Shirakawa-go is loacated the the foothill of Mt. Haku-san (pictured above) in Gifu prefecture, in the centreal eastern part of Japan's main Honshu island. Mt. Haku-san was regarded as a sacred mountain in ancient times, and monks started going to the area for ascetic practices in the 8th century.
Eventually the area became developped into a hamlet. Because the place was in a remote isolated mountainous area that receives heavy snowfall, little interaction occurred between the village and the rest of the country. Hence the village developed a unique culture.
The most striking element of this unique culture is the architecture of the houses refered to as "kominka" (古民家) in Japanese. The thick thatched roof of the houses is something you very rarely see in any other part of Japan. The village still has some 114 houses of these wooden kominka style houses.
The rooves were made to withstand the heavy snowfall. The already beautiful village turns into something even more outsanding and charming in the winter! People still actually live in those houses.
Shirakawa-go in the Winter
If you don't mind the cold (the temperature is around 0 degrees Celsius during the daytime), winter is arguably the best season to visit the village. You can witness a scene unlike any other. Due to climatic conditions, the village usually gets covered with a thick layer of snow. Paths are plowed through the roads for locals and tourists to walk through the village.
You'll be amazed at the scenery of these houses in winter after a heavy snowfall. They were built in a very simple way, without any nails or metals.
When the sun comes out, with the reflection of the light on the pure white snow, everything is so bright! This kind of winter atmosphere is very uplifting and might help you deal with the winter blues for a day. The area is so pristine, and the village so charming that you'll feel like a child in a winter wonderland.
Most tour buses leave before 5 PM. However, if you can find a place to stay near the village, it's totally worth it because you'll have the chance to see the village light up! Professional photographers and amateurs love to take this village as a photography subject. And for good reasons, for a few weekends during the winter, there are lights placed throughout the village to illuminate the houses. With light coming from the inside of the houses as well, the sight is simply stunning.
You can visit Shirakawa-go during any season. Every season has its own charm. You'll see cherry blossom trees in the spring, cultivated rice fields in the summer, nice autumn colors in the fall. You are free to take a stroll in the village and some houses are open to the public year-round.
There are many things to eat in the village. Many historic houses serve as restaurants and souvenir shops! For a guide on what to eat, check out the link below!
Shirakawa-go is definitely an enchanting place to visit! If you are on vacation in Japan and have the JR pass, why not take the shinkansen to go there? Check out the link below for more information on how to access the site.