Although it was designated UNESCO World Heritage Site over 20 years ago, the traditional Japanese mountain village of Shirakawa-gō remains relatively unknown abroad.
This historic village is the best place in Japan to see the distinct gassho-zukuri style farmhouses with their unique, traditional architecture. The defining feature of these wooden homes is the thatched triangular roofs, designed to withstand heavy snow in wintertime.
The shape of the roofs resemble monk’s hands in prayer, which is where the gassho-zukuri (meaning “the act of prayer”) houses get their name. Some houses were built over 300 years ago and are still lived in by local residents, while others were converted into tourist shops.
Shirakawa-gō is especially popular during the winter as the piles of snow on the thatched farmhouses are an impressive sight. On special weekends in January and February, the homes are illuminated. Whether it is cherry blossoms in spring, the bright leaves in fall, or the vibrant green of the surrounding rice fields in summer, the natural landscape offers the perfect backdrop for the unique houses year-round.
Know Before You Go
Shirakawago is located on the west coast of Honshu along the Shokawa River near Kanazawa and Takayama. Bus tickets are just under 2000 yen one-way from Kanazawa that can be reached via the Hokuriku Shinkansen. It is very common to visit this town as a day trip from Kanazawa, a historical city in Ishikawa prefecture. Visitors can even stay overnight in one of these traditional houses for an authentically unique albeit slightly uncomfortable stay.