Today, we’re going on a day trip to Shirakawa-go, a charming village situated in the heart of the Japanese Alps, which may very well be the most beautiful village in all of Japan!
The main draw to Shirakawa-go is a type of construction characterized for its steep thatched roof said resembles two hands clasped together in prayer. This is known as gassho-zukuri.
Shirakawa-go has the largest number of farmhouses in this unique building style, many of which were relocated here from surrounding villages in order to better preserve them.
Visiting Shirakawa-go is kind of like travelling back in time and also setting foot in a magical world where everything is just so…perfect.
This was hands down one of my favourite day trips in Japan and well worth the effort to visit, so read on if you’re in need of a little travel inspiration.
How to get to Shirakawa-go
The only ways to reach Shirakawa-go are by car or by bus.
We were staying at a ryokan in nearby Takayama, so we took the Nohi Bus from Takayama Nohi Bus Center and it was a 50-minute ride. The bus has frequent departures – you can view their timetable here.
There are also bus links from Nagoya, Kanazawa, Toyama, Gokayama and Shin-Takaoka.
If you’re coming from Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka, you’ll have to travel by train to either Nagoya or Kanazawa and switch over to a bus line from there.
This transportation guide does a pretty good job of explaining how to get to Shirakawa-go.
It takes a little bit of effort, but trust me, it’s worth it!
Things to do in Shirakawa-go
There are quite a few things to do in Shirakawa-go, even if you only visit on a day trip, and because the village is quite small, it’s easy to cover a lot of ground over the course of one day.
Here’s a taste of what we got up to:
Enjoy the views from the Tenshukaku Observatory
If there’s one thing you have to do in Shirakawa-go, it’s go up to the Tenshukaku Observatory and see the village from above. This is where you get those postcard-perfect views of the town.
From this perch, you can admire the tiny thatched-roof village nestled in the mountain range, surrounded by rice fields and forest as far as the eye can see.
It’s every bit as magical as what you’ve seen in brochures in guide books.
It’s a 20-minute walk up the viewpoint, or you can hop on a bus for ¥200.
We took the bus up and then walked down, and we’re glad we did because there are actually a few cool lookouts as you come down, so we stopped to grab photos.
Wander down the village’s back streets
The beauty of Shirakawa-go is that you can just wander around without much of a plan and you’ll still end up stumbling upon beautiful places.
I really enjoyed walking down the side lanes and back streets where we came across rice fields, gardens in bloom, and canals filled with coy fish.
I also couldn’t help marvelling at the natural refrigeration system in use at many of the shops. They have a waterwheel and use the cool water that comes down the mountain to refrigerate the beverages they have for sale.
Visit Myozenji Temple & Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine
While walking around Shirakawa-go, we came across the Myozenji Temple.
This happens to be the biggest gassho-zukuri style building in town and it dates back to 1748. The temple is open to visitors and there is a small on-site museum exhibiting everyday items from the past.
Admission to Myozenji Temple is ¥300.
Just a few steps further, you have the Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine. This shinto shrine is also built in the gassho style and offers free admission.
Cool down with matcha ice cream
We visited Shirakawa-go in the middle of summer, so ice cream breaks were a must! Thankfully, we didn’t have to wander too far before we spotted an ice cream shop.
If you travel to Japan in the summertime, be prepared for extreme heat and humidity. But if you can help it, I’d opt for the shoulder season.
Sam indulged in some matcha ice cream, and I went for the matcha-vanilla blend, which suited me perfectly.
Ice creams were ¥350 each.
Walk across the suspension bridge
The Deai Bridge crosses the Sho River and is considered the gateway into Shirakawa-go.
Since vehicles aren’t allowed in the village, tour operators drop off day visitors on the other side of the river and then people make their way into town on foot.
This bridge is a very scenic spot in town where you can enjoy a beautiful panorama of the mountains, the pebbly shores, and lots of greenery.
Enjoy some cold noodles for lunch
Then it was time for lunch!
We ate at Syokudo and Teishoku Restaurant, which is both a souvenir shop and small restaurant.
It’s in the small complex just before you reach the entrance to the farmhouse museum.
I got the cold soba noodles with dried seaweed and a mixed tempura platter featuring pumpkin, tofu, eggplant, green pepper, and carrot. The lunch set also came with wasabi, chives, soy sauce, and a cup of green tea.
It’s the perfect type of Japanese cuisine for the hot summer!
Sam ordered the other lunch set on the menu, which came with cold udon noodles (his had ice cubes!), and a tempura platter just like mine.
We both really enjoyed the meal and it was the perfect place to rest and cool down a bit before continuing our sightseeing around Shirakawa-go.
Tour the Gassho-zukuri village
As I mentioned earlier, many of the farmhouses you see in Shirakawa-go were relocated here in order to better preserve them, and that is the case with many of the structures found in Gassho-zukuri Minkaen.
This open-air museum has a total of 26 buildings to visit and each one is unique. When you pay the admission fee to the open-air museum, you also get this map with the layout of the place, which highlights each building’s original use.
It was nice being able to explore the interior of these farmhouses, but prepare to climb lots of ladders!
Admission to the open-air museum is ¥600.
That pretty much sums up our day trip to Shirakawa-go. Pretty magical, right? Here’s a video of our visit if you want to get a closer look at the place.
Will a day trip to Shirakawa-go be enough time?
If you’ve read this far then you have a pretty good idea of how much we managed to do on our day trip to Shirakawa-go, and we were only there for about 5 hours!
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the town is quite small and it’s very easy to cover on foot. We felt like we had quite a leisurely day visiting the places that interested us most, and we didn’t feel rushed to cover it all.
If you want to spend a full day in town, you can always catch an earlier bus in the morning and leave a bit later in the evening.
Alternatively, you also have the option of staying overnight – more info on that below.
Staying overnight in Shirakawa-go
The charm of an overnight visit to Shirakawa-go is that you can stay in the farmhouses. These stays are known as minshuku and they are family-operated, Japanese-style bed and breakfasts, which typically include a home-cooked dinner and breakfast.
The website Japanese Guest Houses has a list of farmhouses in Shirakawa-go for visitors to choose from.
The thing to keep in mind is that because the farmhouse stays are so popular and in high demand, they only allow a 1-night stay. That means that if you decided to stay for a second night, you’ll need to stay in a different farmhouse.
A few other things to note:
Check-in is before 5:00 pm as the host family will prepare dinner for guests.Payment is cash only and in Japanese Yen.Large suitcases are not allowed since space is limited and there are ladders involved.
If Shirakawa-go is fully booked for overnight stays during your visit to Japan, another destination to consider is Ainokura. This is another village with traditional thatched-roof farmhouses, though a bit smaller in size, and it’s located high in the mountains of western Toyama Prefecture.
So now you have options! And whether you come for the day or spend the night, Shirakawa-go should really be added to your Japan itinerary.
Have you visited Shirakawa-go?
What did you think?!