At first sight of Shirakawa-go in the winter you’ll ask: Where’s Santa? Where are the reindeer? The elves? This ancient village looks like Christmas itself — the snow lies deep and crisp and even to a gorgeous depth, pine trees cover the mountain slopes overlooking the village, the windows of the thatched wooden cottages glow with a cosy inner warmth.
You have to pinch yourself to tell yourself you are not in Lapland or the Alps, but in the heart of Japan, and this valley has looked like this for hundreds of years without any help from Santa or his crew.
In a country that is very keen on rebuilding, Shirakawa and its neighbour Gokayama are unusual in being almost entirely preserved as the towns were in Japan’s more picturesque past. Some of the houses are 250 years old, and the town is a UNESCO world heritage site. The houses are not just old, but representative of a certain style of building, with steeply angled thatched roofs, designed to shed the copious snowfall of the winter months. The steep roofs are evocatively called gassho-zukuri, hands held in prayer.
Some of these houses are still home to real families, but families that have undertaken to preserve, as far as possible, these dwellings in their original state. And some of these houses are B&Bs. Yes, you don’t have to confine yourself to looking; you can stay here in an age-old Japanese house and catch a taste of life as it was lived in very different times.
The village of Shirakawa-go from nearby hill
Home cooked dinner
Lovely home cooked dinners often including Hida Beef, local fish and vegetables according to the season are one of the highlights when staying overnight in a farmhouse. If sitting on the floor to eat doesn't appeal - arrangements can be made!
Scarecrows put to good use after the harvest posing for cameras!