Snowy Shirakawago

Some parts of Japan get a lot of snow

Some parts of Japan get a lot of snow

Shirakawa is a chilly, though beautiful, nook in the mountains of Gifu. In late February, metres of snow blocks roads and shrine entrances, obscures landscapes, and requires long boots and a shovel just to get into the road-station toilets.

Buried

A shrine opposite the Shirakawago road-station, completely buried and abandoned until the spring thaw.

Sorry

Sorry, no way in.

Washing

The ritual of washing one’s hands before entering the shrine might result in frost-bite.

The area is a well-known tourist destination in any season, as visitors come to see the World Heritage listed straw-thatched village of Shirakawa-go. The car-park is open from 8am until 5pm, and costs 500 yen per visit. (Japanese site with map). Earlier is definitely recommended as the bus tours roll in early, however there is always a very calm atmosphere here, despite the interesting items tour-guides use to signal their flocks.

First you have to cross the bridge though...

To get into the village, first you have to cross the bridge…

While this style of house still exists elsewhere in rural Japan, what was once a community task to help a neighbour renew their roof has become a rare skill and very expensive. Maintenance costs around $10,000 every decade, forcing many make the switch to corrugated iron instead.

The distinctive steep angle of the roofs reduces some of the snow build-up

The distinctive steep angle of the roofs reduces some of the snow build-up. Renovation debt, not so much…

Shirakawa-go was able to soften this expense with a profitable tourism model, at the same time preserving some of Japan’s traditional architecture, however, this is not a theme-park. Apart from a few buildings set aside for viewing (at a small additional cost), the houses are occupied.

Cleaning

One of the safer ways to clean the deep snow of the roof that we saw.

Lost kitten

A neighbourhood kitten finds himself in a bad, chilly spot.

shirakawa-1-13

Of course, there is a little bit of touristy stuff around.

Of course, there is a little bit of touristy stuff around.

This doesn’t necessarily mean visitors can’t enter, just not outside of business hours. Unsurprisingly, many of the inhabitants have turned their homes into cafes or ryokan – Japanese style inns. Staying overnight in one of Shirakawago’s thatched houses means more time to explore the streets, and the chance to climb up into the mountains for the typical shot of the entire valley.

Maybe no mountain hiking during winter though...

Maybe no mountain hiking during winter though…

Cafe

Coffee and tea and a cute dog!

Seeing Shirakawago in winter was a bucket-list item for me, and it did not disappoint. It’s very cold however, staying at -4 during the day (and -9 overnight!) so hefty winter clothing, including insulated boots, is recommended.
When the chill gets too much though, it’s nice to know you are never far away from a warm cafe in Shirakawago.

There are times when snow is a bit nicer when outside the window.

There are times when snow is a bit nicer when outside the window.

Are there any places you want to visit during a specific season? Leave a note in the comments~

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6 thoughts on “Snowy Shirakawago

  1. As always, great photos! When were they taken? Now I really want to go there! We’ve talked about going for the last two years! But it must have been very chilly!

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    • Thanks Leah ^^ we went the February just passed. Summer is really pretty too – you can see a lot more of the surrounding country-side and yes it’s A LOT warmer ^^.

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    • Thanks for the comments~ It’s a great spot – especially for photographers who want just…one…more… shot! (not so much for bored partners…) I want to go back and stay in a ryokan next time ^^

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