Shirakawago Winter Wonderland

Shirakawago Winter Wonderland

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Photos: Maria Visconti

Imagine just walking into a village made out of gingerbread houses with heavy lashings of fondant on top. Lights like fireflies twinkle echoing the stars above this Shirakawago winter wonderland. It is -3 Celsius tonight but we are being driven by our guesthouse’s owner to see the illuminated World Heritage houses of Shirakawago.

shirakawago winter houses
Shirakawago is charming in winter

This tiny village existed in isolation for centuries until tunnelling technology opened up an easy way to get here without having to surmount the mighty mountain ranges that have kept Shirakawago undiscovered for a long time.

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Shirakawago World Heritage houses

Thatched cottages with eaves that almost touch the ground called Gassho-zukuri because the high-pitched rooves look like hands folded in prayer, are scattered around this sleepy hollow where the locals originally survived by farming silk worms up in their attics.

Today Shirakawago is a magnet for local tourism and a handful of international guests visiting Japan. A few houses have opened their doors to travellers as guesthouses (minshuku).

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I am staying at the Minshuku Furosato where the owners have retired to the top floors, leaving the ground floor for guests. Rooms are traditionally Japanese, sparsely furnished but with everything you need including a yukata (light cotton kimono to wear indoors).

Rooms are divided by moving light wood and paper partitions. Meals are served in a common room with a central stove for warmth. Both breakfasts and dinners are typically Japanese with a good spread of choices.

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I have been to UNESCO World Heritage Shirakawago before in summer when the emerald green patches of rice and buckwheat add a bucolic light to the place. Now in winter, like a few other places in Japan, it is almost unrecognisable under a heavy cover of snow.

It really looks like the postcard from an imaginary village where silk weaving elves create eerily beautiful scarves.

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Shirawago winter wonderland

To celebrate the occasion I go out the minshuku spade in hand to bury a procured French Champagne bottle in the snow. After a few minutes, it is chilled and we toast to our good fortune.

shirakawago in winter
Snow-covered rooftops of Shirakawago in winter

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Discover Japan

Looking for the best place to go skiing in Japan? Check the Hakuba snow forecast and book your hotel in Hakuba here. If you love winter, here are some Takayama things to do and other places to visit in Tokyo such as the Tsukiji market  While in Japan, please do visit an onsen and if you’re unsure of the etiquette, here are some onsen tips.

Japan travel – World Heritage Shirakawago