If you would like to step back in time and experience life in rural Japan a century or more ago – then a visit to Shirakawago is the answer. We took a bus from Kanazawa to the World Heritage listed village which was a journey of about an hour and a half. The village is located in the Gifu Prefecture and has a population of just over a thousand people. It is a mountain village with steep forests which drop into the Sho River. A number of tunnels have been built in recent years which makes it easier to reach the village from Kanazawa, Takayama and Gifu.
The village is known primarily for its traditional houses built in the Gassho style. Some of these are more than 250 years old.
These houses are built to withstand heavy snow but are also susceptible to fire at any time of year due to the wooden structure and thatched roofing. They are characterised by the large, steep thatch roof which resembles hands folded in prayer. Today the residents are farmers and rice fields are throughout the village. During our village the farmers were harvesting the rice.
It was amusing to see traditional scarecrows in place – which obviously have some effect.
It is easy to stroll around the village which has a very peaceful air – unhurried and with very little traffic.
It seems to be a village of harmony which welcomes visitors yet maintains a traditional way of life.
From there we hopped onto a local bus to the city of Takayama – about 50 minutes away. The population here is around 88,000 but again it is easy to walk around, especially in the traditional area which is part of the Hida province.
Several streets with old houses which now house many restaurants and craft shops lie parallel to the Main Street of the town. Craft here is mainly carpentry, lacquerware, pottery and the charm dolls known as Sarubobos. These are traditionally passed from grandmothers to grandchildren and mothers to daughters and are now sold as souvenirs. The local foods are mountain vegetables, beef, soba, ramen and sake.The Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine is right in the middle of the town and is a 5th century shrine which is visited by more than 1,500,000 people annually. In 1683 it was officially established for the protection of the town. It is truly an awesome place to visit and a tree in front of the shrine is said to be 1200 years old.
There are many other attractions to visit in Takayama including hikes, a Ropeway, back country skiing, Markets and visits to the Hida Folk Museum. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do it all, so we will just have to return!