The gasshō-zukuri houses of Shirakawa-gō

The cold did not stop us from running down the streets. It was well past the closing time for most small businesses in the area, and Takayama (高山市) was about to retire for the day. The hostel where we had checked in had a curfew at 22:00 hours, and we were left with a little more than an hour to get our dinner (and by this I mean, to feed a group of 6, who were blind with hunger). The day had been great, started with the drive all the way from home to the mountains of Gokayama (五箇山), bordering the Gifu (岐阜県) and Toyama (富山県) prefectures; a visit to the gasshō-zukuri (合掌造り) village of Shirakawa-gō (白川郷); a hike across the snow-covered village; a walk on a slippery suspension bridge over a frozen river; an out of the world view of the village from an observation platform up in the hills.. well, I could go on.

We left Tsu (津市) at around 9:00 in the morning and reached Takayama (高山市) by noon. After checking with the bus services, and finding that all the bus tickets for the ‘light-up’ event was taken, we decided to risk driving to the UNESCO World heritage site of 白川郷. We had a quick lunch at a soba restaurant, and started with our drive. Everyone at work, and every person Japanese, had advised us to take the bus (for my car does not feature the ‘snow tires’ and neither did I have the tire chains; which is deemed to be an important part of driving in snow). The roads were not all that snowy, though there were some stretches of snow and ice, on the way back. We reached the village in an hour or so, and was greeted by a long, long line to get to the parking place. The ‘light up’ event was quite popular. Add to it, the ‘three day weekend’ effect; there was a bunch of people waiting in the lines. We wanted to get to the village, and walk around before the ‘light up’ thing and also wanted to get good spots to get good photos, for the event. Think, breaking the law, was the theme of the day; we pulled out from the line, got into a side street, and parked the car in a vacant spot.

The cars waiting in line

The cars waiting in line

The first thing that strikes you, the moment you reach the village, is the openness. There are no walls, and the houses are separated from each other by stretches of snow-clad expanse. The gasshō-zukuri does stand out; rows of big and small houses, with the typical ‘hands in prayer’ style thatched roofs, with heaps of snow on them, and icicles dripping on the edges. We walked around the village, keeping our cameras busy. By around 5:00, the houses were getting ready for the light up event, and we made our way up the hill to the viewing platform. Here too a bunch of people had already taken up the prime spots, but we did manage to get a good place, and set the cameras.


The setting sun, the white snow and all the high power lights, merged in and out, bringing out an array of colours, ranging from white through golden-yellow, illuminating the whole village. The houses stood out; large silhouettes against the white of the snow, with the pleasantly lit windows advertising the warmth within.

(click on pictures to see larger picture)

A good hour and half, and many photos later, we returned to the car, and drove back to Takayama, to the hostel. Back on the streets of a sleeping Takayama,we found this great restaurant, with some of the best dishes that I have ever had in the last 2+ years in Japan. But all about that, and more about the wonders of this small town in the mountains in the next post.


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