This weekend, we did a day-trip to Shirakawa-go, a quaint and historic little town in the Japanese mountains. Well, it was a day trip from Kanazawa, Japan, where I had been attending a meeting. It’s probably a 2-day trip from Tokyo, unless you want to have some really early and really late Shinkansen reservations.
Shirakawa-go is a small village designated as UNESCO world heritage site. The houses are historic wood structures with steeply pitched thatch roofs. It’s typically a picturesque winter scene in the December to March months. We visited on a bright, sunny day when much of the snow was beginning to melt.
Our trip began with purchase of highway bus tickets in Kanazawa. With our limited (but growing) Japanese language skill, we were able to ask for tickets on Saturday morning around 9:30. The nice lady at the window spoke some English, and quickly let us know that the 9:41 bus was full, but the 9:10 was available. We selected a 15:55 return bus, and our trip was set. Cost for two people for a round trip was 6500 JPY = about $65 US. It is possible to arrange guided bus tours, which provide a guide and structured visit. Costs are about 5900 JPY per person. We are pretty comfortable on our own, and like the flexibility of managing our own time.
The bus trip to Shirakawa-go takes a little over an hour from kanazawa. Travel by highway bus in Japan is great. Price is reasonable, the staff and bus drivers are friendly, the coaches are spotless and they are almost always on schedule. For places where there may not be train service the highway bus is a great option.
As we approached Shirakawa-go, it was obvious we were climbing rapidly into the mountains. There are many long tunnels, between which we could see the landscape was changing to tall mountains covered with snow. It has been a warmer year than usual in this part of Japan, but there was still snow to be seen.
Arriving at the Shirakawa-go bus station, it is easy to find an English-language map of village. The village is easily walkable. The day of our visit, the streets were clear of snow. Perhaps it may be a more challenging walk around the village with a foot of snow on the ground.
We had a leisurely walk through the village, and enjoyed looking at the thatch-roof houses still covered with snow. There are also temples and shrines in the village that are open for viewing. If you are into “touristy” nick-knacks and souvenirs, the shops are plentiful. Some of the offerings are beautiful – and expensive – local crafts.
There are also restaurants and coffee shops. We found a little coffee shop with traditional tatami mat seating. A wonderfully relaxing place to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee.
We were fortunate to be able to see the village from a scenic overlook high above the village. It isn’t accessible when there is heavy snow. The village offers a free shuttle to the top. We opted for the short, but steep, walk up.
Our visit was a good one. It’s an interesting village, and provides a glimpse into this region of Japan long ago. Shirakawa-go is well worth taking a day trip from Kanazawa, or a 2-day trip from Tokyo.