The village is famous for its farmhouses, which are built in a unique architectural style known as gasshō (合掌). The name means “hands together” as in prayer, referring to the steep roofs that keep the snow off in the winter. Underneath the roofs, the large attic area was used to house silkworms.
Another feature which has brought fame to the village is the Japanese game series ‘Higurashi no Naku Koro ni’ (2002) and the anime series that followed. Although the village residents are not too altogether thrilled that an anime series depicting large levels of violence has based itself on their village, it has brought the tourists none-the-less. Some locations from the anime series can be visited in Shirakawa; the most prevalent site being the Hachiman Shrine, the site where Rika Furude met an unfortunate end and also the major shrine of the village.
Shirakawa-go can be reached by highway bus from most major cities in Japan. In addition to buses one can catch the Shinkansen Bullet Train to Nagoya, transfer to a standard train to Takayama and take a bus from the Takayama Bus Station to Shirakawa-go. The train ride from Nagoya to Takayama is particularly enjoyable, providing the passenger with much of the mountainous beauty that Japan has to offer (a good break from constant metropolis). Another option is to hire a car (this can be done from several places in Takayama) and drive to Shirakawa-go. A super-highway will have you in the village in under an hour.
Hiring a car is also recommended if you wish to access the many different areas around Shirakawa-go; areas such as Hirase Onsen or Kawai Village (and some mountainous areas). In the snow season many of the roads leading up the mountains will not be open.
Joining a bus tour is easy way to visit Shirakawa-go. iSite Takayama offers a half-day trip from Takayama by comfortable bus every day. The fare is ¥3,800 for round trip.
- 1 Jin Homura Art Museum (焔仁美術館). 9:30AM-4PM. The modern art of Jin Homura’s works featured in a traditional farmhouse is an interesting combination of old and new that enhances the art, as well as bringing new intrigue to the houses and architecture themselves. It has a completely different atmosphere from the various preserved farmhouses scattered about that merely contain artifacts. ¥300. (updated Feb 2018)
- 1 Gassho-zukuri Minkaen (合掌造り民家園), 2499 Ogimachi. A collection of historic farmhouses moved here from other areas of the village in order to preserve them. Some of them date back to the 18th century. The buildings contain artifacts and objects used by the past residents as well as information about the history of the buildings and surrounding area. ¥600. (updated Feb 2018)
- 1 Kanda House (神田家), 796 Ogimachi. 9AM-5PM. A well-preserved farmhouse that always has its fire lit. The second floor has similar artifacts as others in the village. Many visitors enjoy the traditional cat carrier. The third floor offers a good look at the inner construction of the house along with nice views of the rest of the town from the windows. ¥300. (updated Feb 2018)
- 1 Wada House (和田家), 997 Ogimachi. 9AM-5PM. This is the largest of the farmhouses in Ogimachi. It contains some artifacts used during its heyday. For those fans of ‘Higurashi no Naku Koro ni’ the Wada residence is Shion and Mion’s home ¥300. (updated Feb 2018)
- 1 Nagase House (長瀬家). 9AM-5PM. The house is well-known for its 11-meter length which comes from single trees used as horizontal beams inside the house. The house dates back 250 years when the Nagase family worked as doctors. The artifacts inside include medical objects, and things used in daily life. ¥300. (updated Feb 2018)
- 1 Kaerikumo Castle (帰雲城). The castle disappeared into the ground, along with the town surrounding it, when a big earthquake struck one night in 1586. A goldmine near the castle was also swallowed by the earth that night, leaving people to speculate to this day that as much as ¥10 billion may still be buried there. Nowadays there is nothing left but a monument and some greenery. (updated Feb 2018)
- 1 Shiramizu Falls (白水の滝). A scenic waterfall near Shiramizu Lake. Free. (updated Feb 2018)