Japan Chronicles Part 6: Shirakawa-go and the Gassho-zukuri Style Farmhouses

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Shirakawa-go is situated in northeastern Gifu Prefecture and is famous for its traditional Gassho-zukuri (thatched roof) style farmhouses. The village has remained relatively untouched and was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I actually had no idea this village existed if not for Japan Guide website. Seeing winter photos of this old, fairy tale-like world, I was determined to stay overnight and not just settle for a day tour.
Obligatory tourist photo! Haha
Yokichi in Shirakawa-go was our third accommodation for our 9-day trip to Japan. Just like the first two guesthouses we stayed at, they won’t let us check in earlier but they allowed us to leave our bags. I don’t really know if that’s the standard in Japan. To not waste our time waiting, we decided to explore the town a little bit and eat somewhere.
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This is Yokichi
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Saeko San and her husband's farming tools displayed outside Yokichi
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huge pile of snow outside Yokichi
Gassho-zukuri means "constructed like hands in prayer", as the farmhouses' steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. The architectural style developed over many generations and is designed to withstand the large amounts of heavy snow that falls in the region during winter. The roofs, made without nails, provided a large attic space used for cultivating silkworms. 
Source: Japan Guide
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Saeko San's neighbor :)
After eating at a local restaurant, we decided to check out the stores around the village. They mostly sell Omiyage or to us Filipinos we call it pasalubong :) In the Philippines, it is customary to bring home pasalubong whenever one travels to another place. Pasalubongs are are usually food items that are specialty or made only in the area that one has just visited. This culture is very much similar to Japan and I think other countries have this too.
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Love this fluffy snow boots
There were also several snow boots on sale! I got this super cute fluffy boots for about JPY 2,000. I figured this will become useful on my next winter trips :) 
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Farmhouses near the bus terminal
The Shiroyama Viewpoint is located north of the village centre and offers a great panoramic view of the village and its farmhouses. The viewpoint can be accessed either by walking (about 15 minutes) or by a shuttle bus for a minimal fee. The schedule of last shuttle bus is at 4:00 PM so at exactly 3:30 in the afternoon we went straight to the bus terminal.

Travel Tip: There are many day trippers in Shirakawa-go so it is best to go to the station early. The Japanese never overloads their buses so if you missed the last shuttle then you have any choice but to walk to the viewpoint, just don't get lost lol :)
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Me, Jett and Maki
After our 5-minute bus ride, we reached this one attraction nobody would miss, the Shiroyama Viewpoint. Tourists here would either take hundred selfies or just marvel at the picturesque landscape. SRSLY. The view of the village and the snowy mountain was priceless. My words are not enough to describe it.
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I've been dreaming to see this view for so long!
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Maki :)
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I wonder which season fits Shirakawa-go? Should I go back perhaps during summer or autumn? :)
After an hour, we went back to the parking lot. It turned out our bus already left! But I guess it was okay because the walk back to the village was not so far and tiring. We were able to explore the village and we had a glimpse of the lives of the locals after all day trippers departed. Most stores started closing at around 5 in the afternoon. Children were still playing outside. Okasan (Mothers) were cooking for dinner. It was a scene different from other places we have seen in Japan.
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So many interesting things to see!
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Impressive don't you think? :)
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Gassho-zukuri style farmhouses everywhere!

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Snow everywhere!
Staying at one of the Minshuku is a must for the full Shirakawa-go experience. Minshuku overnight stays include traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast using their freshest local organic ingredients. Traditional Japanese rooms are complete with Tatami (type of mat), Shoji (wooden sliding doors), cushions and futon bedding. Discounted tickets to the local onset (hot spring) are also provided upon check in.
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Maki and Jett
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Jett, what are you doing? Haha
In total, we explored the village for about five hours as it was not really that big. There was a lot of down time in between, but it was generally filled with lots of photography, exploring, and pasalubong shopping. We had a beautiful time there and I would totally recommend it to anyone visiting Japan!

How to go to Shirakawa-go? Check out this link.

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