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Exploring the Traditional Architecture of Shirakawa-go: A Stopover Must on a Gifu Road Trip

Tasked with retrieving a family member’s motorbike from Gifu, we were lucky enough to add a stop at the picturesque village of Shirakawa-go.

ISHIKAWASAMBO at Shirakawa-go
Zen Ishikawa & Ryo Ishikawa at Shirakawa-go

This place is a hidden gem, known for its traditional thatched-roof houses, UNESCO World Heritage status, and jaw-dropping natural surroundings. Trust us, you don't want to miss out on experiencing Japan's rural charm. So, let's embark on a fun-filled tour of Shirakawa-go, where you'll discover its unique cultural heritage, breathtaking landscapes, and must-visit attractions. Oh, and don't forget to bring those comfy walking shoes!

Gassho-zukuri roof close up
A gassho-zukuri house up close

Gassho-zukuri houses with more than 2 levels
A variety of height and use

A Glimpse into Japan’s Past:

Shirakawa-go is like a living time capsule, with its gassho-zukuri houses stealing the show. These traditional farmhouses have steep thatched roofs that look like hands in prayer (hence the name "gassho"). They've been around for ages, and we were lucky enough to explore the Ogimachi Village, the crown jewel of Shirakawa-go. Trust us, your camera won't stop clicking, but remember to soak in the atmosphere too!

AC units are painted brown to avoid eye-sore
AC units are painted brown to avoid clashing with traditional materials

UNESCO World Heritage Site:

Back in 1995, Shirakawa-go earned its stripes as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The designation recognizes the outstanding value and preservation efforts that have made this place so special. Prepare to be whisked away to a serene and tranquil setting, nestled among mountains. It's like stepping into a dream!

Flowers line gravel walkways
Like a page from a fairytale

Gassho-zukuri houses are not identical
Almost identical, but not quite

Seasonal Spectacles:

We visited in May, just after the cherry blossoms had bid their farewell. The lush greenery of summer was in full bloom, making it perfect for leisurely walks and outdoor adventures. But guess what? Shirakawa-go is a year-round destination, and we can only imagine how stunning it must be during fall, with leaves ablaze in gold and crimson. And winter? Well, let's just say it obviously transforms into a magical winter wonderland.

Wild landscape at Shirakawa-go
So. much. greenery.

Shirakawa-go houses
There are also newer houses in the village, but still in the the same color palette

The Historic Wada House:

Calling all architecture and history buffs! The Wada House is an absolute must-visit among the gassho-zukuri houses. This former residence turned museum will transport you back in time as you explore its intricate architecture, traditional interior design, and artifacts that give a glimpse into the lives of the Wada family. Oh, and don't forget to climb up to the highest level and peek through the tiny window for an Instagram-worthy view of the village!

Cultural Experiences:

Though our time was limited, we managed to indulge in some tasty local snacks and visit the sake brewery. If you have more time, we highly recommend trying your hand at making washi paper, experimenting with indigo dyeing, and of course, savoring the delicious local soba noodles. Your taste buds will thank you!

AC paint matching traditional facade
To match the traditional materials, some AC units have been painted to match the traditional facade

Observation Points:

For jaw-dropping panoramic views of Shirakawa-go, we cruised to one of the observation points outside the village. Sure, the trees were a bit in the way of the picture-perfect view (note: maintenance needed, folks!), but we still managed to capture some amazing shots. Consider bringing a selfie stick or a tall tripod to level up your photography game.

View from the Ogi-machi Castle Ruin Observation Area
Our view from the Ogi-machi Castle Ruin Observation Area

Nearby Attractions: Wait, there's more! While Shirakawa-go is undeniably captivating, there are other nearby destinations worth exploring. Take a short drive to Gokayama, another UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its gassho-zukuri houses. Or venture to Hida-Takayama, a charming old town where you can stroll through well-preserved streets, explore local markets, and discover traditional crafts.

A road trip through Gifu Prefecture wouldn't be complete without a detour to Shirakawa-go. With its stunning gassho-zukuri houses, UNESCO World Heritage status, ever-changing seasonal beauty, and immersive cultural experiences, this enchanting village offers an unforgettable journey. So, get ready to have a blast, capture priceless memories, and fall in love with the timeless beauty of Shirakawa-go.

*Photos & Text by Mars Sambo


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