By Ben Beechey
Beautiful photos of the Ogimachi Village in Shirakawa-Go deep under the snow were included in one of the articles about Japan that once gone viral in social media. As I became very interested with the place, I did some research on the internet and found out it was only 5.5 hours from Tokyo. Based on popular reviews, Ogimachi village is best (magically) viewed during the Light-Up Event on selected weekend nights in winter season. Without further ado, I planned a trip to this place a month prior. I'm telling you, if your goal is to see the light-up event, it requires a substantial amount of planning.
Shirakawa-Go is part of the Shokawa Valley in Gifu Prefecture. The main attraction of Shirakawa-Go is the Ogimachi Village featuring the 59 gassho houses, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 along with the villages of Ainokura and Suganuma in Gokayama, Toyama Prefecture. These houses are known for their unique steep thatched roofs shaped like gassho or “praying hands” and interestingly, no nails were used to build the roofs. Most families in these villages were involved in silkworms cultivation and produced silk until the 1970s.
What to Expect At The Light-Up Event
The moment we stepped out of the bus, the beautiful white landscape of the thatched houses standing strong in snow welcomed us. I couldn't put into words how beautiful the place was. Surreal! It was already dark when we arrived but the sparkling lights from the houses looked perfect and lovely, which made everything so beautiful and even magical in person. But, since it was the last day of the light-up event, the area was jam-packed making it very challenging for every tourist to take selfies with the beautifully lit-up gassho houses.
We grabbed an English map of the Ogimachi Village from the Main Information Center to start the tour. Most of the museums and thatched houses were already closed. So, we decided to simply explore and enjoy the view. There's a suspension bridge that will lead you to the village's main attractions. The view below the bridge had surprisingly a very good look of the frozen Shokawa River; however, it was packed with people cautiously walking across the bridge as it was covered in ice and extremely slippery. It took us 8 minutes just walking through it! Head straight to the Shiroyama Viewpoint as there would be another line of visitors walking the trail up just to see the fairytale nightscape of the entire Ogimachi Village from a deck.
Going to the Shirakawa-Go Light-Up Event was actually very challenging. Apart from the slippery bridge and roads, it was impossible to avoid the crowd from blocking the view for your photos. In case of snowy weather, be prepared to bring raincoat and waterproof bags to protect your cameras. The snow though, made the night like a scene in a snow globe. Definitely magical.
How to Get to Shirakawa-Go Light-Up Event
By bus: The main hub to Shirakawa-Go is the JR Takayama Station or Hida Takayama. Bus ride operated by Nouhi Bus Center from JR Takayama Station to Shirakawa-Go is 50 minutes to an hour depending on the traffic. A one-way ticket costs 2,470yen, while it’s 4,420yen for round trip. There’s no rest stop, nor restroom on the bus, so make sure to empty your bladder before hopping in. Be sure to take note of the bus schedules that are for reservation only. Call the Nouhi Bus Center at (0577) 32-1688 (change 0 to country code +81 if calling overseas) during business hours of 9:00am-6:00pm to reserve. They speak English and will give you a reservation number that you would show to the bus driver soon. At the bus center, purchase the ticket outside the Ticket Office. Keep in mind that the light-up event starts at 5:20pm, but the last bus from Shirakawa-Go to Takayama is 5:20pm. Therefore, you will need to take a cab when returning and it costs 22,000yen one-way. It would be great if you could look for other travelers who are willing to share the cab with you to split the cost.
By car: During the light-up event, the parking lot in Shirakawa-Go is closed to private vehicles. But there’s a special parking lot near the village that is connected by free shuttle buses. Winter tires, snow chains, and winter driving skills are required to access Shirakawa-Go in winter.
By arranged tours: Nouhi Bus Center and some hostels arrange tour for Shirakawa-Go Light-Up Event, however, tickets are always sold out quickly. Make sure to contact Nouhi Bus Center or any of the hostels with this kind of package tours at least 6 months in advance.
Where to Stay
Most gassho houses now function as a Minshuku or family-operated, Japanese-style bed and breakfasts accommodation. An overnight stay in one of the gassho houses in the Ogimachi village is one of the most recommended options as it is a great way to experience a traditional Japanese family home. For bookings, you may visit the Japanese Guest Houses website. Room starts at 7,700yen.
If booking at farmhouses are full, the next best option would be staying in Takayama City (this is now my favorite city in Japan). There's a lot of budget accommodation to choose from in Takayama. We stayed in a hostel as we wanted to splurge on food, plus, you can never go wrong with hostels in Japan.
I will definitely go back to Shirakawa-Go in the summer and experience the farmhouse stay. Have you been to Shirakawa-Go? Please share your experience at the end of this article! If you have questions, feel free to comment too. Thank you for reading.
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