The charming hamlet of Shirakawago lies within one of Japan’s most picturesque spots in the Gifu region, where feudal ‘shōguns’ and ‘samurai’ once roamed the grassy land.
Surrounded by striking mountain vistas, this UNESCO-protected village is famed for its ‘gassho-zukuri’ traditional triangular houses that date back 200 years (as is the nearby historic village, Gokayama). Both these well-preserved villages are a delight to behold in the flesh, particularly in the winter months when they are arguably at their absolute prettiest.
The charm of these historic farmhouses comes to life when their steep thatched-roofs sit under the cover of bright white snow as it highlights their impressive architectural design, which was cleverly constructed to cope with heavy snowfall. Another impressive time of year to visit is in spring, when the cherry blossom ‘sakura’ trees come out in full bloom to fringe the sweeping panoramic views over these hamlets and decorate the walkways around this small community.
The concept behind the iconic shape of the roofs is that they are intended to look like praying hands, reminiscent of the Buddhist monks’ ritual; as a result, the unique structures radiate an enchanting, somewhat spiritual, atmosphere.
While here, we highly recommend trying the local ‘Hida’ beef that the region is renowned for, which often comes served grilled on a beautiful magnolia leaf. Also, thanks to the 68 hectares of fertile mountainous landscape, the vegetables are all of great quality. This is actually huge draw in itself as it can be surprisingly hard to come by fresh, good-value vegetables while travelling around Japan!
This rural idyll is best visited as a day-trip en route from Kanazawa to Takayama: although, if you keen to experience a simple, homely stay then some of the historic farmhouses do have guest rooms available. Here, you will be treated to the friendly hospitality provided at Japanese ‘Minshuku’ (family-run bed and breakfast accommodation) and get the chance to explore the fairy tale-like area for longer, either by foot or bicycle.
I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.
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