Travel Guide: How to Access Shirakawa-go from Kyoto

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

In my previous blog posts, I’ve shared some of our experience in Osaka and Kyoto. Today, I’ll share with you how we travelled from Kyoto to Shirakawa-go. This part was the most challenging to plan but it was easier than I expected when we got there. I actually had no idea this village existed if not for Japan Guide website. I was searching for an off the beaten path in Japan and Shirakawa-go appeared. I was so amazed with the photos I’ve seen! I was determined to include this village into our 9-day itinerary.
view from the observatory deck

Now where is Shirakawa-go? Actually it is literally located in the middle of nowhere. Joudan! Joudan! (Just kidding!) Shirakawa-go is situated in northeastern Gifu Prefecture and is famous for its traditional Gassho-zukuri (thatched roof) houses. The village has remained relatively untouched and was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Otaku Trivia!!! Shirakawa-go is the ancient city that Hinamizawa (Higurashi When they cry) is modelled after. Higurashi When They Cry is one of the most popular Japanese PC games (anime) in the 2000s. In the anime, the fictional city of Hinamizawa is known for curses and murder mysteries.

There are various ways to reach Shirakawa-go but we ended up choosing Option # 1The village can be accessed by bus from two places - Kanazawa to its West and Takayama to its East.  Most buses between Takayama and Kanazawa require seat reservations. Reservations should be made in advance by phone or at the bus terminal.

Travel Tip: To calculate train fare, check travel time and train schedule, use Hyperdia. 


Option # 1 (Kyoto - Kanazawa - Shirakawa-go for JR Pass Holders)
This is the cheapest option because we will only pay for the bus ride going to Shirakawa-go, train ride is covered by the JR pass. This option is also the fastest since there are no train transfers. 

the cheapest and the fastest way to reach Shirakawa-go
In Kanazawa, bus tickets can be purchased from Nohi - Hokutetsu Bus Terminal which is located on the east side of JR Kanazawa Station. We purchased a one way ticket to Shirakawa-go then another ticket to Takayama that we will use the next day.


Option # 2 (Kyoto - Nagoya - Takayama - Shirakawa-go for JR Pass Holders)
This option can be done if you plan to explore Takayama before heading out to Shirakawa-go. You need to travel by train from Kyoto to Nagoya, then transfer to Takayama. Train rides are covered by JR Pass. From Takayama Hida Bus Center, located next to JR Takayama Station, you can reserve a bus to Shirakawa-go. Same as Option # 1, you only need to pay for the bus ride to Shirakawa-go.
Kyoto - Nagoya
Nagoya - Takayama
Option # 3 (Takayama - Hokuriku Pass for Non-JR Pass Holders)
For Non-JR Pass holders, you may consider getting the Takayama - Hokuriku Pass if you will be travelling between Nagoya, Gero and Takayama, and linking Kanazawa, Kagaonsen, Awaraonsen, Kyoto and Osaka for 5 consecutive days. The price is JPY 10,500, not cheap but the amount you will pay for transportation in this area on a 'per ride' basis is significantly more than the price of the pass. 
this area map will show you where you can use the pass
The journey from Kyoto to Kanazawa takes 2 hours and you will find yourself heading uphill further into the Japanese Alps. I swear I tried hard not to fall asleep because the view is absolutely amazing! When we reached Kanazawa station, I did not feel being in the countryside at all! I mean, look at that train station! It's even better than NAIA 1 wahaha!
At Kanazawa Station
My friend Jett at Kanazawa station
There were many foreigners who were taking the same bus with us, a sizeable number of Europeans, Americans and Chinese. I think we were the only Filipinos on that bus! But surprisingly we met three Filipinos in our Minshuku that day! More on that on my next post :)
OTW Shirakawa-go
inside Nohi Bus OTW to Shirakawa-go

Our bus ride was as exciting as our train ride to Kanazawa. It had to get through series of tunnels which were longer than any tunnel I had ever been in my entire life! There was tunnel after tunnel after tunnel! If the Japanese have not ploughed a tunnel through the mountain, then I can’t imagine how difficult this terrain is. They are really one of the best when it comes to building efficient network of roads, bridges, tunnels, and dams.
Maki, Me and Jett
Selfie before we cross the suspension bridge ^_^

And look at that huge pile of snow! It was April 1st when we visited Shirakawa-go and yet there was still no sign of Spring. I guess we were so lucky to experience Spring in other parts of Japan and Winter in this quiet and laid-back village :)
Bridge to town
and here's the suspension bridge going to the town

Shirakawa-go is a small village and you can definitely explore the area in one day. But to fully enjoy it and of course to avoid day trippers, it is best to stay overnight. Walking late in the afternoon and at night is enchanting! My words will never give enough justice for that.

So, that’s about it guys! I hope this guide will prove useful when you plan your trip to Shirakawa-go.  Be ready for my picture spam on my next post! And don't forget to share your thoughts in the comment section below! :)

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9 comments

  1. did you stay in shirakawa-go for day tour only or pulled an overnighter here? i was planning to travel from kyoto to shirakawa-go and then travel to nagoya, as our flight back to manila will be from nagoya...what do you think?

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  2. We actually stayed overnight. Since you are exiting in Nagoya, your plan is definitely feasible. You can also include Takayama in your itinerary if you still have time. You can follow the same route we took:

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  3. would you also know if there's an overnight bus from Kyoto to Kanazawa?

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  4. Yes there are overnight bus trips to Kanazawa from Kyoto. Travel time is not really that long though, I believe it’s 4 or 5 hours. You can check Hokutetsu Bus.

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  5. oh...i'll check it out...thanks for this great post and replying on my comments :)

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  6. You're welcome! Hope you'll have a great time in Japan! :)

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  7. Thanks for sharing this Millet! Sulit na sulit ang Japan trip mo :) And you're totally blending in with them Japanese :)
    www.jacquelineuy.blogspot.com

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  8. Oo nga eh sulit sa dami ng napuntahan :)

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  9. WHOA! Bookmarking for winter!!! ~Ron

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