Japan in December (part 2) - Winter Wonderland in Shirakawa-go

2:08 PM

Hands down one of the most memorable places I've been to in all of my travels! This UNESCO Heritage Site is beautiful the entire year round, but seeing the town coated in snow in the wee hours of the morning was such a breathtaking sight.

Shirakawa-go in the Gifu prefecture is one of the most beautiful sightseeing spots during my trip in Japan. The Gassho-style houses makes up the quaint aesthetics of this village, although there are also some souvenir shops and restaurants dotting the thoroughfare. It's a spot that tourists usually frequent on tour buses in the morning.

Despite the natural beauty Shirakawa-go has to offer, its downside is that everything in the village closes at around 4pm. The only thing that's left open when night comes around are 1) the convenience store and 2) the onsen. Basically, it can get quite boring when night falls, but you can take it as a good respite from the bustle of city life. Take the opportunity to soak in the outdoor onsen!! The warm comfort of the hotspring waters and the chilly night air is amazing.

When we arrived Shirakawa-go in the afternoon, we were disappointed because the sky was extremely grey and gloomy. There was barely any snow in sight, aside from some remaining sad blocks of ice. A far cry from the tourism pictures and ads you see of shirakawa-go, basically. It drizzled for a couple of hours while we were there too.

See the difference? The photo above^ is taken when we first arrived. But the first photo of this post (the one with everything coated in snow) is taken the morning after when it snowed.

Upon our arrival, we explored the village a little before heading to the hot springs. We also had dinner that compromised of convenience store foods since most shops were closed when we were done soaking (around 8pm).
We were so lucky that we decided to stay overnight at Shirakawa-go because it was only at midnight that we started to witness the start of the snowfall. Like little kids, we put our coats over our pyjamas and ran out to the road just to watch the snow falling and gathering at our feet.

For most of us, it was our first time playing with snow. It's an inexplicable awe, watching the ground gradually being coated in pristine white as we spoke in puffs of condensed breaths under the snowfall, our immediate surroundings only illuminated by traffic lights and that singular lamppost.

Because we all wounded up playing in the snow for hours, we went to bed pretty late. When sunrise came around, the guys didn't want to wake up in the ungodly hours of the morning to climb up to the Shirakawa-go viewpoint. Why though... Hais, guys...

But Trisha and I had no intentions to forsake the beautiful sights for three more hours of sleep. I mean, we're finally here so how could we afford to miss it... So we willed ourselves to catch the morning snow at 7AM.

I still remember the morning went pretty much like this: The alarm rings, and Trisha and myself snoozed it about a dozen times before Trisha finally shook me awake.
Trisha: Omg Belle!! Wake up. Look outside.
Me: *refuses to get out of my cozy futon since it's freezing outside at around -2 degrees*
Trisha: *rips the futon off me*
Me: *disgruntled and pissy but decides to head over to the window anyway*
Trisha: RIGHT?
Trisha: YA
*immediately starts ig storying and taking photos*
The guys: *still dead*

When you've never experienced winter overseas... It's like we've reverted to our five year old selves hahaha.

Our lethargic selves were immediately rejuvenated by the thick snowfall that greeted us from the window of our minshuku. Suddenly we had all the energy to go through our morning routine, put on our makeup and slip into our winter wear.
Even though it was only mid December, the snowfall in the morning was heavy enough that we needed umbrellas.

Obviously, we had no regrets!! Because it was still early in the morning, there was little human activity and the tour buses have also yet to arrive. It makes the whole place perfect for pictures as we basked ourselves in the serene atmosphere.
If you're like me, in the way you'd prefer to avoid crowded places while appreciating/capturing breathtaking views, you should stay a night in Shirakawa-go just so you can experience the village in its full tranquility in the morning.

When we went up to the viewpoint, the slope was coated in snow so it was slippery going up. The journey down was far worse, especially because Trisha and myself were only wearing our everyday sneakers. My toes were freezing when snow seeped into it. Note to self: invest in snow boots next time.
But you know, anything for the sights and photos. The cold never bothered me anyway.

The amazing view over part of the village at the observation point!!

When we left in the early afternoon (about 2PM), most of the snow started to melt and it looked almost like how it was when we first arrived the village. So if you're planning to see the snow in Shirakawa-go in December, I think a trip in the early morning would be best! I'm not too sure about the other seasons.

Getting There

If you're planning to head there, check out the different highway buses that head to the area. The more popular buses (that the four of us used) are WillerExpress and Nouhi Buses. They cover different routes, so check if they fit into your itinerary.
Depending on where you come from, most cities (such as Osaka, Tokyo and Kyoto) do not have direct buses that head to Shirakawa-go. Most highway buses would stop at Takayama Bus Terminal, and you would have to take another bus to get to Shirakawa-go.

For Han and myself, we came from Kyoto so we took a WillerExpress bus to get to the Takayama. Because we were also planning to explore Takayama after Shirakawa-go, we got return tickets at the Takayama Bus Terminal.

Here's a rough breakdown of how much we spent on transportation (per pax):
Kyoto to Takayama: ¥4200
Takyama to Shirakawa-go (return): ¥4420

For Trisha and her boyfriend, they came from Nagoya so they took the Nouhi Bus to Shirakawa-go. Their fare also differed from us.

Here's a rough breakdown of how much they spent on transportation (per pax):
Nagoya to Shirakawa-go: ¥2980 
Shirakawa-go to Takayama: ¥2470

So yes, coming from Nagoya is definitely gonna be waaaay cheaper since it's geographically nearer, especially since there's already a fixed bus route for it so you don't have to transfer. But it depends if you've Nagoya in your itinerary (which me and Han didn't).

For the buses to Shirakawa-go/Takayama, it's best to book them online! You won't be able to board the buses if you have not.
However, for the buses running between Takayama - Shirakawa-go, you can just buy the tickets from the bus terminals just on the day itself without prior reservations. They have buses running at 30mins to an hour intervals, and they are hardly full!

Alternatively, if you own the JR Pass covering the whole of Japan, you can take the Shinkansen to the JR Takayama Station since it's covered by the pass. But the bus ride to from Takayama to Shirakawa-go is not included, so you'll have to pay.

If you're planning to go to Shirakawa-go, Takayama is a good stop to experience rustic Japan and the region's Hida Beef too! We had Hida Beef sushi, skewers, ramen and chips and they were all sooo good. If you're planning to experience a traditional ryokan stay, I'd recommend Takayama too!
You can read what we did in Takayama here.

If you're an otaku like me (lolol), you'll be glad to know that the film Kimi no Na Wa (Your Name) had a couple of sceneries based from real-life locations in Hida-Takayama! The anime, Hyouka, is also based in Takayama.

Hope that's enough info for those who have already set their sights on this picturesque location!!
Shirakawa-go is truly a winter wonderland that captured our hearts. I don't think winter would have looked as pretty in the city so, definitely worth the trip!

Check out my other travel posts:
▶ 33 Days Around Japan, Korea and Taiwan
 Japan in December (part 1) - Christmas in Hakone 
▶ Japan in December (part 2) - Winter Wonderland in Shirakawa-go
▶ Japan in December (part 3) - Borderless Digital Art Museum
▶ Japan in December (part 4) - 5 Days in Nara, Okunoshima, Hiroshima, Miyajima & Kinosaki Onsen
▶ Japan in December (part 5) - 11 Towns and Cities in 23 Days

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