(Warning: this blog post is photo-intense)
Ok, so I decided that instead of blogging sequentially about my trip, I will just throw in posts about places that I remember more fondly, so that, you know, I will be more motivated to do the writing…Yeah, so this time, I am starting my travel blog backwards so that I get the important posts up first!
Shirakawa-go is a very small village that lies hidden within the mountainous terrain of Gifu prefecture, Japan. It is a UNESCO heritage site that is famous for the traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses. As Shirakawa-go is surrounded the Japan Alps, this area receives one of the highest amount of snowfall during winter. Thus, the roof of the houses are constructed like “hands in prayer” so that it can better withstand the large amount of snowfall. You might have seen pictures like the one below at some point in time in your facebook:
These are the kind of photos that are heavily used to publicize Shirakawa-go. Doesn’t it looks straight out of fairytale? There is an annual light-up festival for 4 weeks between end January to mid February, and this is the period when the little village will receive a flood of tourists. However, when I visited Shirakawa-go in end Feb 2016 with Mr J, 2016 happened to be the year with the lowest record of snowfall, so my photos turned out to be like this:
It was still a peaceful and pretty place, but I must admit that I wasn’t tempted to go back again, considering the amount of travelling time needed. So when my father came running to me with a newspaper article featuring the same kind of photo as the first one above, hinting to me to include in the itinerary, I tried to give subtle warnings about how the place might not turn out to be what you imagined. Furthermore, it was the start of summer season in early June, so I was worried that the fields might be bare, it will be rainy and there will be very few tourists around. Still, Shirakawa-go was one of the major attractions in central Japan, so I knew I had to include this place even if I had my concerns.
Thankfully, all my concerns quickly became unfounded the moment I stepped off the bus. This place was just… so beautiful. And different from my memory. The blue sky, the wooden cottages, the green fields and the pretty wildflowers all came together to form a picture-perfect scenery. I was practically skipping my way along the small lanes in good mood and whipping my phone out every few steps to take photos, not wanting to miss out any corners. I think there is really no need for me to elaborate further, I shall let the photos do the talking.
The main attraction of this village is the Shiroyama observatory deck. There are two ways of getting there, either by taking a free shuttle bus which comes every 20 minutes, or taking a 8 mins walk up a fairly gentle slope. We chose the later, because it’s such a beautiful day!
The weather at mountain areas can be rather erratic. One moment there were blue skies, and the next moment, grey clouds were looming.
What to eat
Hoba miso hida beef
Shirakawa-go is located within the Hida region of Gifu prefecture, so beef forms the main delicacy here. Hoba miso beef is a traditional cuisine which the beef is grilled on dried hoba (magnolia) leaf mixed with miso paste.
To be honest, I found miso a tad too salty and over-powers the natural taste of beef. My favourite style of cooking will still be grilling the beef by itself, but hey since you are in the area, might as well try it! There are plenty of restaurants selling hoba miso beef in Shirakawa-go. I was more impressed by the udon found in central Japan. It’s so silky and soft, unlike the hard ones you find in Singapore!
I have not tried this myself, but I have read good reviews about it and happened to walk pass during this trip. This is one of the few restaurants in Shirakawa-go where customers can have their meals seated around a traditional Japanese sunken hearth. The menu consists of fresh vegetables and wild plants picked in the Hida region.
In case you are wondering what sunken hearth is, here’s an example of one taken from my 2016 trip, featuring the re-appearance of Mr J!
There are plenty of street food available in Shirakawa-go. I tried this mitarashi dumplings made of rice flour that was grilled with soy sauce. I must say that it is an acquired taste, and I have not tried enough to comment on it. I think I might have preferred it plain.
There is a soy sauce or miso version of this, as well as a grilled rice version called Gohei Mochi, which you will also find readily available in this village.
Ok, so this is something that is seldom mentioned in food blogs, and till date this continues to be my greatest discovery. The Hida milk (which is only available in this region) is absolutely delicious! I fall in love at first taste during my 2016 trip, but unfortunately I only tasted it on my trip back to Tokyo, so I was unable to replenish my supply. This time round, I made sure I drank at least one bottle in both Shirakawa-go and Takayama. I would have bought a carton back if it wasn’t so heavy. My sister wasn’t so impressed with the plain version, but she fell in love with the packet coffee version, which looks like this:
Million-dollar question: How to go Shirakawa-go?
Well, with the amount of publicity placed on this village, it’s really not difficult to travel to this place. There are tons of day tours available from Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. If you are travelling by yourself, here are some routes for your consideration:
Option 1: Tokyo –> Train to Toyama –> Bus to Shirakawa-go
Option 2: Tokyo –> Train to Kanazawa –> Bus to Shirakawa-go
Option 3: Osaka –> Train to Kanazawa –> Bus to Shirakawa-go
Option 4: Nagoya –> Train to Takayama –> Bus to Shirakawa-go
Whichever route you choose, you will notice that the only way to reach Shirakawa-go is by a local bus that departs from Kanazawa or Takayama. There are buses from Toyama station but these are less frequent. Below are resources you can use in your planning.
- Shirawaka-go website
- To check bus timings: Nouhi bus service
- To check train timings: HyperDia
- Passes to consider: Takayama Hokuriku Area Pass, Shoryudo Bus Pass
To end off, as I am getting nostalgic, here’s a bonus photo of my 2016 trip featuring Mr J again. Till the next post!