remove the old roof and build a new one in only one day! Isn’t this fantastic? Imagine approximatelly 250 people co-working to do this fantastic work from morning till evening. More than this, people are not paid, they just help each other every time somebody’s turn arrived. I cannot imagine a better version of what community could stand for.

Wada House

Wada House is the biggest of the gassho-style houses of the village. It used to serve as a guard station and the head of the village. However, it has even one more plus than the others. The Wada family used to make here potassium nitrate, which was an ingredient of the black gunpower – so check the exact place at the groundfloor as the pic I took is not good enough to be shared!

The house itself is a three storey building with a a huge hall with a sunken hearth, a living room, an altar, a guest room, sleeping rooms and a mezzanine on the top. Take your time to admire the family belongings kept with so much care and love over the years.

Binen-yumeromu museum

This place is like a regular gassho-style house but it also hosts some wooden sculptures, that’s the reason it is also called a museum. It has a small shop at the entrance, from where you can buy several handmade souvenirs like wooden sculptures, postcards and much more. Apart from the things you are able to see them in each house (like the open hearth dug into the floor, the altar, households objects), this one offers the best view with the inside part of the house. You can go to the top of the house and have a very nice open view inside, but also outside – as you are somehow in the middle of the village.

The highlight of the house are for sure the wooden sculptures which are sublime and the wide open view from the top. So, in my opinion this is one of the houses you should visit in Shirakawa-go.

Kanda House

Comparing to the other gassho-style houses, this one adopted new techniques in order to make improvements. While going up, check the beams made up using strong trees whose bases grew up curved under the weight of snow. It also has a small window to watch the irori fireplace from up. On the upper floor, there is a nice educative exhibition. There are pictures explaining each tool and their usage, with QR code to access more information in English! This is one of the pluses of the house in my opinion.

Nagase House

That’s my favourite house from the entire village and if you need to chose only one to see, I would say you couldn’t make a better choise. It has all the basics as the rest of the houses, plus a bigger exposition of belongings and a huge exposition upstairs. Everything is very well organized in the five-storey building, which makes the visit very pleasant. You can also see a newspaper since 2001, when the roof has benn re-thatched for the first time in 80 years. It was a event with more than 500 people colaborating together.


Honestly, this was the last place I visited and for me it was the least impressive of all. The exposition upstairs is not so impressive or well organized like in the other houses, and it’s a bit too dark to trully enjoy the visit. What is special here, is that you can actually visit the temple in the same entry ticket. Inside, there are some nice paintings by the famous Japanese artist Taisuke Hamada. Therefore, if you visit Shirakawa-go for the first time, I would say to skip this one if you’re tight on time.


If you’re coming by bus, don’t forget to come on the other side of the river by crossing the suspension bridge. Like this you can go to the tourist information center or visit the Heritage museum, apart from enjoying the view and taking some nice pictures.

The Heritage museum

Because I visited Hida Folklore museum in Takayama, I skipped the Heritage museum in Shirakawa-go. Just ensure, you see one of them, as you can see different gassho style houses, all in one place.


Apart from visiting the main houses of the village, ensure you have time to walk around the streets and enjoy the athmosphere. For example, there are nice decorations around the village you can capture in your pictures.Or pay attention to the manhole covers, as they have their own local design – with the gassho-style houses, of course! Pay attention to the fire monitors, as are strategically located in the village in order to prevent a potential disaster. By the way, fire is the biggest fear of the entire village, as it could be disastrous for the wooden houses. Also, if you are visiting the village during winter, pay attention to the people on the roof cleaning them. As the snow is heavy, they need to clean it almost every day during this cold months!

Time & money

The entry ticket to each of the houses costs 300¥, however you don’t have to see all of them as are more or less the same, with small particularities. Each house is taking about 30-40 minutes to be visit, which can be of course extended if you want to have a break and relax near the fire. Overall, you need only one day to visit Shirakawa-go.


I never heard a country to have more festivals than Japan does. And Shirakawa-go makes no exception from the rule. Every year, from 14th to 19th of October, the locals are celebrating the Doburoku festival. They pray for peace, safety, fertility and harvest. Every shrine in the area will perform shinto rituals, while in paralel people do enjoy drinking unrefined sake – called doburoku, from here the name of the festival!

Food & Drink

No visit to Shirakawa-go is complet without tasting the local specialities. I personally tried the soba (noodles) with wild vegetables and it was really tasty. You can also try other local specialities like suttate nabe, hoba miso, mountain vegetables, grilled tofu, tororo steak or midarashi dango and gobei-mochi.

When to visit?

The reason I chose to visit Shirakagawa was because of its magical look under the snow. On one side, it looks magical and it is really beautiful. On the other hand, it is extremely cold and sometimes I felt that I could not enjoy the place so much because of the cold. So, if you have the possibility to visit the place during a warmer month, you may enjoy it more than I did!


I would say it is pricy to visit Shirakawago even by public transportation. For example, a one way ticket from Takayama costs 2600¥, while for a return ticket you can save a bit as you’ll pay 4600¥. And this is only one hour ride, but indeed it’s a tought one through the mountains! The good part is that you can make it a day trip, as the buses are quite frequent (almost every hour) from 7.20 am till 7 pm from Takayama, and from 6.43 am till 7.43 pm from Shirakawago.


I didn’t spent any night in Shirakawago, but if you’re planning to, prepare to spend a lot of money! During winter holiday there were no places available for last minute bookings, and the average price was about 50,000¥ per night!

The end!

That’s it from my side! I hope you will get the chance to visit Shirakawa-go, no matter if it’s during winter or not, as the place looks magical in any season.

Meanwhile, get more inspiration for your travels from here.

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