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Visiting Shirakawa-Go: The Magical Village Straight Out of a Fairy Tale

Nestled in Gifu Prefecture’s Ono District lies Shirakawa-go, a captivating traditional Japanese village that has become a sought-after tourist attraction. Recognized for its historical significance, Shirakawa-go was bestowed the esteemed title of an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings in Japan back in 1976. The village’s reputation transcended borders in 1995 when it was collectively designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, alongside the neighboring area of Gokayama. Together, they are celebrated as the Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama.

Given its rich heritage and awe-inspiring landscapes, it’s no wonder that visitors from near and far flock to Shirakawa-go to immerse themselves in the pristine beauty of Japan’s bygone era. But what are the key attractions that shouldn’t be missed in and around Shirakawa-go, and how accessible is this enchanting village? Join us as we embark on a journey to uncover the must-visit places and explore the logistics of reaching this magical destination.

What is Shirakawa-go famous for?

Now, we can’t talk about Shirakawa-go without first mentioning its iconic “gassho-zukuri” houses.

Gassho-zukuri means “made like clasped hands.” It was so coined because the wooden houses of Shirakawa have thatched roofs shaped like hands clasped as if in prayer. Since there is a lot of snowfall in Shirakawa-go during winter, this clever architectural style allows the roofs to maintain enough flexibility to withstand the snow’s weight without using metallic materials like nails.

Although the village is located in a mountainous region that gets very cold overnight, the multiple layers of dried grass stacked on the roof are good at keeping heat in the house. The slanted walls also provide a windbreak effect, and the steep incline of the roof allows the home to shed snow easily. The ancients who lived in this area certainly demonstrated a deep understanding of how to coexist with a snowy hinterland deep in the mountains in relative comfort!

The villagers also work together to rethatch the roofs once every 30 years or so. The strength of their spirit of mutual assistance and bond of unity is what helps them to overcome the region’s harsh winters year after year. You could even say that this strength that is passed down through the generations is also part of the heritage being preserved here at Shirakawa-go.

We briefly touched on what gassho-zukuri is, but ther…

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