Go on a Day Trip from Kanazawa! How to See Shirakawa-go and Gokayama
If you visit the Kanazawa area of Hokuriku, it is highly recommended to take a day trip to the gassho-style hamlets of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama. Here is a plan to see an area where you will encounter a quintessentially Japanese landscape created by houses with triangular thatched roofs and rich nature.
- What is Shirakawa-go?
- What is Gokayama?
- We're Off! From Kanazawa to Gokayama
- See the Two Gassho-style Hamlets of Ainokura and Suganuma
- Learn about Traditional Industries in the Area at Ensho-no-Yakata
- Learn about How the Locals Lived Long Ago at the Gokayama Folklore Museum
- Take the Bus to Shirakawa-go
- See Gassho-style Houses such as Wada House and Nagase House
- Eating Local Delicacies at Shiraogi
- Bath in the Hot Springs of Shirakawa-go
- See the Gasshozukuri Minkaen Outdoor Museum
- Take a Break at Konjaku
- Enjoy a View of the Gassho-style Hamlet from the Ogi-machi Castle Ruin Observation Area
- Pick up Some Souvenirs at Kobikiya
- Get on a Highway Bus to Return to Kanazawa
- Some useful tidbits to make the most of your trip!
What is Shirakawa-go?
Shirakawa-go is the name given to a section of the village of Shirakawa in Gifu Prefecture in which a large number of Gassho-style* buildings remain. The peaked roofs are a unique feature of the houses in this village, but as well as being aesthetically pleasing they also serve an important function. In winter, a great deal of snow falls in this area, so the design of the architecture leverages local knowledge about this climate. Even in modern times, people continue to live here and protect this traditional way of life. The highest recorded average temperature in summer in Shirakawa-go is a relatively cool 28.7℃, while in winter it reaches a chilling 2.6℃. If you are visiting in winter, be sure to pack for the cold. You can get to Shirakawa-go not only from Kanazawa, but also via both Toyama and Nagoya. Check out this linkfor more details。
*A traditional style of Japanese architecture in which the wooden beams that support the weight of the floor and roof are brought together to form a mountain-like peak.
What is Gokayama?
Gokayama is the name given to an area in Toyama containing 40 different settlements. Among them, the villages of Ainokura and Suganuma were included with Shirakawago on a successful submission for registration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, under the name "The Historic Villages of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama". There are also some gassho-style houses remaining in the Gokayama area that are inhabited by locals to this day. In this area the highest recorded average temperature in summer is 30℃, while in winter, it is just 3℃. If you decide to visit in the winter, just as in Shirakawago, you will need to come prepared for the cold. Clickhere to find out how you can get yourself to Gokayama.
We're Off! From Kanazawa to Gokayama
To go to Gokayama from Kanazawa, take the shinkansen bullet train from Kanazawa Station to Shin-Takaoka Station (3,080 JPY; approx. 14 minutes). From there, take the World Heritage Bus (1,000 JPY between Shin-Takaoka Station and Ainokuraguchi), and you will arrive in Ainokura in Gokayama in about 60 minutes.
If you are riding the World Heritage Bus, it is recommended that you get the Free Kippu (2,000 JPY and up for one adult), which allows you to get on and off wherever you want.
See the Two Gassho-style Hamlets of Ainokura and Suganuma
Ainokura in Gokayama is a small hamlet surrounded by mountains where you can enjoy a peaceful scenery consisting of 23 houses, fields, and stone walls.
Take the World Heritage Bus to get to Suganuma, which is about 11 km away from Ainokura (570 JPY; approx. 20 minutes). It is a hamlet on a river with nine houses that are still standing. Both hamlets have museums of traditional industries and folk customs so you can experience the culture that remains in the region.
Learn about Traditional Industries in the Area at Ensho-no-Yakata
In the village of Suganuma you will find a museum known as Ensho-no-Yakata. The museum recreates a workshop that in the past would have been used to contribute to the biggest industry in all of Gokayama. These workshops were used to produce a raw material used in the making of gunpowder. This process was known as ensho. Gokayama is known for having been the site of the biggest such ensho industry in all of Japan. The museum introduces visitors to all of the different aspects of the industry, like how the materials involved in production were sourced and how they were ultimately shipped out of the village. Ensho-no-Yukata provides a precious opportunity to truly experience this once flourishing industry. Entry fees are charged at 210 JPY for adults and 100 JPY for children.
Learn about How the Locals Lived Long Ago at the Gokayama Folklore Museum
The Gokayama Folklore Museum is located very close by to the Ensho-no-Yukata Museum and offers visitors the chance to learn about the daily lives of the local people in times gone by. To create the museum, the oldest house in the village of Suganuma was chosen and redesigned to create an exhibition space that sheds light on the daily lives of Gokayama citizens in the past. There are almost 200 items on display here, showing goods that were developed based on the knowledge of the local people, as well as some documents possessed by them. You will feel as if you have been transported back to the Gokayama of the olden days when you step into this space, so why not take a peek inside? Entry fees into the museum are charged at 201 JPY for adults and 100 JPY for children. You can buy a combination ticket for both the folklore museum and the Ensho-no-Yukata Museum for 300 JPY for adults and 150 JPY for children. Make sure to take in both museums as you stroll through the streets of Suganuma Village.
Take the Bus to Shirakawa-go
Once you've got your fill of the scenery in Gokayama, set your sites on the Shirakawa-go Gassho-style Hamlet. It is about 40 minutes on the World Heritage Bus from Suganuma to Shirakawa-go (Ogimachi). The fare is 870 JPY.
See Gassho-style Houses such as Wada House and Nagase House
Wada House is one of Shirakawa-go's representative gassho-style houses. Built about 300 years ago, it is the largest house in the hamlet. The garden, hedges, and surrounding fields and waterways have all been well preserved. A part of the ground floor and the second floor are available to the public, showcasing traditional everyday articles that were used by the Wada family.
Nagase House is a five-tiered gassho-style house. In addition to the magnificent Buddhist altar and various artworks, you can watch a video of the roof being thatched.
The entrance fee for each house is 300 JPY/adult and 150 JPY/child. There are many other houses that you can visit.
Eating Local Delicacies at Shiraogi
Just a short 3 minute walk from Nagase House will get you to "Shiraogi", where you can sample the local delicacies of Shirakawa-go. There are a wealth of delicious options on offer, the kind that you could only find here. Shiraogi leverages the natural surrounds to bring you the freshest in river fish and vegetables harvested from the mountains. Popular choices from the menu include the [Iwana Shioyaki Teishoku] (Meal with charr that has been salted and then grilled) (1,700 JPY) and the [Soba Teishoku](Meal with buckwheat noodles) (1,000 JPY). The [Hidagyu Hoba Yaki Teishoku] (Meal with Hida Beef and Magnolia Leaves)(2,100 JPY) offers you the chance to sample the local Gifu variety of Japanese beef known as Hida Beef and comes highly recommended. After you have enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the streets lined with Gassho-style architecture, why not enjoy a filling lunch?
Bath in the Hot Springs of Shirakawa-go
If you come to Shirakawa-go, then a visit to a hot spring is simply a must. A 6 minute walk from Shiraogi will bring you to the natural hot springs known as "Shirakawa-go no Yu" (Lit. the hot waters of Shirakawago). They have a wide range of facilities for your bathing pleasure, such as an indoor bath with hot spring water, as well as saunas and a Jet baths. The open-air bath is particularly popular and provides great views of the surrounding scenery. Here at Shirakawa-go no You, you can bathe in hot spring water as you gaze upon the village and its gassho architecture, as well as the beautiful surrounding mountains and the pristine waters of the Atsukawa River. You can also encounter different sights on your visit depending on the season, such as the fresh verdure of the spring and fall leaves of the autumn. Entry is charged at 700 JPY for adults and 300 JPY for children, however, those under the age of six can enter for free. You also have the option to rent a towel for 150 JPY or a larger bath towel for 300 JPY, meaning that you can show up empty handed and still enjoy your stay. After you are have had you fill of the relaxing hot springs, head for the center of the village on foot. You will arrive at the next spot on the list in about 11 minutes.
See the Gasshozukuri Minkaen Outdoor Museum
This is a museum in an abandoned gassho-style house that was moved and preserved. At the museum, you can learn how people have lived for centuries in harmony with nature through observing the scenery on the grounds, the architecture, and the exhibits on display.
These museum grounds have 25 houses, including nine that are designated as important cultural properties of the prefecture, as well as a water mill, shrine, and temple. In some of the houses here will also let you go up to the attic. The entrance fee is 600 JPY/adult and 400 JPY/child.
Take a Break at Konjaku
If you have grown tired from walking since morning, make a stop at "Konjyaku". It is just a 4 minute walk from the Gasshozukuri Minkaen Outdoor Museum. While you can get lunch here, there are many customers who come here to sample the delicious sweet treats on offer when they feel like a snack. I guess we all appreciate something sweet when our bones are weary, right? The top pick from the menu is the [Azuki Shiru Dango] (Azuki Milk Dumplings) (600 JPY). The sweet azuki bean milk combines with the simple taste of the rice flour to create the perfect match. By the way, azuki beans are often used in Japanese traditional sweets and are an integral part of many such recipes, meaning that they have been beloved by Japanese people since long ago. When you come to Japan, make sure to sample some of the traditional confectionary. After you have rested up, you will be ready to get back out on the road. Head back to Wada House.
Enjoy a View of the Gassho-style Hamlet from the Ogi-machi Castle Ruin Observation Area
The observation area of the Ogi-machi Castle Ruin has a panoramic view of the gassho-style hamlet, and thus has the best spot for taking pictures. You can walk there or take the shuttle bus (200 JPY) that leaves from the water lily pond at Wada House. It is closed on snowy days, but you can still enjoy the view from the observatory parking lot.
Pick up Some Souvenirs at Kobikiya
You are now in the closing stages of your visit to Shirakawa-go. Your final stop is "Kobikiya", where you can pick up souvenirs. It is located 10 minutes walk from the Ogi-machi Castle Ruin Observation Deck, and next to Wada House. There is a robust line-up of goods awaiting you at Kobikiya, with everything from sweets and alcohol to local products branded with popular cartoon characters. You also might be lucky enough to get your hands on some of the goods sold here that are only available during certain seasons. Kobikiya also sells "Sarubobo"*, a product from the wider Hida Region of Gifu Prefecture in which Shirakawa-go is located. These small charms are beloved by locals. Why not end your trip with a visit to Kobikiya, to peruse the souvenirs on offer?
※ The name means "Monkey baby" in the local dialect. They take the form of a doll-shaped charm.
Get on a Highway Bus to Return to Kanazawa
On the way back, take a highway bus to Kanazawa. It will take approximately 1 hour 15 minutes and the fare is 2,000 JPY. These buses are reservation only, so would be best if you made an online reservation in advance.
Some useful tidbits to make the most of your trip!
See Shirakawa-go Lit-Up in the Winter
Every year, the village of Shirakawa-go is lit-up for a couple of days during the winter. The mysterious sight of Shirakawa-go lit-up at night is the kind of mysterious scenery tinged in magic that you simply must experience at least once in your life. As snow covers the village it is warmly bathed in light, transforming the buildings and the night sky that hangs over them into a work of art. If you want to see this spectacle for yourself, please note that it is necessary to make a reservation. Moreover, as it can get very cold on winter nights, please pack and prepare accordingly.
Store your Bags Here
There is a bus terminal in Shirakawa-go where you can store your bags as you tour the village. Surely, everyone experiences those times while traveling when you start to feel bogged down by the weight of all of the goods you have picked up. If this happens to you in Shirakawa-go, then make your way to the "Shirakawa-go Bus Terminal". Inside the terminal building you can store your bags for a fee. It costs 500 JPY for a small or medium sized bag or 1000 JPY for larger items. Note that you are only able to store them until the end of the same day and between the hours of 8:00 am and 5:00 pm. Why not make use of this service and free yourself up for a more relaxed and comfortable trip?
The gassho-style hamlets are still inhabited to this day, so take care not to enter any houses or fields without permission, nor visit late at night or too early in the morning. Thatched roofs are susceptible to fires, so cigarettes are also prohibited.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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