Amazing as Japan’s metropolises are, after spending enough time in some of the most densely populated spots on the planet, urban fatigue starts to set in. There’s nothing like a getaway to the countryside to refresh your spirits after one too many days scurrying around downtown in packed train and subway cars.

The Shirakawa-go district, located in Gifu Prefecture, is close enough to Tokyo or Osaka that it makes an easy weekend escape for residents, as well as a simple side trip for overseas tourists crisscrossing the country. In terms of atmosphere, though, Shirakawa-go is worlds away from Japan’s largest cities.

The area around Shirakawa-go isn’t developed enough to warrant a train station, so for visitors without a car getting there involves a 50-minute bus ride from Takayama, the nearest significantly-sized rail-accessible town. Infrequent bus service is also available from Nagoya, but considering the three-hour ride this entails, your posterior will probably thank you for taking the train as far as possible to Takayama instead.

In 1995, Shirakawa-go was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in recognition of the glimpse it provides of a traditional rural lifestyle that is rapidly disappearing.

Shirakawa-go’s primary attraction is its set of preserved farmhouses. The homes are built in a unique architectural style called gassho-zukuri, meaning “hands clasped in prayer,” a reference to the buildings’ steeply-angled thatched roofs.


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The largest cluster of gassho-zukuri homes in the Shirakawa-go region is found in Ogimachi Village. Busses stop at a terminal across the river from Ogimachi, which visitors enter by crossing a footbridge.

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Winters are particularly harsh in Shirakawa-go, and the roofs are designed so that snow will slide off, instead of piling up and crushing the structure with its weight.


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The high ceilings of gassho-zukuri homes provide natural insulation, helping to keep their occupants comfortable not only in the colder months of the year, but also during the hot, humid summers Shirakawa-go shares with the rest of Japan.

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The design also provides plentiful interior space among the rafters. Aside from storage, these spaces were used for maintenance of farming tools, as well as cultivation of silkworms and even the preparation of gunpowder, which the area’s mineral deposits made it an early production center for.

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A number of homes in Ogimachi are open to the public, and even those which are not provide a beautiful backdrop to a stroll along the irrigation canals that weave through the village.



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A small path at the edge of the village leads up to a lookout point that provides a literally picture-perfect view, often serving as a vantage point for postcard photographers.

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For travelers staying overnight in Shirakawa-go, there are also traditional inns built in the gassho-zukuri style, offering a unique type of accommodation that even most modern Japanese nationals have never experienced.

Ogimachi isn’t exactly bursting with dining options, but there are a few places to stop and grab a light meal or cup of coffee during the daytime. On the warm August afternoon we visited, the local ice cream vendor was doing a brisk business, offering the unique flavor of shiso (Japanese basil) along with more traditional choices such as chocolate and vanilla.

▼ Coffee shop


▼ Restaurant


▼ Restaurant interior


In fall, the Doburoku Festival is held at a number of shrines in the area. Doburoku is a type of thick, unrefined sake, which is given out to revelers during the festivities. This year, Ogimachi’s shrine will be hosting the event on October 14 and 15.


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Of course, some visitors want to see the gassho-zukuri roofs fulfilling their intended purpose, and mid-winter is considered by many to be the best time to visit.

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Ogimachi is even illuminated on certain evenings in January and February of each year. In 2014, the town will be lit-up from 5:30 to 7:30 on the nights of January 18, 25, and 26, as well as February 1, 2, 9, and 15.

Don’t forget your jacket.

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Related: Shirakawa-go Village Office, Shirakawa-go Light Up Site, Shirakawa-go Tourist Associaiton
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