This is a detailed post of my 2 weeks long solo backpacking trip to Japan. Please see a preview and itinerary/index of my complete trip on this post.
Day 13 – Shirakawa-Go
Off the west coast
My overnight highway bus from Tokyo dropped me at Kanazawa train station. It was still 8 AM. I headed to the public toilet and completed my morning chores. Kanazawa train station is right next to bus terminal. The train station is quite big and so is the bus terminal. My destination for the day is Shirakawa-Go. I can catch a JR train or a bus to reach here. The bus ticket was a bit cheaper than train so I choose to go via bus. The earliest bus which I could board was at 11AM. All buses before 11AM were already booked. I booked the bus and paid 1850 Y. I had enough time to have a breakfast and charge my phone and camera batteries. I headed to a coffee shop and ordered a set breakfast vegetarian meal for 430Y. Breakfast consisted of a green salad, one piece of bread and coffee (one free refill).
The bus started on time. Punctuality is very highly considered in Japan. All trains and buses have a published schedule and they all strictly adhere to it. The Shirakawa-go (白川郷, Shirakawagō) region lies in Toyama Prefectures. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995, they are famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old.
Word Gassho-zukuri literally means “constructed like hands in prayer”, as the farmhouses’ steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. The specific shapes of roofs are designed to withstand the large amounts of snow that fall in the region during winter. Another unique feature of these huts is that roofs are made without any nails. Large roofs provide a large attic space which can be used for cultivating silkworms.
Ogimachi is Shirakawa-go’s largest village and most popular (other than Gokayama , where I did not go). It is suggested to stay at least one night in these huts but I had some other plans.
Gokayama is a little difficult to access, is less developed but huts are more intimate.
Views from Shiroyama Point
The Shiroyama Viewpoint is north of the village center and offers best views of Ogimachi village. I boarded a tourist shuttle bus from the village center to reach the top of Shiroyama Point. I wanted to save energy by avoiding the uphill walk. I walked down on my own. Visitors can use bus services to come down as well. The viewpoint can be accessed via a walking trail (closed during/after heavy snow) in about 15 to 20 minutes from the village center.
Will my trip end on a new High or a new Low?
I wanted to visit Japan Alps. And more specifically Snow corridors. The route was planned to open tomorrow (16 April) for the year 2016. Only a limited number of tickets are sold to visitors and all tickets are to be bought in person from Toyama Station. No online booking is allowed. I wanted to get a ticket as visiting Alpine route was my only reason for me to travel 500km from Tokyo.
As I had planned to start my journey from Toyama, I had to reach Toyama before the day ends. I boarded a bus from Ogimachi and headed to Toyama. I reached Toyama around 7PM and headed straight to Toyama Station to book a ticket to Tateyama Kurobe alpine route. All my excitement came crashing down when a lady at booking counter informed me all tickets were sold out. She also informed that all tickets were sold out within one hour of the counter opening. They had a per day quota and next day also the counter will sell tickets. But by looking at the popularity of this route, it was certain to have a long queue. I tried to look for some “Jugaad” but to no avail.
To make sure, I am the first person to get a ticket tomorrow, I stayed in the nearest hotel. My hotel was only two minutes walk from the station. It was one of the most the expensive hotel for me at 4500Y a night.
The ticket counter opens at 5 AM. All other tourists with me (near ticket window) were planning to come at 4 AM to stand in the queue. I also agreed to come at 4 AM. I set my camera and phone battery on charging. Ate instant noodles for dinner. Set my alarm for 2:30AM and dozed off.