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September 13th 2014
Published: September 15th 2014
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Shirakawa-go is a region in the mountains between Takayama and Kanazawa. Shirakawa-go, and neighbouring Gokayama are UNESCO world heritage sites which are famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses. The farm houses have very steeply peaked thatched roofs which are said to resemble the hands of monks pressed together in prayer. In winter they can get up to two meters of snow in the region, hence the steeply peaked roofs.

We reached Shirakawa-go by bus which took about an hour from Takayama. The trip was spent mostly in tunnels so we didn’t get to see much scenery at all! We arrived at about 11am on a Saturday of a long weekend (the following Monday was a public holiday for ‘respect for the aged’ day).

We had booked a room in one of the gassho-zukuri houses which had been converted to a minshuku (small family run hotel, kind of like a B&B) in Ogimachi, the town in the Shirakawa-go region which has the largest concentration of these traditional houses. Ogimachi is situated in a valley, so all around the town are lovely steep mountains covered in beautiful green trees. After hopping off the bus we wandered across the crowded bridge that links the bus terminal with the town and walked up the hill to our minshuku. After checking in and dropping our bags off in our nice little room we set out to explore the town.

We had, inadvertently, timed our arrival for the beginning of the rice harvest which meant that all the rice fields around the town had a soft golden glow. The contrast of the fields with the traditional wood and thatched houses and the backdrop of green mountains was lovely.

After wandering around for a little while we decided it was time for lunch. We settled on the restaurant with the smallest queue and only had to wait about 5 minutes before we were summoned in by the most abrupt Japanese woman we’ve come across. Scott ordered soba noodle soup with tempura and a side of rice, pickles and tofu while I had cold soba noodles with mountain vegetables.

After lunch we continued our very slow stroll throughout the town taking photos and admiring the scenery. As it got later in the afternoon the crowd thinned a lot and by the time we headed back to our minshuku at about 4:30 most of the day trippers had left.

We spent the next few hours relaxing in our room drinking green tea and reading our books. At 6:30 we were summoned to the dining room for our dinner. Dinner was another set menu feast cooked by the owner of the minshuku and her mum (we assume). I again opted for the vegetarian option which Scott chose the ‘normal’ one. Dinner was delicious; If I had more room in my pack I would have packed the grandma in and taken her back to Australia so she could cook for me every day!

After dinner we had a shower and a bath and then retired to our room to read our books before falling to sleep at about 10pm – such party animals!

The only bad thing about the traditional houses is that the walls are very thin. The group of women in the room next door were very noisy when they got up at about 6:15! After they were done in the bathroom we had a quick shower before breakfast at 7:30.

Breakfast was delicious as well. After we had finished eating we were offered black tea (or coffee) – the first black tea we’ve had in Japan. How fancy!

After breakfast we headed out for a walk while the town was still quiet and the mist on the mountains hadn’t yet cleared. After snapping yet more photos we headed back to the minshuku to pack up and check out.

We had originally booked onto the 4:30pm bus to Kanazawa, but we decided we should probably change it as we felt we had seen most of the town. After checking out we walked back to the bus stop and changed our ticket for the 12:25 bus instead.

We spent the rest of the morning wandering around the town again. We ventured up to the lookout point which had quite a lovely view over the valley. After the lookout we headed away from the busy area a bit and came across some farmers harvesting their rice. Elsewhere in Asia we’ve only seen it harvested by hand, so to see the mini machinery at work was quite interesting. The machinery was so tiny! I’d love to see them parked next to my uncle’s header and trucks!

We bought some souvenirs and snacks before picking up our packs and heading to the bus terminal to wait for our bus. Our bus was actually about 15 minutes late which was very un-Japanese. Fortunately there were a lot of Spanish speakers waiting for the same bus so I amused myself by eavesdropping on their conversations and translating for Scott while we waited.

Shirakawa-go was worth visiting; the scenery was lovely and the architecture was very quaint. It was nice to stay overnight as we got to enjoy it for a few hours without competing with the crowds and taste the delicious food!

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