Nestled in the Gifu Prefecture, Shirakawa-go, Japan is a gorgeous confluence of history and serenity. The rustic beauty of the place, the slow-moving lifestyle of the quaint village, and its well-preserved heritage are only a few of the factors which make it a tourist magnet despite its remote location. Shirakawa-go, also referred to as ‘Japan’s hometown’ is mostly known for its Gassho-Zukuri houses, built with a traditional architectural technique. Along with Gokayama, Shirakawa-go made it to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1995.
From The Pages Of History
Shirakawa-go’s first mention in history dates back to 1176, in the diary of a nobleman from Kyoto. Artifacts suggest the presence of human life in the village even as early as 7000BC. It has been implied from ancient potteries that Shirakawa-go used to be a part of the Hida province. The citizens mostly engaged in mulberry cultivation and sericulture.
When To Visit
Shirakawa-go welcomes tourists all year round. With four distinct seasons, cycling gracefully, presenting their unique beauty, it is always a delight to visit the place. The lush green rice paddies of summer, exquisite cherry blossoms of the spring, and the thrilling snowfall of the winter make it suitable to be explored any time of the year.
The Specialities Of Shirakawa-go
The Gassho-Zukuri Houses
These houses are the prime attraction of Shirakawa-go, Japan. These are tall houses with thatched roofs built to increase their resistance to the snowy winters. The sloping roofs resemble both the hands joined for prayer and thus the name. They are particularly designed so, for the snow to slide down easily. There is no use of nails in the roof and the deliberate construction makes the house favorably exposed to the right amount of sunlight and temperature required for the cultivation of silkworms. The village is dotted with such houses. Many are open to visitors while many still serve as residences, shops, museums, etc. A few spectacular Gassho houses that you must visit are the Wada house of the Wada family who used to be the head of the village and was involved in gun powder and silk trading, the Kanda house, and the Nagase house.
Shirakawa Kaido is the main street of Ogimachi, the largest village in Shirakawa. It is where you will find most of the hustle-bustle. Bespeckled is its margin with stalls selling local snacks and items, restaurants, and farmhouses. You will find a greater delight waiting for you after walking down the entire street- The Shirakawa-no-Yu hot spring. It is a place to relax, rejuvenate, and capture a hundred joyful moments behind the lens and
Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine
This is where the faith of the Shirakawa locals resides. Home to the local deity, Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine is yet another architectural beauty, radiating serene vibes. It has a natural-stone basin where you can cleanse yourself prior to entering it. Every year during mid-October, the Doburoku festival is celebrated here.
The festival hall or museum is located beside the shrine. Do not miss exploring that. You might try out the Doburoku- a sake made of fermented rice which was prepared during the previous year’s festival. Get a wholesome experience of Shirkawa’s religious culture in and around the shrine.
The Myozen-Ji Temple
It is yet another edifice of cultural importance. The largest temple of the village, Myozen-Ji is an exquisite structure built in the Gasshi-Zukuri style. The ‘ monk’s residence’, which is also called ‘Kuri’ serves as a museum. It houses the historical records of the temple and of the local belief and worship. You can visit it any time of the year, however, in different time slots.
Explore Sagunama And Ainokura
Shirakawa and Gokayama have three villages grouped under them. Besides Ogimachi, Sagunama and Ainokura are the other two. If you are a peace-lover, then your Shirakawa visit must not end without a tour of these two villages. Relatively smaller, more distant, and less crowded, these villages are quiet yet equally quaint with a few Gassho-Zukuri houses. You can absorb the silence and revel in the solitude, click tonnes of pictures without interruption and recharge yourself completely during the span of a couple of hours of exploration.
Travel And Accommodation
The most suitable way to include Shirakawa-go in your trip is to take a Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Takayama. From then you can get on a bus to Shirakawa-go. If you are planning on spending a night in this village, then you can either allow yourself to rest in the guesthouse run by the locals where you will get to experience a complete village-like lifestyle. Or you can choose to book modern hotels in the neighboring Takayama, Kanazawa, or Toyama areas.
As you explore the village and its streets, make sure to relish the lip-smacking local snacks, which include the Hida beef and the Gohei mochi. Scan through the local handicrafts. You will get a wide range of beautiful products like silk items and Sarubobo toys which have the essence of Shirakawa’s culture imbibed in them. Let one of them tag along with you during your return journey as a memoir of your beautiful visit.