Nestled in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture is Shirakawa-go, a cluster of small villages built in the distinctive gassho-zukuri style. Gassho-zukuri translates as ‘hands in prayer’ and refers to the triangular rooves of the 18th century wooden farmhouses found in the region. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Shirakawa-go and Ogimachi village in particular, has the best-preserved examples of this beautiful style of architecture.
The villages of Shirakawa-go date back to the 11th century but were almost completely isolated until more recently due to their remote location. The gabled rooves of the houses – which are constructed without nails and thatched using age-old techniques – are designed to withstand the heavy snowfall that falls in the region each winter. The interior roof space also provided ideal conditions for silk worm farming, which was historically the region’s main industry.
Nowadays, these communities rely on tourism and some of the gassho-zukuri have been converted into gift shops, cafés or minshuku – family-run guest houses. While Shirakawa-go attracts thousands of tourists every year, it manages not to feel like a theme park; maintaining the atmosphere of authentic, working villages. This can be attributed to the communities who live there, which are tight-knit and have strong roots in the area.
If you’re travelling on our 19-day Japan Circuit Tour, your trip to Shirakawa-go will be spent exploring its main attraction: Ogimachi Village. Meander your way around the village, breathing the fresh air and taking in the stunning mountain scenery and the fairytale-like gassho-zukuri farmhouses.
You can visit the Gassho-zukuri Minka-en museum, which has relocated 27 perfectly preserved houses from around the region to recreate a historical village. The museum offers a range of activities, including weaving workshops and the chance to make your own soba noodles.
Head to Kanda House – a huge five-storey farm house in the heart of Ogimachi. Have a look at the fascinating displays of local crafts and artefacts and take advantage of the complimentary tea!
Take the opportunity to buy some hand-crafted souvenirs unique to the area and sample some of the delicious street food on offer.
You will notice dozens of shops offering street food as you walk around Ogimachi. Some of the most delicious options include gohei mochi – a pounded rice cake, covered in a sweet and savoury glaze of walnuts and miso, before being grilled and served on a stick. Similar to this is gohei dango – which uses bouncy-textured glutinous rice balls instead of the rice cake.
The Hida region is known for its high-quality beef and you’ll find it served in a number of different ways. Try it cut into small pieces and used as the filling for an onigiri rice ball or stuffed inside a steaming hot korroke (croquette).
If you fancy pairing your street food feast with a traditional beverage, try a cup of sweet amazake – a very low alcohol sake, served warm and similar in flavour to rice pudding.
Shirakawa-go is another destination in Japan that is fun to visit year-round. In the spring, the village is made all the more beautiful by the blooming sakura trees, while in autumn, the vibrant foliage is equally breath-taking. In the winter months, the area is covered by a thick blanket of snow but remains accessible and looks picture-perfect.