Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are two regions declared as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995. They are famous for the traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses. Gassho-zukuri refers to the steep thatched roofs that resemble two hands brought together in prayer.
The largest and most visited village of them all is Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go. Ogimachi is also frequently referred as just Shirakawa-go. For Gokayama, the two nicest villages are Suganuma (9 gassho-zukuri farmhouses) located by the river bank and Ainokura (around 20 gassho-zukuri farmhouses) up a hill. The transportation to these villages are inconvenient but offers a more authentic feel compared to Ogimachi which is often cramped with visitors.
Shiroyama Viewpoint boasts the best view of Ogimachi and can be reached by car, shuttle bus or on foot. The annual light-up event which is held on certain days in January and February is the most popular season. The thatched roofs which are then covered in a thick layer of snow with the snow-blanketed surroundings look like a scene straight out from a Christmas card. The overnight stays at the farmhouses are fully booked long before January on these days.
No entrance fee is needed to visit the village itself but the open-air museum in Shirakawa-go requires ￥1000. As opposed to the farmhouses in the village, no one lives in this designated area. It’s a great place If you want to take pretty pictures of the houses or to enjoy some tranquility away from the crowds in the village.
The original gassho-zukuri farmhouses had thatched roofs that reached the ground.