Photo:Simon Desmarais on Flickr

An Introduction to Takayama and Shirakawa-go in Gifu

Nestled in the north of Gifu Prefecture are the famous tourist cities Takayama and Shirakawa-go.  Takayama and Shirakawa-go are about two to three hours away from Gifu City and are only an hour from each other. Tourists wanting to see Shirakawa-go usually stay in Takayama due to the abundance of hotels and onsens it has to offer. Also, there are no trains that go to Shirakawa-go, so it’s only accessible by bus. The nearest bus terminal is in Takayama.

In most Takayama ryokan (traditional Japanese inns),  onsens are built on the higher floors, giving those who visit an amazing view. Ryokan usually have three types of baths: private, family and public.  Baths may be fully-enclosed or open-air. Onsens are not all Takayama has to offer. Takayama’s old village appearance will take you back in time while offering activities to keep one busy. For those who like alcohol, a few sake breweries still stand after many years and several renovations. Takayama also has an art gallery, a museum of History and Art, and a Hachiman Shrine. Takayama Jinja (a Shinto shrine) is a popular shrine among visitors. Takayama is one of the few places which still have daily morning markets. There are two that run every day from early morning to noon and sell a variety of goods such as dried fruits, fish, teas, rice and handmade goods. One market is held in front of Takayama Jinja and the other is along the Miyagawa River.

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Takayama old-time feel

A quick one-hour bus ride from Takyama Bus Terminal will take you to Shirakawa-go. Shirakawa-go became a world heritage site in 1995, thanks to its traditional Gassho buildings. Gassho buildings are buildings with steep sloped roofs. They were built this way to prevent snow from piling up on the rooftops. There are around 110 of these buildings which were built over two-hundred years ago. People still live in these Gassho buildings, and some are even available for visitors to spend the night! Also among these buildings are small, family-owned cafes and stores selling local products.

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Steep sloped roofs of Gassho Buildings

To get a view of the whole area, an observation point called Shiroyama Viewpoint is accessible by either foot or bus.  The viewpoint is only about fifteen minutes from the main village of Ogimachi.  The walk is very steep, so anyone with difficulties walking up steep inclines should take the free bus. For 300 yens, one can visit Myozenji temple of Gassho design. There is also an air museum that costs only 500 yens. The museum showcases special Gassho buildings not currently being lived in. They are kept as they were from 200 years ago.

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A wooden bridge leading into Ogimachi, the main village of Shirakawa-go
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Shirayama viewpoint

Anytime is a good time to visit Shirakawa-go, but the recommended season is winter. As snow blankets the area, the village becomes a winter wonderland. Be sure to make the Visitors Center your first stop as it has plenty of maps and information about Shirakawa-go.  It is conveniently located next to the bus parking area.

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