Take a trip to the mountains and witness the beauty of the village that time forgot.
Located nearly in the centre of Japan, in the mountainous northwestern part of Gifu Prefecture, is the quaint village that time forgot: Shirakawa-go. The name comes from the traditional Japanese name used for the region in ancient times. Because of the village’s elevation, it receives some of the heaviest snowfall in Japan. Beginning in December and ending sometime in March, the accumulation of snow can reach between two and three metres on average.
A Village built to resist time and the elements while capturing tradition
But there’s more to the area than its unusual snowfall. One attraction is Ogimachi Gassho-Style Village, which has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The houses are built of wood, with steeply sloping thatched roofs, and were constructed around 1800. They are still standing today as a testament to the rich heritage prevalent throughout the area.
While the roofs may be steepled like palms held together in prayer, they were designed specifically to deal with the winter conditions—in particular, the weight of the accumulated snow. The houses face north and south to take into account the area’s prominent wind direction. This also controls the amount of sunlight that hits the roofs, allowing for cool summers and warm winters. And that’s not the only way this village makes the most of its beautiful snowy climate: for seven days in the evenings in January and February, when the snow is deep around the houses and piled thick on the rooftops, the village holds a light-up event. The warm glow coming from the triangular homes gives the village an air of having stepped directly out of a fantasy.
Join the Doburoku Festival and you can witness the traditional lion dance
If you miss this event, but happen to be in the region around the middle of October, you will be fortunate enough to witness the Doburoku Matsuri (or Doburoku Festival). It is a celebration of folk singing and dancing to honour the history and tradition of the village. Offerings of doburoku (unrefined sake with the consistency and appearance of rice porridge) are made to the gods as prayers for peace in the village, safety and a bountiful harvest. Some of it is offered at the shrines and the rest is later shared with attendees. Villagers gather to sing songs, dance and perform improvised comedic routines.
Other events of the festival include lion dances and musical entertainment accompanied by the shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese banjo-like instrument). The Doburoku Matsuri is an excellent opportunity to witness a celebration that has changed little throughout the course of time.
Soak away your cares in these mineral-rich waters while beautifying your skin
Another advantage of the village’s snowy location is its skiing facilities. Shirakawa-go Hirase Onsen Shirayumi Snow Ski Resort is around a 15-minute drive from the centre of the village and overlooks the Hakusan mountain range. You can enjoy the breathtaking vistas as you ski or snowboard the up to 1,000-metre trails.
For those wishing to take a more relaxing holiday, the Ojirakawa hot spring in nearby Hirase village would be for you. The waters flow from the foot of Mt. Hakusan and contain a combination of sulphur and sodium chloride, which is said to promote beautiful, healthy skin. Soaking in these open-air baths is also renowned for promoting fertility.
Whether you come for the skiing, the festivals or the baths, when you visit Shirakawa-go you will experience a piece of tradition scarcely found anywhere else. So book your ticket and take a step into a world of fantasy.