Last November, I spent a few days traveling through central Japan and one of those nights was spent at a farmhouse in Shirakawa-go. Most people visit Shirakawa-go on a day trip from either Takayama or Kanazawa and fight the hordes of tourists to get crowd-free pictures of the gassho zukkuri (praying hands) homes that the village is so famous for. But spend the night and after the coach buses have departed, you’ll have the village all to yourself.
I have hesitated to post this experience as it isn’t one I wholeheartedly endorse. Yes, staying the village overnight can give you the chance to explore without fighting tons of other visitors but the experience itself can be a lonely one.
I arrived in Shirakawa-go by bus from Takayama in the early afternoon. Eager to drop my backpack, I headed first to my accommodation across the river – the Shimizu Minshuku. Despite hearing noises in the kitchen, no one answered my persistent knocks and even after stepping inside and calling out, it took about 10 minutes to rustle up anyone to help. The proprietress, a middle-aged Japanese woman, took my luggage and asked what time I would be back for dinner. It was a brief exchange and I headed back out to explore.
Shirakawa-go is not a big village and I was more than ready to head back for dinner around 17h30 and get out of the cold. I was shown to my room – a bare bones accommodation with a futon mattress, a blanket and a space heater. (No TV or radio – which was fine – but no books or magazines either.) The bathroom was on the other side of the house, in a part of the house that was unheated. The thought of a shower made me settle just for a quick wash of the face and hands!
Dinner was served just outside my room in the living area, around a hearth. Unfortunately, I was the only guest at the farmhouse that night and while I did hear some members of the family in the kitchen, I ate my dinner alone. Dinner itself was good and there was plenty of it. A few of the dishes were clearly store-bought but the majority was homemade and it was filling.
The village has very little traffic so it’s easy to enjoy a good night’s sleep. Breakfast was also fairly substantial and I arranged to have it around 8h00. Once finished, I didn’t linger long but settled up the bill and headed out with my bag. For the experience, I paid ¥101,00 (cash only) or nearly USD$100. Did I consider it worth it? Not really. For half that price, perhaps.
My experience COULD have been better if a number of factors were different. If there had been additional guests, if the house had been warmer (can’t really get around that in an old farmhouse though) or if I had chosen a different farmhouse altogether. I’m glad I stayed to see what it was like and I did enjoy the time in the village in the morning with no one around but all in all, it’s not necessarily an experience I wholeheartedly recommend.