Nov 22, 2017
The top spots for tourists coming to Japan are usually Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Mt. Fuji, but there is another spot which is getting more and more popular, especially in winter. The beautiful winter illuminations of the old mountain village of Shirakawago is very popular around the world. Unfortunately you can see those illuminations on 4 days of the year and of course the bus tours to go there are mostly sold out after a few minutes.
Anyways, Shirakawago and the neighboring Gokayama are nice places to visit any season of the year. There are bus tours from Takayama City that go to both places on one day. From Tokyo you can easily go to Takayama by train (around 4 ½ hrs) or by Nohi Bus (around 5 ½ hrs).
From Takayama Station you can make a bus tour reservation at the Nohi Bus Center for the Shirakawago/Gokayama tour. Alternatively it is possible to book your tour in advance on their website. The bus company offers a great package to explore the places without being tied so much to a group.
The trip started with the first stop at the small village of Ainokura, Gokayama, which is located in Toyama Prefecture. The peace and the beautiful houses at that small village were very impressive. We had around 1 h (which is totally enough time) to explore the small village by ourselves. Only about 80 people are living in that small mountain village. Many of the houses also offer overnight accommodation, mostly for backpackers.
Gokayama and Shirakawago are popular for their old traditional house style called "Gassho-zukuri". The houses have an approximately 60 degree curved roof which is covered with thick straw. Due to the very sloping roofs, in winter, snow can easily slip down without damaging the house. You can find houses of different sizes (up to four floors), which were mainly used by large families.
After visiting Gokayama, the bus brought us back to Shirakawago in Gifu Prefecture. From a high mountain platform you can have a beautiful view of the small village. We also had lunch (included in the bus tour) with our bus group on the mountain, which consisted of typical food from the region.
After the lunch we went down to the village. To reach the village you have to cross a huge suspension bridge over the beautiful Shokawa River. The bridge is a little bit shaky so please watch out if you are scared.
Our first stop was at the open-air museum (entrance fee included in the tour). The open-air museum gives you a nice view over the traditional houses in Shirakawago. You can visit all houses from the inside and even go up to check out the interesting roof construction.
The museum is a perfect spot to start your tour in Shirakawago, especially if you are interested in the history and design type of the village. We also got a coupon from our bus tour to try out some sake ice cream and red bean soup with mochi at the museum. Don't miss that chance, it really tastes good!
After the museum we had around 2 hrs for walking around Shirakawago and exploring the whole village with its beautiful houses and to have more snacks at one of the restaurants. Unfortunately the whole village is very packed with tourists, which destroys a little bit the atmosphere.
If you want to take many photos of the wooden houses, I recommend to do that in the open air museum, because it is less crowded.
The bus tour ended at 3:00 pm back in Takayama, but it is even possible to stay longer in the village. You can get a bus coupon for going back at a later time. The whole bus tour costs per person 6,690 yen (Kids 4,420 yen) and was really a great deal and a great experience!
I´m a german girl living in the center of Tokyo, but my true love belongs to the countryside of Japan (especially Chiba and Hokkaido). I love traveling Japan and explore hidden areas.
I want to help people with my articles to get in touch with the Japanese culture and all the beautiful places you can explore.
Besides traveling around, I love trains, handcraft and my little rabbits.