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Historic village of Shirakawa-Go

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.

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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).

Bus terminal near Kanazawa Train STation

Bus terminal near Kanazawa Train Station

Nearly 5 kgs lost, 13 days on road now.

Nearly 5 kgs lost. 13 days on the road now.

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.

Shirakawa-go is cooler than Tokyo so that mean Sakura peaks a little later. Cheery trees near bus stop.

Shirakawa-go is cooler than Tokyo so that means Sakura peaks a little later. Cheery trees near the bus stop.

Shirakawa Go lies in Shogawa River Valley in the remote mountains. One has to cross over this river to reach the historic village.

Shirakawa-Go lies in Shogawa River Valley in the remote mountains. One has to cross over this river to reach the historic village.

Village was quite crowded and is a popular stop for package tours.

The village was quite crowded as it is a popular stop for package tours.

Traditional gassho-zukuri huts

Traditional gassho-zukuri huts

Traditional gassho-zukuri huts

Traditional gassho-zukuri huts

Traditional gassho-zukuri huts

Traditional gassho-zukuri huts

Traditional gassho-zukuri huts

Traditional gassho-zukuri huts

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Traditional gassho-zukuri huts

Vistors can buy handicraft items. Dried red chilli hanging in the market of Shirakawa-go

The visitors can buy handicraft items. Dried red chili hanging in the market of Shirakawa-go

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.

View of Omigachi village and farmshouses from Shiroyama Viewpoint

View of Omigachi village and farmhouses from Shiroyama Viewpoint

Visitors at Shiroyama Viewpoint

Visitors at Shiroyama Viewpoint

View of Omigachi village and farmshouses from Shiroyama Viewpoint

View of Omigachi village and farmhouses from Shiroyama Viewpoint

A big cherry tree on top of Shiroyama Viewpoint

A big cherry tree on top of Shiroyama Viewpoint

I do not know what written on the cap.

A visitor enjoying the view. I do not know what is written on the cap.

I spent a lot of time on the top. That's my selfie clicked using wifi app from my phone.

I spent a lot of time on the top. That’s my selfie clicked using wifi app from my phone.

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.

All my hopes came crashing down, on seeing this board

All my hopes came crashing down, on seeing this board

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.

My room in Toyama. Pretty expensive considering my daily budget for each night was 3000 Y.

My room in Toyama. Pretty expensive considering my daily budget for each night was 3000 Y.

Next Post -> Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

6 thoughts on “Historic village of Shirakawa-Go

    1. Ankur Post author

      This is amazing Iva. Well true charm of Shirakawago magnifies in Snow 🙂
      You have some amazing posts on your blog. Keep it up!!!

  1. Lippy

    Hi Ankur, great post!

    By the way I was wondering if you’ll be able to clear some of my doubts…

    1. Do you think I should also buy Alpine Route ticket as early as 5am at Dentetsu-Toyama station to avoid the crowd? (Its on 20th APRIL 2017 – Thursday)

    2. How many hours did you spend at Shirakawa-go & Gokayama (if you’ve also included this stop)?

    Truly appreciate it, thank you very much Ankur!

    1. Ankur Post author

      Hello Lippy, Thanks for dropping by. I am glad you liked this post.

      This year, Alpine route opens on 15 April.
      I will highly recommend you to buy Alpine route ticket and start as early as possible. Starting the trip early means less waiting time in all further transit modes. Once crowd/Package tour people joins, all transits are choked. You need at least 6-7 hour for enjoying the entire route. Also, sunset time is early in Japan so you should be able to finish your journey before 3-4 PM leaving enough time to reach your destination for the day.
      Though you are visiting on a weekday, you can expect a little lesser crowd as shown in my pictures.
      Are you doing a full route? What is your destination for the day?

      I visited Shirakawa-Go a day before I visited Alpine Route. I spent almost 4 Hours in the village. There is a lot of walking involved if you are keen so plan accordingly. I did not go to Gokayama.

      1. Lippy

        Hi Ankur, thanks for the response.

        Okay then….5am it is lol.
        Yes it’ll be a full route journey and I’ll be spending the night at Matsumoto.

        Oh so 4 hours is enough, great!
        Walking is fine for me haha (on budget, no choice).
        Too bad I also won’t be able to see the village on snow!

        Thanks again Ankur!

        1. Ankur Post author

          That’s great to know. Have a good time. It too wished to see Old huts under snow but perhaps sometime later.
          By the way I stayed in Candela Guest House in Matsumoto and its a cozy one. Check it out.

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