Shirakawago In WinterOne of my favourite places to visit in Japan is Shirakawago – I have three separate blog posts about it. Shirakawago is a historic village in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture, where the farmhouses have roofs that are so steeply thatched they are called “praying hands roofs.” This is so the heavy snowfalls don’t pile up and crush the roofs, so the snow can easily slide off. Visiting Shirakawago in winter let’s you see the village at one of the most magical times of the year. Winter was my first time to experience Shirakawago, and I realized it was such a cute village with some of the prettiest scenery. Keep reading for an introduction and my quick guide to visiting Shirakawago in winter.

Shirakawago in winter

I like to think I know a lot about Japan, having studied the language and the culture since high school and traveling here many times. Now, imagine my dismay when I came to Nagoya in 2012, and my husband suggested we go to Shirakawago. “Where?”  I was a little embarrassed I had not heard of Shirakawago. He didn’t judge me. 🙂

To remedy my ignorance, I did some research on the mysterious (to me) village in the Japanese Alps. I was immediately greeted with images of the cutest wooden farmhouses tucked in between mountains and rice paddies. It was so unlike everything else about Japanese culture and architecture I thought I knew. It was rustic and raw. There are no red torii gates, no massive temples and Buddha statues, and no flashing signs or shopping centres. Just natural wood farmhouses, authentic thatched roofs, and nature. I wanted to go.

>> See more of the breath-taking Japanese Alps in the winter!

Visiting Shirakawago from Gero

The first time I went to Shirakawago with my husband was for our anniversary. We stayed in the hot spring town, Gero, and took a day trip to see the scenery of Shirakawago in winter. It was toward the end of winter, but because it is so deep in the mountains, there was still plenty of snow in the village. Winter is the peak visiting time to visit Shirakawago because of the snow.

Shirakawago In Winter Shirakawago In Winter

To get to Shirakawago, we took a train from Gero to Takayama and then a bus to the main village of Ogimachi. The bus is about one hour, and was part of the price of our special weekend train/bus/vacation ticket. When we arrived, we stepped into the cold and began exploring the village. To date, I’ve been to Shirakawago three times, and I’m always happy that it is not insanely crowded. It is sort of like a large open-air museum (that people still live and work in), so there would need to be a lot of people for it to feel crowded.

We spent some time exploring some of the farmhouse-turned-museums. You can see how the buildings and roofs are constructed, the types of tools they used, and how people used to farm silk worms in the attics. Because the winters are frigid here, there is a hearth built into the floor where families would spend time and have meals. To escape the cold for a bit, my husband and I stepped into one of these houses and had a warm milky drink served to us from the hearth. We also had the specialty, gohei mochi, which is a sticky rice cake with sweet soy sauce, and manju buns with the local hida beef.

Shirakawago In Winter Shirakawago In Winter

Shirakawago In Winter Shirakawago In Winter

Why you should visit Shirakawago in winter

While winter is the most popular time to visit Shirakawago, it is not my favourite. My favourite time is Shirakawago in autumn. I sometimes complain too much about the cold. But, winter does provide some spectacular views. The mountains will be snowy, and if you are not too late, there will still be snow on the roofs. There is even a period during the winter when the houses light up at night. I think this the peak peak time visit, so it is crowded and you’ll need to reserve a place to spend the night long before you go. I didn’t  see this, but it looks very beautiful. If you are keen on seeing the snowy village lit up, you should visit Shirakawago in winter. Here’s the schedule and basic information for the light up in 2018.

Besides the light up, Shirakawago in winter is a wonderful place to see piles of snow. Sometimes 1-2 metres in the middle of winter. This can be a treat if you are from a place that doesn’t get snow. A great place to see the entire village is from the viewpoint on the top of a small hill. It takes about 15  to walk up, and there is a shuttle bus for when the walking path is impassable during the winter. From the top, you can look out over the entire village. A nice spot if you wanted to see it during the light up.

Will you visit Shirakawago in winter?

I hope you enjoyed this introduction to Shirakawago in winter. Do you see how stunning the scenery is in the snow. Some things to keep in mind if you are visiting in the winter: It get’s very cold in the winter. The temperature falls below zero in the winter. Please make sure you wear enough layers of warm winter clothes. Including boots and rain proof outerwear. I’ve never experienced rain while I was there, but I’ve heard stories of people cutting their trip short due to weather. If it rains or snows, you’ll need extra precautions to keep you warm. Otherwise your trip might turn out to be a bummer.

Either way, winter is a nice way to experience Shirakawago for the first time, as long as you prepare for the cold and the weather. Let me know if you’ve been to Shirakawago in winter or any other season. Do you have a favourite season? If you’re curious as to what the village looks like during other times of the year, check out my posts of Shirakawago in spring and in autumn.

Shirakawago In Winter

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Author

Jennifer has lived in Japan for a total of seven years. She has travelled, taught English, studied Japanese, completed a Master’s Degree, and travelled some more. She currently calls Nagoya her home, where she lives with her Japanese husband.

28 Comments

  1. It really looks so beautiful! I would love to go there…in fact I would love to explore most japan if I could..😁 …thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Thanks. It was a peaceful place to walk around and learn a bit about a different side of Japan. I hope you get a chance to visit someday.

      • The architecture , the life , their own spirit is itself so peaceful and new to experience! I just been there once last year but can’t stop thinking to visit back again and your posts are really driving me crazy! 😁🖒

  2. Going by your description of it (especially the imagery of roofs that make you think of hands folded in prayer) and the beautiful images, I would. You are putting it on the map for me.

  3. We were there during summer and it was beautiful but nowhere near as beautiful as in winter. Did you stay overnight? I heard that they light up the houses so it looks like a winter wonderland!

    • No I didn’t spend the night here, but you’re right it does look so nice at night. Especially in the winter. At least in the summer it must have been warm and a different kind of beautiful.

      • Yes, it was still very beautiful during summer. The weather was perfect when we were there – clear blue skies, sunny but not too hot. It was nice to walk around and explore.

    • Sounds like you had a wonderful time. I’m glad you can enjoy my adopted country, and hopefully you get a chance to go back some day 🙂

  4. We thought of going there during our last trip to Nagano but it was kinda out of the way and we skipped it. Looks beautiful in winter and I heard it gets pretty crowded too.

  5. I visited in the fall, it looks even better in snow! I did spend the night, which was fun. I arrived by car (driven by a friend) from Kanazawa, and left by regular, not tour, bus for Takayama.

    • Fall sounds nice too because I would like to see it when the rice fields have turned a golden colour. I would like to go to Takayama someday too.

  6. Our only visit to Japan was on business and we did not get outside the cities. Your post makes us want to go back and remedy that.

  7. I was just there in December. The snows are not as thick as shown here. You came at the right time. That’s the traveling thing here in Japan – you have to time your visits. 🙂 Great photos.

    • That’s a bit unfortunate that you went in the winter but weren’t able to see it covered in thick snow. You’re right about travelling during the seasons though. A lot of places have different attractions at different times of the year.

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