Most people know Shirakawago (白川郷) as the traditional gassho houses with thick snow covered thatched roof in winter. But visiting Shirakawago in the Summer can be fun too and brings out a different flavour of the UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Shirakawago area receives heavy snowfall during winter with temperature dropping below 0 and roads and paths are often icy. Visiting in summer means we can travel light and we aim to complete the trip in half a day. From Takayama, we took an hour journey bus to the main terminal at the Ogimachi village of Shirakawago.
The Deai-Bash Suspension bridge leads visitors from the bus terminal to the main village. Access to Shirakawago is by foot only as no cars or vehicles are allowed into the area. The suspension bridge is a few hundreds metres long over the fast flowing waters of Shogawa river.
These Gassho style houses are the trademarks of Shirakawago, with its steep slope and high peak, there are only a few dozens of them left in the whole of Japan today. Most of the remaining Gassho style houses can be found in Shirakawago village and the nearby Gokayama village.
In the main tourist area, many of these houses are converted to shops, restaurants and souvenir shops to cater to the increasing tourism. However many of the Gassho style houses are private property and not opened to the public. Tourists are therefore be reminded not to enter houses that are not for the public. To know which houses are accessible, tourists can refer to the Shirakawago visitors brochures.
Some houses, known as Minshuku, do provide accommodation for tourists who are looking to spend the night in Shirakawago.
To get the best overview look of the whole Shirakawago village, we trekked to the Tenshukaku Observatory, a 15 minutes climb from the village. Seeing the gassho style houses and ogimachi village in summer is totally different from winter. There are greenery everywhere and the brown thatched roofs brought out a nice contrast of colours.
After spending an afternoon exploring the village, we left and took a rest by the Shogawa river. It was relaxing to cool our tired feet in the river water and just enjoying the scenery and atmosphere. This would be totally impossible during winter as the water would be freezing cold!
If you are visiting Takayama or Kanazawa, it is recommended to make a day trip to Shirakawago, even if it is the summer.