Why Autumn Is The Best Time To Visit ShirakawagoLiving in Nagoya, I am lucky to be so close to Shirakawago. In the last three years, I have been to Shirakawago three times in three different seasons. This may not be enough information for me to come to the conclusion that I have found the best time to visit Shirakawago, but I’m going to make that claim anyway. The best time to visit Shirakawago is autumn. Hands down. And I have the photos to show you why. In this post, I’ll introduce you to this delightful mountain village and let you know why I think autumn is the best time to visit. If my words are not enough, maybe my photos will convince you. 😉

Visiting Shirakawago

Shirakawago is a small mountain village in the the Japanese Alps in Gifu prefecture. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and for good reason. The farmhouses are famous for their steep thatched roofs. The houses are even named as the “praying hands” houses because the roofs resemble hands pressed together in prayer – gassho zukuri in Japanese. The main tourist village is called Ogimachi.

Since Shirakawago is deep in the mountains, it has spent a long time as a remote and difficult to reach destination. With all the highways through the mountains now, it is not hard to get there anymore. It takes 2.5-3 hours by bus from Nagoya, so absolutely doable as a day trip. On my recent trip, I took the Meitetsu bus from Nagoya station. The round-trip ticket cost 7000 yen, and I bought it from the ticket machine at the convenience store.

The first time I went to Shirakawago, my husband and did it as a day trip when we stayed in Gero. This was at the end of winter. The second time was in spring, when I did it as a day trip from Nagoya. Since these two times to Shirakawago, I have been bent on seeing it in the autumn. Specifically, I wanted to see it when the rice paddies had turned golden, just before harvest. However, I think happens in late summer and not autumn, so I still haven’t seen this.

Why autumn is the best time to visit Shirakawago

This year, I have been #obsessed with autumn leaves, and I’ve gone on several leaf hunting excursions. Case in point: My Instagram. One late night, I was searching for pretty places to see autumn leaves. And I felt like I needed to take a mini trip. So I checked the autumn leaves forecast website, and found that Shirakawago was almost at peak viewing time. On impulse, I booked one night in a hostel (I can’t afford to stay in the farmhouses) because I wanted to  see the autumn light up and do some more exploring the next day. I felt kinda bad about booking a trip for myself without my husband, but he was cool about it.

When it was time for my trip in early November, I boarded the very empty bus and drove through the mountains. About halfway through the bus ride, I started noticing the trees on the mountains were the brightest oranges and reds. Once we got past the cities in Gifu, I was in awe at the colours of the mountains. I have never seen entire mountain ranges completely orange and red. Plus the river – it was so pretty, I legit wanted to cry. This was already too much fun, and I hadn’t even reached my destination.

When I made it to Shirakawago and got off the bus, I walked around completely in amazement. The autumn mountains were the perfect backdrop to the cute farmhouses. Everything had a warm and inviting cast to it. Oh, plus it was about 20 degrees warm both days I went, so I couldn’t have been happier about that. (The village had its first snow two weeks after my trip.) Not only did I pick the best time to visit Shirakawago, but it seemed like I picked the exact best days.

Photo essay: The best time to visit Shirakawago – Autumn!

I spent the next two days walking around Shirakawago and the neighbouring villages in Gokayama. I even woke up early and caught the morning fog and the steam coming of the thatched roofs when they were hit with the morning sun. (Did you know, the houses are built facing north and south, so the sun hits both sides of the roof equally? Otherwise they would mold and rot and maybe start fires.) It was such a perfect two days, and if anyone ever asks me when is the best time to visit Shirakawago, my answer is a resounding  AUTUMN! Specifically the end of October beginning of November when the leaves are at their fullest and brightest colours. The colours of the mountains will rock your socks off.

Now, on to my travel photo essay of Shirakawago.

Why Autumn Is The Best Time To Visit Shirakawago
I walked up this hill three times trying to get the perfect lighting for this shot.
Why Autumn Is The Best Time To Visit Shirakawago
The Kanda House is a museum where you can see how people lived.
Why Autumn Is The Best Time To Visit Shirakawago
The Wada House in front and two other gassho zukuri farmhouses.
Why Autumn Is The Best Time To Visit Shirakawago
I took a break here and enjoyed a bowl of sweet red bean soup by the hearth.
Why Autumn Is The Best Time To Visit Shirakawago
Detail of the underside construction of the thatched roofs.
Why Autumn Is The Best Time To Visit Shirakawago
These red mountains were driving me nuts, they were so unbelievable. I couldn’t have come at a better time.
Why Autumn Is The Best Time To Visit Shirakawago
Morning fog on my way in to the main village.
Why Autumn Is The Best Time To Visit Shirakawago
When the thatched roofs are hit with the morning sun, they steam.
Why Autumn Is The Best Time To Visit Shirakawago
A maple tree in all it’s autumn glory.
Why Autumn Is The Best Time To Visit Shirakawago
Hanging chili peppers.

The best time to visit Shirakawago

Do you feel inspired? I hope you enjoyed this post and photo essay about autumn in Shirakawago. If you are thinking about visiting, I recommend going in Autumn if you have the chance. Of course, other seasons are special in their own way, but autumn took my breath away.

>> Related Shirakawa go in winter and spring

If you have been to Shirakawago, which season did you visit? If you haven’t been, would you like to visit in autumn? Leave a comment below!

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Why Autumn Is The Best Time To Visit Shirakawago


  1. Jacqueline Reply

    I book a trip on 3rd week October next year I hope I can see a bit of leave change color. Reading your blogb i just cannot wait to go there!

  2. Dina Pramudyan Reply

    I will go to Shirikawago early November this year, but I can’t get the chance to spend the night there … your writing inspired me, I will share the picture later, hopefully I can see the beauty of autumn there….can’t wait…?

    • Jennifer Reply

      That’s great, Dina! I hope you have a fabulous time in Shirakawago.

  3. There are so many great places to visit from Nagoya! I’m lucky to have seen Shirakawago in autumn, too, and absolutely adored it. Would love to stay overnight like you did one day.

    • Yes, I saw on your blog you used to live in Nagoya before moving to Tokyo! It was nice to spend the night in Shirakawago, even if I didn’t stay in the gassho-zukuri. It’s a different experience early in the morning.

  4. Gorgeous photos! I was there in mid-October 2010 and some of the rice was golden but the leaves were green. Still, a wonderful place to visit, and I did spend a night in one of the farmhouses. The food was very good.

    • The golden rice fields must have been pretty. It would be so much fun to stay overnight in one of the farmhouses too. I’m glad you enjoyed it there.

  5. I can totally see you going nuts in Shirakawago, Jen. I know what you mean by wanting to cry in the face of such beauty. It is a surreal sight. My mother has never seen leaves turn bright red yet, so she always wonders aloud in amazement. She had not visited us in autumn in Northampton. This time when I go to visit her, I have decided to carry some of the pressed leaves for her.
    Those houses are too quaint and beautiful. I think I have seen them once before in one of your posts. I wonder if they were from Shirakawago itself. And I have a weakness for those ropes that string together chillies – as also garlic bulbs. Now after this mini essay, I peace out. xx

    • That’s a cute idea to bring back pressed autumn leaves for your mother. Big fat maple leaves, I pressume? I hope she will be delighted at them. You’re right, I have written about Shirakawago in two other posts. It’s too nice!!

          • Well, we actually went to Yamanouchi to see the snow monkeys. We didn’t stay in Nagano at all.

          • Haha, okay. That’s cool you saw the snow monkeys! I really want to see them some day. How was it? Adorable?!

          • There is a short hike from the bus stop/carpark of around 20 min. But its a nice hike through the snow covered forest. They are adorable in their own way. I found they were too engrossed doing their own thing to bother with us tourists.

    • It was so pretty. There was fog all the time when I was in Canada, but I never see it in Japan. This might have been the first time.

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