I mentioned Shirakawago in my latest post, but this time I wish to share my impressions on this fairytale village.
I made up my mind to see as many UNESCO sites in Japan as I could, and Shirakawago was one of the first from my list. It was listed as a World Heritage site in 1995, due to the excellent preservation of the hundreds of years old houses. Gassho-zukuri is the style in which the thatched roofs are built in, that looks like hands held together in prayer. This style is considered a local invention in order to help snow clearing and drainage. Some of the houses are still inhabited but most of them have been turned into museums, minshuku (bed and breakfast), restaurants and souvenir shops. The houses reminded me of the ones in Maramures region of Romania.
During winter, heavy snow falls make the access to Shirakawago pretty difficult. There is no train to go directly there, but you can get by car or bus. There are buses that go from Takayama, and the ticket is somewhere around ￥4300. We have chosen to go during daytime, although during a limited time in winter, they have a wonderful light-up of the village. In order to see the light-up, special groups are organized to go during certain hours. As temperatures fall under 0 degrees, we have decided it would be more pleasant to go during the daytime. We enjoyed a beautiful, sunny day. At one moment, it even started snowing, making the atmosphere more magical. Seen from above, the little houses seemed unreal, really fairytale-like.
We entered one of the houses that were turned into a museum, the Wada House. By entering this house, you can feel a glimpse of the lifestyle people used to have there, in their constant efforts to shelter from wind, heavy snow and coldness of winter. The main building is a large, single roofed, 3-storey Gassho-zukuri structure. There is a huge hall with a sunken hearth, a living room, a room with the family’s Buddhist altar, a guest room and sleeping rooms, and above the sleeping rooms is a mezzanine. Folk handicrafts show the lives of the people living at that time.
You can have lunch at one of the many restaurants in the village. I recommend kanzake (hot sake) to warm yourself up after a cold day. The local specialty here is Gyudon (like in Takayama) and also gohei mochi ( rice cake made from white rice).
Shirakawago is worth visiting during any season, so if you are planning a trip to Japan, don’t forget to include it on your list! Unlike Takayama, Shirakawago is pretty popular among tourists so you would better book the trip as early as possible!