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

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Although it's just Han and myself for most part of the trip, Trisha and I planned in advance to stay together here since we had overlapping itineraries while we were in Japan.

Two of us girls just wanted to experience the winter wonderland at this UNESCO Heritage Site, so we made it a double date kinda holiday!




Shirakawa-go in the Gifu prefecture is one of the most beautiful sightseeing spots during my trip in Japan. The Gassho-style houses are what everyone comes to this quaint place for, although there are also some souvenir shops and restaurants dotting the thoroughfare of the village. It's a spot that tourists usually frequent in 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 we took 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 actually disappointed because the sky was extremely gloomy. There wasn't no snow in sight, aside from remaining blocks of ice unlike what we saw in pictures and ads. It drizzled for a couple of hours while we were there too.
To sum up on first day, we only went to the hot springs and had dinner that compromised of convenience store foods.



See the difference? The photo above^ is taken when we first arrived, whereas the first photo of this post is taken the morning after when it snowed.

Still, all hope is not lost! 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 have no intentions to forsake the beautiful views for just 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*
Trisha: *rips the futon off me*
Me: *disgruntled and pissy but decides to head over to the window anyway*
Me: OMG
Trisha: RIGHT?
Me: OMG
Trisha: YA
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 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!! And because it's still early in the morning, there was little human activity and the tourist buses have yet to arrive. It's perfect for pictures, and we basked ourselves in the serene atmosphere the whole place gives.
If you're like me, where you 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 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! 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.



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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