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Regions of Japan

Hokkaido Tohoku Hokuriku
Shinetsu
Kanto Tokai Kansai Chugoku Shikoku Kyushu Okinawa Islands SAPPORO TOKYO NAGOYA OSAKA FUKUOKA FURANO KUSHIRO AOMORI SENDAI FUKUSHIMA NIKKO HAKONE SADO TAKAYAMA KANAZAWA ISE KYOTO NARA HIROSHIMA NAGASAKI KAGOSHIMA NAHA
Hokkaido
Hokkaido
  • Hokkaido
Japan's great white north offers wild, white winters and bountiful summers—a haven for dedicated foodies, nature lovers and outdoor adventure fans seeking an adrenaline rush Japan's great white north offers wild, white winters and bountiful summers—a haven for dedicated foodies, nature lovers and outdoor adventure fans seeking an adrenaline rush
Tohoku
Tohoku
  • Aomori
  • Akita
  • Iwate
  • Yamagata
  • Miyagi
  • Fukushima
Fearsome festivals, fresh powder snow and vast fruit orchards—the rugged territory of Tohoku offers a new perspective on travel in Japan Fearsome festivals, fresh powder snow and vast fruit orchards—the rugged territory of Tohoku offers a new perspective on travel in Japan
Hokuriku Shinetsu
Hokuriku Shinetsu
  • Niigata
  • Toyama
  • Ishikawa
  • Fukui
  • Nagano
An easily accessible slice of rural Japan offering unrivaled mountainscapes and coastlines, endless outdoor adventure and amazing ocean fare An easily accessible slice of rural Japan offering unrivaled mountainscapes and coastlines, endless outdoor adventure and amazing ocean fare
Kanto
Kanto
  • Tokyo
  • Kanagawa
  • Chiba
  • Saitama
  • Ibaraki
  • Tochigi
  • Gunma
Jump from the neon glow of Tokyo to Gunma's mountain retreats, Kamakura's cultural heritage and the Ogasawara Islands' exotic wildlife Jump from the neon glow of Tokyo to Gunma's mountain retreats, Kamakura's cultural heritage and the Ogasawara Islands' exotic wildlife
Tokai
Tokai
  • Yamanashi
  • Shizuoka
  • Gifu
  • Aichi
  • Mie
Hallmark attractions such as Mt. Fuji and Takayama coexist with major cities and famous heritage in the center of Japan Hallmark attractions such as Mt. Fuji and Takayama coexist with major cities and famous heritage in the center of Japan
Kansai
Kansai
  • Kyoto
  • Osaka
  • Shiga
  • Hyogo
  • Nara
  • Wakayama
The Kansai region is one of contrasts, from the glittering lights of Osaka and Kobe to the cultural treasures of Kyoto and Nara The Kansai region is one of contrasts, from the glittering lights of Osaka and Kobe to the cultural treasures of Kyoto and Nara
Chugoku
Chugoku
  • Tottori
  • Shimane
  • Okayama
  • Hiroshima
  • Yamaguchi
Welcome to Japan's less-explored western frontier, where the weather is warmer and the pace of life is slower Welcome to Japan's less-explored western frontier, where the weather is warmer and the pace of life is slower
Shikoku
Shikoku
  • Tokushima
  • Kagawa
  • Ehime
  • Kochi
Island-hopping, cycling, soul-warming spiritual strolling and red-hot dancing—the island of Shikoku gets you up and moving Island-hopping, cycling, soul-warming spiritual strolling and red-hot dancing—the island of Shikoku gets you up and moving
Kyushu
Kyushu
  • Fukuoka
  • Saga
  • Nagasaki
  • Oita
  • Kumamoto
  • Miyazaki
  • Kagoshima
The southern island of Kyushu is home to hot springs, rugged geography, undeveloped beaches and volcanoes ranging from sleepy to smoky The southern island of Kyushu is home to hot springs, rugged geography, undeveloped beaches and volcanoes ranging from sleepy to smoky
Okinawa
Okinawa
  • Okinawa
Fly to Okinawa and discover a distinct island culture born of subtropical sun, white sand, coral, mangrove jungles and the age of the Ryukyu Kings Fly to Okinawa and discover a distinct island culture born of subtropical sun, white sand, coral, mangrove jungles and the age of the Ryukyu Kings

History

Shirakawa-go 白川郷

Stay in a traditional home built without nails and sample Japan's version of moonshine

In the shadow of Mt. Hakusan, Shirakawa-go is one of Gifu's must-visit destinations. Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, this beautiful traditional village is the definition of picture-postcard perfect.

Don't Miss

  • Scenery reminiscent of Japan's long history
  • The museum dedicated to silk, the area's biggest export

How to Get There

Shirakawa-go is best accessed by bus from JR Takayama.

From Nagoya and Gifu take the JR Takayama Line to Takayama. Buses to Shirakawa-go leave from the Takayama Bus Center and take around 50 minutes.

Start at Ogimachi

The focal point of Shirakawa-go is Ogimachi, a hamlet of gassho-zukuri style houses. Tall and narrow, with thatched roofs that slope steeply to the ground—a necessity during the heavy snowfalls of the winter—the name gassho-zukuri literally means "like praying hands."

Each house is a masterpiece of carpentry. They are built without nails—every beam slots neatly into the next. The structure is so sound that these houses have stood since the 1800s, even in this earthquake-prone nation.

Slip into the past

Many of the buildings have been turned into museums, explaining the history of the region, the special architectural style, and features, and some of the key industries of Shirakawa-go. Several of these homes are guesthouses that offer lodging.

Just walking through the streets, breathing in the wood smoke, will transport you back to pre-modern Japan. Climb up to the Shirayama observatory, look out over the village, and take in views of a time gone by.

Gassho-zukuri Minkaen

This outdoor museum recreates a village. It features functional buildings such as storerooms and a temple, as well as the ubiquitous houses. Here, you can see demonstrations of local crafts, some of which you can have a go at. There are restaurants and souvenir shops, making it an excellent place to rest weary legs.

Doburoku Festival

Doburoku is the local tipple, a form of sake so popular that the autumn festival is built around it. Doburoku is an unfiltered sake that is a bit like moonshine—a "home" brew that is illegal to produce in all but a few designated special zones.

In mid-October, you can partake of the drink while watching performances of the Shishi-mai lion dance. The rest of the year the Doburoku Matsuri Hall can teach you all you need to know.

Keeping house

Some of the houses are still residences and are therefore understandably closed to the public. Others, however, are open and are definitely worth checking out.

The Wada House is right by the bus stop, in the center of Ogimachi, surrounded by a perfect Japanese garden.

The Kanda House is believed to be more than 150 years old and contains writing on the roof frame by the original carpenter from about 1850.

The Nagase House was home to a family of doctors and a display of Edo period (1603-1867) medical equipment is fascinating and troublesome in equal measure.

Tajima House Museum of Silk Culture

Silk farming was one of the main industries in pre-modern Shirakawa-go, and this museum explains the history and process. The Tajima House is actually dedicated to reviving the traditional silk farming industry.

Myozenji Temple Museum

Sadly no longer in use, the monk's residence next to the main temple has been turned into a museum of the temple's history since 1748. The temple itself is home to a large Buddha, and the bell tower and nearby yew tree are redolent of ancient Japan.

Glorious four seasons

Shirakawa-go rewards return visits, as the shifting seasons bring out different aspects of the town. From the bright cherry blossom through the verdant summer, the fiery autumn leaves and the silent, white winter, Shirakawa-go always looks splendid.

You can cover most of Shirakawa-go in a couple of hours, but to really soak in the atmosphere, imagine the timelessness of life in rural Japan, and lose the stress of contemporary living, you will need longer. Staying overnight in one of the lodging houses is highly recommended, but you will need to book in advance.