Wednesday 26 February 2014

A weekend in the mountains - Takayama and Shirakawa-go (part 2)

This is part 2 of a 3 part series about a trip to Hida Takayama and Shirakawago.  You can find part 1 here.

After a great nights sleep I woke up the next morning and got ready to head off to Shirakawa-go and exited the hotel only to be faced with this.....

The snow had come down heavily overnight and had covered Takayama in a blanket of white turning it into a real winter wonderland!  I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.  However, looking down at my feet, I realised trying to walk around in (sometimes) knee-high snow in regular sneakers was going to result in extremely cold and wet feet, something I wanted to avoid!  A friend, Emiko had kindly emailed details of where to find a shoe store and I wandered off to find it.  Reaching it soon enough, I was relieved to find that they had some snow boots in my size, something that is not guaranteed at all shoe stores in Japan, and I don't have especially large feet.

Prepped and ready to go, I bought a ticket for the bus and began the hour long ride to Shirakawa-go.  The anticipation inside of me was beginning to build.  I have been to some pretty amazing places in the one year since I started this blog, but Shirakawa-go was about to kick it up a notch.

Shirakawa-go has been named a World Heritage site.  The village is well-known for the unique Gassho-zukuri (prayer hands) construction style with their roofs constructed in a very steeply slanted angle.  This results in a very strong design and also helps for the snow to easily slide off the roof.  This is a good thing as Shirakawa-go receives some of the heaviest snowfall in winter in the world with a yearly average of over 10 metres of snow!!  Another reason for the snow boots!

Getting off the bus, I got my first glimpse of some of these unique houses.

Amazing........  This moment had been three years in the making and I was definitely not disappointed!  This was not the main part of town though, we had to cross a suspension bridge over the river to get to the main part of the village.

I nervously stepped out onto the bridge and with every step I could feel the bridge swaying.  All I could imagine was the bridge breaking and me falling into the raging, freezing cold river below!

Fortunately I made it to the other side without plummeting into the frigid waters below and proceeded through the gates and into the main part of the village.

For the next two hours I simply walked around astonished at the beauty of Shirakawa-go.  Allow me to let the pictures do the talking for me.

Let me tell you, if you think these pictures are beautiful, then imagine 10 times more spectacular as that is what it was like in reality.  The beauty of the area was simply breathtaking and it definitely made the three year wait worth it!

A couple of the houses have been opened up to the public and you can go inside and have a closer look at what these amazing houses looked like on the inside.

A miniature shrine,

a beautiful heavy wood table

traditional old style Japanese sliding doors,

some wood shelving,

amazing detail in the artwork on these doors,

a fireplace for the family to sit around and enjoy dinner,

a closer look at the bindings that hold these houses together

and a look at the area on the second floor inside the roof space.

Going back out into the snow, I continued wandering around and taking in the sights of Shirakawa-go.  Walking along the street I saw this:

An igloo like structure called a Kamakura in Japanese.  So what's the most natural thing to do when you see a Kamakura?  Wander inside of course!

It was actually quite a few degrees warmer inside!  Walking further along the street I saw a big pile of snow and almost paid no attention to it until I saw the slightest hint of a number plate of a car!

I definitely wouldn't have wanted to be the owner of that car if they needed it in a hurry!

I kept on walking as I knew there was a shrine here somewhere that I wanted to have a look at.  I finally found it buried in snow.

I didn't stay too long as most of the beautiful architecture was hidden by snow.  I did, however notice that the hand cleansing spring was there and water was just barely trickling out.

One of the monks had cracked a hole in the ice so people could still dip in and get some water to rinse their hands and drink to cleanse themselves.  So of course, if they had gone to the trouble of making the water available, I was going to wash my hands and drink!  The coldness of the water bit into my hands, but it also tasted crisp and fresh!!

It was getting close to last bus back to Hida Takayama so I made my way back to the bus station, jumped on the bus and returned to the hotel.

One of my coworkers had suggested a place to go for dinner so I went there for dinner.  The place is called Center 4 Burger and is a hamburger place owned by a young Japanese couple (he speaks English very well) and is set up with a nice rustic feel to it.

When I got there I didn't know if it was open or not as I couldn't see anyone inside but after a couple of minutes the owner came out and told me they were open and took me inside.  You actually have to go through a couple of doors and a small outdoors area to get to the actual restaurant, so if you go there and the sign is outside, they are open!

They have a good selection of burgers and other food,

and imported beers too.

I ordered the bacon cheeseburger

and it was great! I definitely recommend this place when you go to Hida Takayama.

My appetite satisfied I set off in search of a bar I had read about online.  The reviews said that it was a really nice place and the owner was really friendly but that it was a little hard to find so I entered the address into my phone and followed my GPS.  

On the way I passed the same statue of the cat holding the fish, although something about it looked a little different......

Poor kitty, he looked a little cold!

I continued on and pretty soon I found the bar and walked inside to find only the lovely owner, Hisayo there.  She welcomed me in and we had a great chat, she is a very friendly lady who speaks English well. The interior is very interesting with a lot of things on the wall to go around looking at

and a funky little flower lamp on the bar.

I stayed and chatted with Hisayo and some other regulars who came in and enjoyed a perfect finish to a great day.

Well, I hope you enjoyed Shirakawa-go.  I know I was stunned by the spectacular beauty of the place and would love to go back in summer time to see how it looks without all of the wonderful snow.  Next up is a post about Hida Takayama itself.  Thanks for reading and see you again in a few days time!


  1. Well Jason,it must have been an amazing sight and when you see it again without snow,as I did,I am sure you will enjoy it just as much.I recognized the upstairs area in one of the large houses.I have a feeling that English is now being spoken more and more throughout Nihon and I can imagine that it must be a great pleasure for you as well as the Nihon jin,to be able to have a chat.No doubt you are putting in a good word about Aust. and S.Aust in particular.Novella and I took the new electric train from Brighton to Seaford yesterday and it runs every 15 mins.Most of the way you can see the sea and there is a a large and ultra clean shopping centre not far from the eki,where you can relax over coffee and cake etc.Go the Dons,noel.

    1. Hi Noel,
      Shirakawa-go at summer is something I definitely want to see, with the rice paddies looking nice and green!
      There is more English now than there was when I lived here before, so that makes it easier, but I have also started Japanese lessons so that will make it even easier as I gradually improve.
      I didn't know that they had finished the electric train! That's good, moving with the times and becoming a bit greener.
      I heard that Scott Gumbleton got injured again playing for the Dockers! I feel sorry for the guy, an immense talent that I feel will never be realised.
      Take care Noel,

  2. So the obsessions are raman, little shopping streets and snow? I'm with you on the snow dude, I love the stuff and those pictures are great. I go all childlike when there is snow.

    1. Hey Scott,
      good to hear from you again.
      Yep, they are obsessions. I am the same with snow, walking around with a silly grin on my face!!
      I'm still working on your fishing village. A lot of them on the Pacific coast were washed away when the big tsunami hit. I have seen some online but they are a little bigger than what you would classify as a village. The search continues.
      Take care mate.