Paul's Travel Pics

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Shirakawago - Guesthouse and Restaurant Review


I will repeat this again ... DON'T SETTLE FOR A DAY-TRIP if you plan to visit Shirakawago. Rest your traveler's soul under the thatched roofs for a night or two ... chat with your Minshuku host at the hearth in nothing but body language ... rejuvenate your backpack-weary shoulders in the village's open-air hotspring ... treat yourself to the affordable extravagance of a top quality Hida Beef steak. After all, you've already spent so much time and effort just to get there, especially if you've started out from Tokyo or Osaka.

Unless you have a car, you'll want to stay somewhere within the main village, known as Ogimachi to the locals. There is no westernized hotel (nor would you want one), a total of 3 Japanese Ryokans, and 20 or so Minshuku guesthouses in Ogimachi. Unfortunately none of the Ryokans are housed in a Gassho-zukuri (steep thatched roof) farmhouse, which is everyone's favorite reason for visiting Shirakawago. So for most tourists, it makes much more sense to stay in an authentic, way cheaper and much more atmospheric Minshuku.




Booking a Minshuku

For non-Japanese speakers, the easiest way to book a Minshuku within Shirakawago is to reserve through JapaneseGuesthouses.com, which deals with a few of the 20 Minshukus in the village. I think they do charge a small commission, if I'm not mistaken.

If you've got your eyes on a particular Minshuku not on their list, you could email the Tourism Association at info@shirakawa-go.gr.jp and request for the Minshuku of your choice. This is how we booked our Minshuku -- we emailed them our dates, the number of male/female/children in our group, how many rooms we needed, arrival time and transportation, and the Tourism Association made arrangements with the Minshuku and reconfirmed the booking with us.


The Association didn't ask for my credit card number in the booking process. As in most places in Japan, cancellation is based on an honour system -- if you change your plans and no longer need the room you reserved, you're responsible for informing your host so they don't waste the vacant room, not to mention the food and the effort of meticulously preparing your dinner.


Hotel Review: Minshuku Hisamatsu (Shirakawago)
Address: Gifu-ken Ono-gun Shirakawa-mura Ogimachi 585
Price: 7700 yen per person including dinner and breakfast
Website/Map: http://shirakawa-go.gr.jp/details/?m=1&i=81
How To Book: Send an email to hidatio@hidanet.ne.jp or info@shirakawa-go.gr.jp
Directions: From the Information Centre, pick up an English map and walk across the suspension bridge (Deai-bashi). Head straight towards the Myozenji temple on the other side of the main road. Hisamatsu is right next to the Myozenji. If you're looking for direction for getting to Shirakawago by PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION, please refer to the Transporation section at the bottom of the previous article.



This is the Minshuku we chose based on the following criteria:
1) a UNESCO World Heritage designated Gassho-zukuri style farmhouse
2) a historical building, preferably dating from the Meiji era or before
3) serves dinner and breakfast around the square hearth (Irori)

Most Minshukus in the village would meet criteria #1 ... and you can usually tell from the exterior look of the house. Criteria #2 needed a little more research in the Tourism Association's Japanese site, but most of the Gassho-zukuri houses in the village are at least a century old anyway. Criteria #3 turned out being the toughest, since the usage of the hearth at many Minshuku has diminished to serving tea and initially greeting visitors.



Not at Minshuku Hisamatsu though. This place is as authentic as it gets, just a step short of letting you tend the fire and grill your own fish. This was dinner time, when the 87-year-old owner Kawata Hisamatsu still sat around the fire and chatted with the Japanese guests in the room. The torch of running the guesthouse has been passed to his daughter, who spoke minimal English and did a great job of keeping up the conversation with us who spoke minimal Japanese. The elderly wife of Kawata-san (whom we simply called Obaasan ... I never asked for her name) was also sitting here but just not in this picture.

It was a very memorable meal for two completely opposite reasons, one being the authentic experience of sitting around the old Irori hearth with a Japanese family, and the second being the even more authentic experience of the heavy smoke from the firewood constantly getting into our eyes. Tolerable to me, it was getting a little too authentic for my wife. This may be something you want to consider when you choose your Minshuku, as authenticity does come with a price.



The food was also memorable -- an 8-course meal very similar to our previous dinner at the neighboring village of Gokayama (see the Gokayama article for comparison), but with a notable addition. Historically Shirakawago belonged to the old feudal province of Hida, a mountainous area which produces one of Japan's favorite and most highly prized food ingredients ...



The velvety soft, marbled Hida Beef. Not as internationally famous as the Kobe, Matsuzaka or Omi (collectively known as the Three Famous Cattle Breeds), but just as celebrated within Japan and generally very difficult to find in restaurants outside of the Central region. The quality of these thin cuts of beef was nothing too spectacular (probably A3 Rank by my own estimation), but it was a much welcome change as I've had almost no red meat since leaving Kobe more than a week ago. The Japanese are much more well-known as heavy fish and pork eaters.



Iwana trout seasoned with sea salt, slow-grilled at the hearth right before dinner was served. This was quite average, to be honest.



This was always my favorite dish wherever I went in Central Japan. A tempura dish made with the local organic vegetables and wild indigenous plants, including the intensely fragrant Yama-udo leaves shown at the centre. Best dish of the meal by a mile.



Cold Hiya-yakko tofu, fiddlehead ferns in sesame marinade, and ... what's that brown orb on the far right? It tasted starchy and sweet, and I thought it was some kind of exotic root vegetable found locally. But as the hostess explained, it was a mini potato grown from the strip of farmland in front of their house.

And that's not all -- we were also served the Koshi-hikari rice the hostess herself planted and harvested, from the same ancestral fields passed down from generation to generation. It's quite amazing to see these ancient traditions still being honored, even in the 21st Century in the middle of a first-world country.



Another great thing about staying in Shirakawago is that ... for a mere 500 yen (CAD$5) more, you get the option of upgrading your vacation into a hotspring trip! There is a modernized hotspring Ryokan called Shirakawago-no-Yu near the end of the village, normally charging 700 yen for a dip in their open-air hotspring. You don't need to pay full price if you're staying at a Minshuku though, since your host can get you discounted tickets for 500 yen.

I can't speak for the ladies' side, but in the men's section there was an indoor pool with massaging jets, and a much more attractive but smallish open-air pool overlooking the the Shokawa river shown above ... and the busy two-lane bridge crossing the river. I thought I wasn't a new-comer to Japanese hotsprings, but it still felt a little weird with cars zooming across less than 100 metres away while I sat barenaked in the pool. Just part of the cultural experience I guess.



Though Shirakawago gets invaded by coachloads of international and domestic tourists daily, the evening sees the village returning to its serene, charming past. This was the ultimate escape for city dwellers -- rustic, pastoral, but surprisingly cold. We took an after-dinner stroll around the village, but had to hurry back before the warmth from the hotspring wore off completely . This was in late May, but the nighttime temperature still dropped to single digits Celcius.



Luckily I had the good sense to pick up a bottle of the locally brewed Nigori-zake, a semi-filtered (ie. with residues of the fermented rice suspended in the Sake) rice wine with a very strong flavor. It was available from the local general store for less than 500 yen (CAD$5), which was an unheard-of low price compared to what I usually pay in Vancouver. My wife found it too weird for her tastebuds though, and I ended up having to finish the entire bottle.



This is how modern villagers get through their cold winter nights -- a portable, somewhat foul-smelling kerosene heater inside each bedroom. Even though we're not supposed to run the unvented heater for more than an hour at a time due to the risk of carbon dioxide poisoning, we probably used it for half the night.



The Minshuku was a full-house that night, and each group of guests was assigned to a room partition within the large communal space. As you can see there's a two-feet gap between the room divider and the ceiling, much to the inconvenience of both the ourselves and the Swiss-Japanese couple in the next partition. You can imagine the difficulty for both rooms in muffling the jokes and the pillow talk down to a manageable noise level.



We woke up to the crisp, near-freezing air -- a perfect morning for travelers to gather around the Irori hearth to share stories while warming up the hands and the feet. The hostess had to keep busy as she tended the fire, boiled water for our tea, and cooked breakfast for everyone but herself. It was an atmosphere fitting to everyone's idea of a classic morning in rural Japan.



The breakfast was simple again -- no meat, no fish -- just like the previous morning at Gokayama. The Minshuku's home-grown rice was served again, this time accompanied by the aroma of an unmistakably Central Japanese dish, arguably the most famous dish in the Hida region ...



Hoba Miso ... or soybean paste grilled in a magnolia leaf, with the added toppings of Enoki mushrooms, tofu and scallions this morning. As expected the Miso was rich and flavorous, but it wasn't overwhelmingly salty and was just right for its traditional role as a condiment for the rice. This combination and Miso and rice gave us the perfect fuel as we continued on our trip to Hida Takayama.

This evening was certainly one of our most memorable stays in Japan, yet it's not something I would recommend to everyone without reservation ... the smoky dining room and the thin walls that didn't reach the ceiling were a bit of a shock to my wife, but quite interesting to me. So I guess it depends on what kind of traveler you are, and how highly you value material comfort.




Food Review: SHIRAOGI (Shirakawago)
Address: Gifu-ken Ono-gun Shirakawa-mura Ogimachi 155
Hours: 09:00-17:00 except Thursdays
Website/Map: From Yahoo Japan
Directions: Starting from the Information Centre, walk across the bridge and head straight. You should see a large parking space on your left side after crossing the main road. Shiraogi is one of the few houses right on that square.


"Great Food" and "Convenient Locations" rarely mix -- that's why you can usually find a plethora of uninspired, mediocre eateries at all train stations and bus terminals. But there are always exceptions, such is the inexpensive and excellent Shiraogi, a place I'll always remember for one of the best beef dishes ever.

As far as location goes, Shiraogi is situated at the most unlikely place for even decent food -- right in front of Shirakawago's tourist coach parking. I would venture to guess that 90% of the clientelle are one-time customers who would never visit Shirakawago again in this lifetime, meaning that the incentive to serve quality
food is near zero. Anyway that's what I would expect if this was Tokyo's Shinjuku or Osaka's Umeda.

Even the ordering method was deceivingly cafeteria-ish. Customers are expected to pick out their meals outside the front entrance from a vending machine, pay the machine and take the resulting ticket to the waitress -- just like at your neighborhood Ramen chain. In fact, every little sign was hinting that it might just be the wrong place for lunch ... until we had our first bite.



Simple Teishoku set lunches such as "Mountain Vegetables Soba" start from 780 yen (CAD$8), and go up to 2100 yen (CAD$21) for an mouth-watering Hida Beef steak grilled in Hoba Miso. We ordered two Central Japanese specialties, one being the Hida Beef in Hoba Miso, and another being the Nagoya specialty of Miso Katsu.



Did I forget to mention that this was one of the most memorable beef dishes ever? Just look at the incredible marbling on the beef! It was practically no different from the Matsuzaka or Kobe Beef that we've tried before in terms of its melt-in-the-mouth softness and intense flavors, at a very reasonable price -- roughly 80 grams of top quality Wagyu beef for 2100 yen. And that's not all, as this very traditional dish arrived spiced up with the local region's number one favorite seasoning ...



Again it was the dense, richly aromatic Miso paste grilled on top of a dried Hoba leaf. The price may have something to do with it, but I really thought the Hoba Miso here was better than what we had for breakfast at our Minshuku. It was the perfect balance to the oiliness of the steak as it disintegrated in the mouth.

My only complaint was that ... this heavenly goodness arrived in only 80 grams! If you ask me to choose between a Kobe Beef steak and this Hida Beef Hoba-Miso-Yaki, I would probably choose THIS over the Kobe steak, given the same amount of beef.



I think my wife ordered the Miso Katsu because she was already missing the excellent Tonkatsu at Kyoto's Katsukura after only three days. That makes the tiny unheralded Shiraogi even more amazing, for the Tonkatsu here didn't disappoint even when compared to the successful Kyoto chain. In my opinion it wasn't as unbelievably
tender as Katsukura's, but the thick, sweet Miso sauce brought an entirely different character to the dish. I thought deep fried dishes usually goes better with acidity than with sugar, but this combination of Haccho-Miso and what must have been a copious amount of sugar went very well with the Tonkatsu.



It was an excellent meal overall, which completely belied the rather ordinary appearance of the little eatery. If we ever get the chance to visit Shirakawago again, there's absolutely no need to second guess and look for a different lunch spot ... I doubt if we'd find a better deal anywhere else in the village.

Bill for Two Persons
Hida Beef Hoba Teishoku2100 yen
Miso Katsu Teishoku1200 yen
TOTAL3300 yen (CAD$33)



MY WIFE'S CORNER


One of Shirakawago's claims to fame is the astounding amount of snow accumulation during the winter months, which was the major contributing factor to the development of the Gassho-zukuri architecture. This pendant is called the "Yukiyakonko Edition", with Kitty carrying a lamp, dressed in a yellow straw raincoat and hidden inside a "snow lantern" (yukitoro), one of the region's favorite outdoor decorations after a heavy snowfall.

82 comments:

Howard said...

Hi Paul,

When you booked Minshuku Hisamatsu, did you send the email in English ? I sent an email a week or 2 ago and didn't get a reply =/

I was going to call, but I'm not sure if they speak english ?

Paul said...

Hi Howard,

I emailed the Shirakawago Tourism Association (information@shirakawa-go.gr.jp) in Japanese, but I would expect them to be able to answer simple English emails. Also try sending to: info@vill.shirakawa.gifu.jp.

Phoning them in English is probably less efficient than emailing, unless someone with good understanding of English happens to be in the room when you call.

If all else fails, you may want to go to the following site and book Magoemon instead:
http://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/db/shirakawago/magoemon.htm

Paul

Sabrina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sabrina said...

For those of you who tried to email information@shirakawa-go.gr.jp and the email bounced back (as in my case), you can try to submit your inquiry through their online form on the below link.

http://shirakawa-go.gr.jp/othercontents/iq.html

The fields are:
Name
Name
Email Address
Confirm Email Address
Address
Inquiry

Then click the left button to submit

Hope that Helps!

Howard said...

I managed to book Hisamatsu via the Hida Tourist Information Office. EMail address is hidatio@hidanet.ne.jp

Thanks for recommending it Paul, I'll be there on 4th Feb. I'm looking forward to the food!

Paul said...

Hi Howard,

Thanks for sharing your experience! I'm putting that email address in my article for other peoples' reference.

Early February is probably the most beautiful time to visit with everything covered in snow. I'll wait to see the pics at your blog!

Paul

Anonymous said...

Dear Paul

Hi. I am reading your blog and finding it very interesting and informative. Also your photos are great. I have a husband and 2 children, aged 4.5yrs and 18mths old. We are planning to go to Shirakawago around late May and would love to stay in a minshuku like you did. I am just wondering if you could help me and advise from your experience whether you think it would be okay with 2 young kids. How easy or difficult do you think it could be for us? Do you think the hosts are okey with young kids? And also, even getting to Shirakawago by bus, from Takayama, do you think this can be done? (with a 4yr old child who has just started to feel very car sick on windy roads..) I really want to get there, and just thought perhaps you could give me an idea of what you think.

Thank you and look forward to hearing from you,

Joy

Thi said...

Sorry Paul, I am new to this so in case you cannot reply to my previous post, you can email me at
moshimoshi@iprimus.com.au.

Thanks again,
Joy

Paul said...

Hi Joy,

I've seen other tourists in places like Shirakawago with young children and even strollers. It's doable ... you just need to be aware of a couple things.

When booking a Minshuku, tell the Tourist Information Office that you need a room for 2 adults and 2 young children, and let them find a suitable host for you. Do note that sound-proofing is very poor inside these old wooden houses, so be prepared to teach/help your kids to keep the noise down.

The bus from Takayama does go through some winding parts, so you may want to ask your doctor about anti-seasickness medicine that's suitable for kids. But the good news is that since the new highway opened last summer, the trip now takes only 50 minutes.

Paul

Thi said...

Dear Paul

Thanks for your helpful advice.

Yes, we will go there. I have a friend in Nagoya, where we will base ourselves for about a week and so I am also keen to do a day trip to Tsumago and Magome.

Thank you for sharing your blog, it is lovely to be able to get ideas and see your fantastic photos.

My mil, mother in law is about to head off to Europe for 2 months so I will forward this to her. She will love it.

Thanks again
Joy

poppy said...

You've got a really good page here. Thanks for all the useful tips. Can't wait for my turn in Nov!

Anonymous said...

Hello Paul!!

Love your review as I am planning to go to Shirakawago and stay for 1 night! . Now I am considering this Minshuku, I have a few questions that I would like to ask you about this minshuku.

1. When you stayed there ,did they charge for heater fee seperately? or you paid for everything in total for 7700 yen?

2. Do you know if they offer a room only without meal? and how much does it cost?

Thank you so much

Hazel

Anonymous said...

Oh By the way, This is my e-mail if you prefr to reply me via this e-mail gonnadream@hotmail.com

Thank a lot!!

Hazel

Paul said...

Hazel,

It was late spring / early summer when I stayed at Hisamatsu, so they didn't charge any heating fee. The total cost was 7700 yen plus the 500 yen for a discounted hotspring ticket. If you're going after November they'll charge you several hundred yens extra for heating.

I don't know if they offer rooms without meals, but it's probably a much better deal with the meals. Hisamatsu is one of the few Minshukus where the guest dine around an operational square heath, so if you're not planning to have dinner there, you've got a lot of other Minshukus to choose from. Just email the tourist office there and ask for a Gassho-zukuri minshuku without meals.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Thank You so much Paul!

Now I am really considering that I should go for a room with dinner to experience the tradition gathering around the operational square heath dinning at least for once in my life!!

Now I have 2 choices to pick

1. Hisamatsu - Very homely and lovely atmosphere and way cheaper than KOEMON , I think Koemon is 8400?

2. Koemon - Love their decoration and rich feeling atmosphere of dark wood.

Paul said...

Dear Anonymous,

I considered booking Koemon also, but picked Hisamatsu based on some other travelers' reviews. From what I hear Koemon is more "organized" while Hisamatsu is really a mom-and-pop operation.

Paul

Hazel said...

Dear Paul,

So did you have a chance to check out Koemon when you were at Shirakawago? I am just wondering if the house look as nice as they are shown on the photos on their website.

Hazel

Paul said...

Hazel,

I don't recall what Koemon looked like in real life, but you know how good the Japanese are at the aesthetics of packaging ...

Paul

prin said...

Hi Paul,

Thank you so much for your blog! The wonderful pictures & descriptions really sold me on Shirakawago! Seems so magical!
I'll be traveling with some friends (the usual - Tokyo, Kyoto/Osaka) but I'm making a detour myself to Takayama & Shirakawago.

Would you mind sharing your thoughts on 2 matters?
1) ITINERARY
Apr 15: Arrive in Takayama from Kyoto ~1PM..planning to catch a few glimpses of the 2nd day of the festival.
Then take 3:50pm Nohi bus to Shirakawago. Planning to check in to a minshuku & squeeze in onsen time at Shirakawago-no-Yu (should this be before or after dinner?)
Apr 16: Take noon or 2pm Nohi bus back to Takayama. Possibly walk around the old town a bit before taking the 4:40pm train to Tokyo.

Does this look OK with you? Should I try to squeeze in more time at Takayama or is Shirakawago the highlight? It’s so sad how little time I have! Or should I stay another night in Takayama before leaving to Tokyo in the morning?

2) CHOICE OF MINSHUKU in SHIRAKAWAGO
From all the blogs, seems like Magoemon & Koemon are the top choices but both are unavailable (closed, fully booked). So I’ve tried
- Hisamatsu (I’m mostly swayed by your wonderful pictures & authentic feel)
- Juemon (270 yo. house with nice old lady who plays the shamizen at dinner)
Both have adorable mom-&-pop charms… Do you have any recommendations? You seem so knowledgeable & your opinion would really help.

Sorry for the super long post! You can also email me at: printer85@hotmail.com

Thanks so much!
Prin

Paul said...

Prin,

First of all, thank you for your trust in my recommendations.

Getting to Takayama during the matsuri is always challenging even for the locals -- trains and buses require reservations, ryokans are nearly all booked a couple months in advance (as you've found out already). The big question is whether you can get the tickets to Shirakawago and back -- I suspect most, if not all, tickets will be booked up by the locals in advance. So unless you can book your bus tickets in advance, or plan to drive yourselves, you may end up taking a taxi (think 20000 yen one way ... which sounds extreme but bearable if you have 4 people to share).

How's your Japanese conversation skills? If you're fluent you can call Nouhi Bus's reservation phone number to book the tickets. Otherwise it gets tricky ... you could try asking Shirakawago's Tourist Info Centre to help you book. Or you can try http://www.j-bus.co.jp, and use a translation website to book your tickets if you can't read Japanese.

I can't really comment on Juemon, but from the photos it looks very similar to Hisamatsu. As long as you're receptive to authentic and foreign experiences, I don't think you can go wrong with either.

Paul

paul2 said...

Y, I'm planning a trip to shirakawago for this april, probably a one night stay. In terms of transportation, you were talking about reserving tickets. How far back do you think I have to reserve tickets? And I would really love to stay at one of those minshukus, but I don't think I have the japanese capacity to make a reservation, is it possible to just show up and see if there are rooms available?

Thanks, paul2.

prin said...

Hi Paul,

Thank you so much for your reply!
Your comment is really great, being such a novice in trip planning.
I don't speak japanese but I'm lucky enough to have a sister who does...
So I think I can get her to make reservations at Nohi bus for me (for Takayama-Shirakawago parts).

But I'm just a little worried about the Kyoto-Takayama train. I'm planning to get a JR Pass but haven't yet - do you know the conditions for making prior reservations on JR? You need to get the pass first but can you make reservations without having activated it in Japan?

Thank you so much for your help!
I'm sure I'm going to have more questions, I hope you don't mind..
Thanks again!

Paul said...

Paul2:

The easiest way for you would be to email Shirakawago's tourism association and ask them to book a minshuku, as well as any bus reservations that you may need. If you're thinking about mid-April, where Takayama's spring matsuri will take place, rooms are going to get booked up months in advance and bus tickets will get snatched up as the date approaches. Things would be easier if you're going in early or late April. When I went there in mid May we didn't even need any bus reservations -- buses were about half full.

Paul

Paul said...

Prin:

From memory online reservations are only available for the Shinkansen in JR East (ie.Tokyo to the Northeast). Your trip from Kyoto to Nagoya to Takayama probably needs to be reserved after you arrive at the airport. However rules may change and you should check the JR West / JR Central websites for the latest rules.

Paul

Paul2 said...

Thanks for the quick response. I'm trying to travel early april, and from tokyo. If I email the tourism association, they're able to reserve bus tickets? I'm sorry to sound like a noob but how does that work out? And lastly how much do you think it would cost for a round trip ticket (from tokyo)?

Thank you so much, this information is so helpful and it's great to get insight from someone who already has the experience.

Paul2

Paul said...

Paul2:

Early April should be okay. This year's Takayama spring matsuri will be Apr 14-15. As long as you get in and out of Takayama / Shirakawago before April 10 or so, it shouldn't be too busy.

I didn't realize you're planing to get to Shirakawago from Tokyo -- there aren't regular direct buses from Tokyo. You need to get to Takayama first, and buy your return bus ticket at the Nouhi Bus Station (just outside of Takayama's JR Station, to your left as you exit the JR Station). You shouldn't need reservations in early April.

Cost from Tokyo will be the cost of a return train trip from Tokyo to Takayama (expensive ... you might as well buy a JR Pass for 28300 yen), plus the return bus ticket from Takayama to Shirakawago (another 4300 yen).

Paul

Prin said...

Dear Paul,

Thank you so much for your warning me about reserving the transportation :):)

For the bus, I'll call the reservation center on Nohi Bus English page but reservation can be made only 1 month before or later. So I'll have to wait till next month.
The train reservation is the tricky part - like you said they only have online reservation for JR East. I'm getting a JR Pass, which I can't make reservations until I've activated it upon arrival in Japan (that's about 1 week before).. the 15th is still the second day of the matsuri, hopefully I could still get my Kyoto-Takayama ticket!

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul

I don't usually leave comments but I wanted to thank you for creating your blog. It helped me so much in arranging accommodation at shirakawa-go. I was having so much trouble since alot of the accommodation places could not speak english.

You are the best! Oh yeah to help, the shirakawa-go tourist email address has changed slightly its info@shirakawa-go.gr.jp

Thanks again Paul
iv

Paul said...

iv:

Thanks for your encouragement, and thanks for the update on the email address.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Can i have the directions to the hot spring bath at Shirakawago-no-Yu (is this the name of the ryokan?) from Minshuku Hisamatsu? What are the trading hours for the hot spring bath?

Is there a nice hot spring bath in Takayama town area? We're staying at Hanaoka. Probably don't have time to travel to Hirayu Onsen :(.

Thanks,
W

Paul said...

W:

Shirakawago-no-Yu is located at the northern edge of the village along the main road, while Hisamatsu is near the southeast corner of the village. Just walk north along the main road and you'll see it on the left hand side.

There are a number of Onsen Ryokans in Takayama, but we never tried to look for a day-bath type Onsen or bathhouse. Places like the Green Hotel, which have their own Onsen bathhouses, may offer day bath services. But I don't know for sure as I've never enquired.

Good luck,

Paul

steve said...

Hi Paul
Great work!
I was planning on taking the bus from Kanazera to Takayama, stopping overnight at Shirakawa-go. However I am travelling on a tight schedule between xmas and new year. To avoid possible delays from bus reservation hassles or heavy snow I am wondering skip Kanazera and just do an overnight fron Takayama.
3 questions:
1. Do you know if the road is often cut off by snow around this time of year? 2.Winter luggage can be bulky. Are the lockers at regional train stations big enough for large bags? 3. Do you know if any skifields close to Takayama where my daughter and I could hire gear?
Thanks for your help.
Steve

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

It's me again with some ques :). We're prob. not spending any time in Shirakawago anymore. To get to Kanazawa from Takayama, i'm considering taking the bus. When it stops at Shirakawago, is there a public toilet there? Is it just a bus stop or a bus station?

Is the Information Centre next to the Shirakawago bus stop? When i look at the Shirakawago pdf map from JNTO, there's a tourist office in the middle of the village. That's not the Information Centre you mentioned, is that right?

Thank you,
W

Paul said...

Steve,

Sorry about the delay -- I just got back from this year's vacation.

To answer your questions:

1. According to other travelers' accounts, over the past few years the biggest snow dumps have been in the early spring, and Christmas time has been seeing relatively little snowfall.

2. At large stations like Takayama and Kanazawa there are large, medium and small lockers. However the number of large lockers are limited and are in demand. It's probably wise to carry soft luggages (ie. backpacks) which are compressible, so you would have the option of splitting the content of your luggage into two medium lockers.

3. There are several ski resorts around Takayama accessible by public transport, and all of them should have equipment rental facilities.

Paul

Al said...

Thanks for your review. Based on it we stayed here and had a great time. I've got a few photos (and comments) here and will post more soon: http://traveljapanblog.com/wordpress/tag/shirakawago/

Will said...

Hi Paul, awesome blog! My wife and I are planning a trip to Takayama and Kanazawa. Does that Hisamatsu Inn have private washroom and western style shower? Thank you.

You Canada trip looks super cool!

Will

Paul said...

Will,

Thanks for dropping by. Hisamatsu, just like any other thatch-roof farmhouse in Shirakawago, doesn't have private washrooms inside their guest rooms. Toilets are located in a communal washroom, while the bath/shower is located in a separate bathroom which is lockable.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

May I know if Hisamatsu provide basic toiletries like bathsoap, shampoo and toothbrush ? I am wondering if I need to bring along with me.

Thank you,
Doreen

Paul said...

Doreen,

Though I do not recall specifically, Hisamatsu (and most Japanese guesthouses I've stayed in) probably has basic soap/shampoo, though you should bring your own toothbrush/toothpaste.

Cheers,

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

After reading your comments, I am most interested in visiting Shirakawago on my way back to Tokyo. From Kyoto/Osaka, how to you get to that area? I was trying to use Hyperdia to trace a route via the JR lines but I cant seem to find one.

Also between Shirakawago and Matsumoto (which is pretty much only the castle that I would want to go), any reccomendations between the 2? I would think it might be too packed if I were to rush 2 places within the day.

Regards,
Tian

Paul said...

Tian,

The nearest train station to Shirakawago is Takayama, which is a 50 minute bus ride from Shirakawago.

Also, there is no train connection between Takayama and Matsumoto. There is a bus connection that takes about 2.5 hour. If you're pressed for time, you may want to spend your time in Shirakawago/Takayama and skip Matsumoto.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks for the reply. Guess I'm not going to Shirakaw/Takayama anymore. It's too far to squeeze into my 7 day trip.

Can you give suggestions on my planned itineary?

6 =Tokyo--> Hakone
7 = Hakone --> Kyoto
8 = Kyoto
9 = Kyoto --> Nara --> Kyoto
10 = Kyoto --> Osaka
11 = Osaka
12 = Osaka (early morning) --> Matsumoto --> Tokyo (late night)


Originally, I wanted to visit Himeji. But now that the castle is under restorations, there's nothing much there too see for a day trip there. I am actually wondering if I am spending enough time in Kyoto & Osaka or to venture out to another city. Afterall, I doubt the next time when I come back to Japan, I wont visit Kyoto/Osaka again though.

Tian

Paul said...

Tian,

The itinerary looks pretty smooth, until the very last day when things run extremely tight. As you know Matsumoto is not on the Shinkansen route, and Osaka-Matsumoto will take 3-4 hours, and Matsumoto-Narita Airport will also take 3-4 hours. It's not impossible, but you're probably looking at hopping on the Shinkansen from Osaka at at 7am, reaching Matsumoto by 11am and spending 3 hours there, then reach Narita airport by 6pm for a night flight.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Ohio!

3 of us are really interested in visiting Shirakawa-go & the Tsumago/Magome trail. Had reserved 3nights stay@Takayama from 8-10Jul, just need yr advise on the itineries:

Day 1 - walk around the Hida
Day 2 - travel to Shirakawa.
Day 3 - travel to Nakatsugawa,is it worth it to take day trip?
Day 4 - Train back to Tokyo

Can we use JR pass for all the journey?

Paul said...

Dear anonymous:

Magome/Tsumago is at least 3-4 hours from Takayama, so that's about 8 hours of travel time in one day if you intend on a daytrip based in Takayama.

Since you're returning to Tokyo, why not spend only 2 nights in Takayama, spend the 3rd night in Magome, then travel to Tokyo on the last day?

A JR pass can get you to Takayama, and from Takayama to Tokyo. However it won't cover the bus trip to/from Shirakawago and from Nakatsugawa to Tsumago/Magome.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

You have a great blog - very interesting and informative! I am planning a 2 weeks vacation to Japan in Sept and I would greatly appreciate your expertise in finalizing my itinerary.

Can you please give some suggestions on my planned itineary?

1 = Tokyo --> stay for the first 3 days
2 = Tokyo --> Matsumoto ---> Shirakawago (stay overnight)
3 = Shirakawago ---> Takayama (stay overnight)
4 = Takayama ---> Tsumago & Magome (stay overnight)
5 = Tsumago ---> Kyoto (stay 3 nights)
6 = Kyoto --> Nara --> Koyosan (stay overnight)
7 = Koyosan --> Osaka ---> Kyoto (stay 2 nights)
8 = Kyoto (late night) --> Tokyo (stay for the last 2 days)


I am actually wondering if I am spending enough time in Takayama region. Will 3 & 1/2 days be enough for Shirakawago, Takayama, Tsumago & Magome? If not, I could scrap the last 2 (Tsumago & Magome) or replace them with Kanazawa. Please let me know what you think.
You can also email me at arganef@yahoo.com

Thanks,
Florin

Paul said...

Florin,

The sequence of 2, 3 and 4 do look somewhat rushed. For example Tokyo-Matsumoto takes about 3 hours. If you plan on spending 2-3 hours to get to the castle and back, then you're looking at getting to Takayama late in the afternoon. And then you still need to catch the last bus to Shirakawago. So you'll need to sightsee Shirakawago and Takayama in the same day, and then leave for Tsumago/Magome the next morning.

Or, you could get to Tsumago/Magome in 2. See Tsumago/Magome before noon in 3, then leave for Takayama. Spend a good chunk of 4 in Takayama, and catch an afternoon bus to Shirakawago. Spend most of the first day of 5 in Shirakawago, catch an afternoon bus to Takayama, and plan to get to Kyoto after dinner. That's stealing from your time in Kyoto though, but it gives you a little more time in Central Japan.

See if you like it!

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul, and thanks for your quick reply.
The first day is a bit rushed indeed:
3 hours for Tokyo-Matsumoto
3 hours for seeing the castle in Matsumoto
2-3 hours for Matsumoto-Shirakawago

But my plan was not to go all the way to Takayama and then back to Shirakawago in the same day. The plan for the first day was to go Tokyo-Matsumoto-Shirakawago and spend the first night in Shirakawago.

The 2nd day we are planning to leave Shirakawago for Takayama and spend all day there.

The 3rd day we will be leaving Takayama for Tsugamo/Magome and spend the 3rd night there. Next day we leave Magome for Kyoto via Nagoya.

Do you think that Tokyo-Matsumoto-Magome-Takayama-Shirakawago-Kyoto would be a better option than Tokyo-Matsumoto-Shirakawago-Takayama-Magome-Kyoto?

Maybe I misunderstood, but I thought that there is a bus stop in Shirakawago, almost mid-way between Matsumoto and Takayama. Am I wrong?

Thanks again,
Florin

Paul said...

Florin,

Actually Shirakawago is not between Matsumoto and Takayama -- it's actually a one hour bus ride after you go from Matsumoto to Takayama. You'll need to get to Takayama in time to get tickets for that 19:00 last bus (weekdays only!).

I think both options (putting Magome after Matsumoto vs. after Takayama) are doable. Double check your transportation connection to see which one optimizes where you want to spend your time.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Thank you Paul!

After reading your last email I decided to spend the 1st night in Takayama, the 2nd one in Shirakawa-go and the 3rd one in Magome. This way I can do the hiking b/w Magome and Tsumago on Saturday and use the luggage transportation system (only available in the weekends in Sept).

I just sent emails to the Tourism Offices in Takayama and S-go to book accomodation.

One more question if you don't mind: is there a direct bus route from Takayama to Magome or Tsumago? Or I should take the train?

Thanks,
Florin

Paul said...

Florin,

Sounds like you're gonna have a great time! I don't think there are any direct bus connections between Takayama and Magome/Tsumago/Nakatsugawa. Train is probably the easier way to go.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

You were right, there is no bus route between Takayama and Tsumago/Magome...Just the train option. Si, I guess, we'll go with this one :-)

Have you been to Koyasan (Mt.Koya, between Kyoto and Osaka) by any chance? We are planning to spend a night at one of the Buddhist temples and I was looking for some reviews before choosing one...So I thought of you :-)...since your website helped me so much with my itinerary so far.

Thanks a lot...and I hope I'm not being a pain to you with all my questions.

Florin

Paul said...

Florin,

No, we've never been to Koyasan. Good luck on your research.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Your review is so great with amazing pictures! I've already made a reservation for a night in Shirakawa-go, and almost felt sorry i wasn't successful at convincing my other half to spend two nights there!
Also, i'm a vegetarian (religious reason), but i wish i'd eaten beef after drooling over your photos of Hida beef!

Kate

Paul said...

Kate,

Good luck on your upcoming trip to Shirakawago. You don't have to envy the meat-eaters as Japan is a pretty good place for vegetarians. If you're going to Kyoto, you could try some Obansai cuisine or a full Tofu meal.

Cheers,

Paul

Mandy said...

Hi Paul,

I like your review, a lots of good info!

Me and my family are planning to go Shirakawa too next year mid Feb. There are 15 of us with kids.
Our flight arrive in Osaka on 15th Feb, we plan to stay in shirakawa on 16th. Can you advice us on how best is the route to Shirakawa from Osaka, and where to stay on 15th night?

Can you reply to my email as well at ?

Thanks!

Mandy

Paul said...

Mandy,

Unless you're arriving at Osaka early in the day, you're probably better off staying somewhere around a Shinkansen station such as Shin-Osaka or Kyoto for the night, then start your journey to Shirakawago the next day. Please check your email.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Good day. Since you have experience to try hot bath at Shirakawago-no-Yu hot spring, do you think this place is suitable for small kids age 8 and 5?

Usually how long for each session?

You can reply me at .

Thank you.

Paul said...

Dear Anonymous,

I think Japanese bathhouses are suitable for kids, as long as they're accompanied by adults and old enough to be taught to follow proper Japanese bathhouse etiquette. For instance: thorough cleaning before entering the water, don't make a mess in the water, don't jump into the water etc. It's your responsibility, as the parent, to evaluate whether your kids are old and obedient enough for this.

I don't recall there being any "sessions" at Shirakawago-no-Yu. You can take all the time you need to clean yourselves and soak all you want.

Paul

alkanphel said...

Hi Paul, thanks for blogging all about this place as well as the other areas around Shirakawago.

I intend to visit both Shirakawago and the Alpine route, so does it make more sense to go:

A) Tokyo-Alpine-Toyama-Takayama-Shirakawago-Kanazawa

B) Tokyo-Takayama-Matsumoto-Alpine-Kanazawa-Shirakawago (day trip)

And also, if I'm stopping by Shirakawago for a few hours on the trip from Takayama to Kanazawa, do I have to buy 2 tickets?

Thanks!

Paul said...

alkanphel:

IMHO neither a) nor b) is the smoothest route. As you know the two ends of Alpine Route are around Shinano Omachi and Toyama. If it was me, I would attempt something like Tokyo - Matsumoto (train) - Shinano Omachi - Alpine Route - Toyama - Kanazawa (train) - Shirakawago (bus) - Takayama (bus).

As far as I know, you'll have to buy one ticket from Takayama to Shirakawago, then another from Shirakawago to Kanazawa.

Paul

alkanphel said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your suggestions. I agree that what you suggested is probably a smoother route but the reason why I ended both routes at Kanazawa was because I felt it was easier to go to Kyoto from Kanazawa than from Takayama.

With regards to the bus tickets, does that mean I buy one in Takayama and another one in Shirakawago?

I also believe that the bus from Shirakawago to Kanazawa requires a reservation. Do you know where I should make that reservation? (Although I undertand that you said, in May a reservation may not be necessary.)

Paul said...

alkanphel,

I understand your dilemma now. What about Tokyo - Toyama - Alpine Route - Matsumoto - Takayama - Shirakawago - Kanazawa - Kyoto? If you're planning to have a JR Pass, Tokyo-Toyama is only a little over 3 hours. Or if you're not planning to have a JR Pass, there's a highway bus:

http://www.jrbuskanto.co.jp/bus_route_e/#list05

I think you do need to buy two separate tickets, one between Takayama and Shirakawago, and one between Shirakawago and Kanazawa. Chances are you may not be able to buy the second leg at the first bus stop, so you'll probably need to get a second ticket at Shirakawago.

There are several ways to reserve bus tickets:

i) I used j-bus.co.jp to reserve ours, but that requires registration and a reading knowledge of Japanese. You could use a translation website which may be helpful to a degree.

ii) Call the reservation number of (0577) 32-1688, but don't expect English service. But if you say it in simple words like "Yoyaku," "May 15," "Shirakawago to Kanazawa," "2 tickets (or "Ni-mai" would be even better)", hopefully they'll be able to help.

iii) Otherwise you'll have to wait till you're in Japan and get the Tourist Info office or your hotel front desk to help make that call to the reservation number.

Paul

alkanphel said...

Thanks for the suggestion Paul, let me do some checking up to see which one provides the shortest travel time.

I will probably see if I can get my hotel to make a reservation on the Shirakawago side.

Anonymous said...

Hey Paul,

Does the hot spring provide towels and/or shampoo/soap? Or can you buy it at the hot spring?

Just wondering if I need to pack it with me.

Thanks!

-Jess

Paul said...

Jess,

Bath towels can be rented for 300 yen. Soap and shampoo are available for free.

Paul

Kryx said...

Thank you for your help! I'm going to Hisamatsu next week and I'm so excited!! :D

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

We are going to Shirakawago and came across your blog. It is informative and I would like to know whether 2 days 1 night in Shirakawago is enough. I am a casual photographer too and wondering whether 2 days is enough. Most probably we will leave Tokyo at 7am and leave Shirakawago late afternoon.

Is the Monshuku Hisamatsu nearby the Shirakawago which walkable distance?

May I have your personal email in case there are some questions? My email is .

Paul said...

I think 1 night is enough for most people ... hopefully you'll get your best lighting at sunset and sunrise anyway. It takes about 4.5 hours to get from Tokyo to Takayama, so it will be almost lunch-time when you arrive at Takayama, and sometime in the early to mid afternoon when you get to Shirakawago. You'll still be able to get a few hours of day light, and hopefully some good shots from the viewing platform. The viewing platform is on the hilltop on the north side, and faces south towards the village. There are hills on the east side of the village which would block the early sunlight in the morning.

Early morning is a great time to wander the village as sometimes the farmer would come out and spread out their vegetable for sun-drying. After 09:30 or so the tourists will start to arrive on buses and flood the village, but perhaps the open air museum will still give you some good shots without people in the way.

Hisamatsu, or any guesthouse inside the village, would be within walking distance to everything. The village is only several hundred metres long, along the main road.

Good luck,

Paul

vv said...

Paul,

I have plan a trip to osaka,kyoto and shirakawa-go in nov for 6 days
1)osaka-kyoto
2)kyoto
3)kyoto -shirakawa-go
4)shirakawa-go-kyoto-osaka
5)osaka
6)osaka

1)Can i slot in the alpine in the plan?
2)Do you know how to travel from kyoto to shirakawa?

Paul said...

vv:

1) when you say "alpine," I assume you mean whether you can slot in Shirakawago into the plan. I would say that it's extremely tight, and since you have to transfer at Takayama anyway you may want to reduce your time in Osaka and spend a night at Takayama as well.

2) From Kyoto you'll have to take the Shinkansen to Nagoya, then transfer to a train to Takayama. At Takayama you can then take the Nouhi Bus to Shirakawago.

Paul

Xuehua said...

Hi Paul, i love your Shirakawago reviews and would love to visit it on my trip to Japan in Dec. Problem is, i'm unsure how to go about planning my trip. I'm thinking of going from Tokyo to Shibu Onsen (overnight) to Shirakawago (Overnight) to Kyoto.
Do you think you can advise me what kind of transport i should take that is most economic as well as how long it will take? I would have a JR pass but not sure if it will come in useful for these trips. Your kind advice would be most helpful..

Xuehua

Paul said...

Xuehua,

There is no easy way to get from Shibu Onsen to Shirakawago.

From Shibu Onsen you'll need to backtrack to Nagano, then take the JR train to Matsumoto. From Matsumoto you can take the highway bus to Takayama. At Takayama you can then take the bus to Shirakawago. The JR pass is only useful for the train from Nagano to Matsumoto. With transfers and waiting time in mind, this whole trip will probably take you 6 to 8 hours. Also, you would be skipping Takayama City which is a worthwhile destination on its own.

How important is Shibu Onsen on your itinerary?

Paul

Xuehua said...

Hi Paul, thanks for your reply! I've actually decided to stay one night in Takayama after my Shibu Onsen trip followed by Shirakawago, in this way, i get the best of 3 ways (without getting a JR pass after all)! Also will be booking at this minshuku that you stayed in, looks wonderful. Thanks for the recommendation again!

May said...

Hi Paul, came across this wonderful blog post while searching on the topic. You mentioned about the 3 criteria to choose your minshuku, I'm wondering if you could share some of your other options besides Hisamatsu (if any)? It's quite difficult to search for similar in-depth information in English. Seems like Hisamatsu is always full - probably thanks to your recommendation!

Paul said...

Hi May,

If Hisamatsu is full, you may want to try Magoemon, Kayabuki or Juemon. Provided below are their links in Japanese, and if you're interested you can book through the tourist association.

http://www.shirakawa-go.gr.jp/details/?m=1&i=33
http://www15.ocn.ne.jp/~kayabuki/
http://www.jyuemon.net/welcome.html

Good luck,

Paul

Ed said...

Hi Paul, booking through the Shirakawago Info Centre, they would need our arrival time before they can finalize the reservation. I am confused on this, because most Nohi buses from Takayama don't even need reservation. I wouldn't know if the non-reserved seat buses would be full on my arrival date, how can I even confirm my arrival time? I would just take the next bus if the first is full. Is it okay to just give them a tentative time? I just find this all so confusing. Did you have a confirmed arrival time?

Paul said...

Ed,

Don't read too much into the arrival time -- it's a standard field in any Japanese booking site. If you want to play it very safe, give them a time later than your expected arrival. For example if you're planning to arrive at 15:00, give them the arrival time of the next bus. But make sure your arrival time is before 18:00 since dinner usually starts around that time.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul !! We are travelling to Japan in April , I've been trying to book a Gasdho house in Shirakawa-go through Japanese guest house but with no success !! They only have a few that they deal with and none are available !! I have tried emailing the via the link you posted to the tourist centre .. Still no luck ! They haven't replied ! Any suggestions would be great ! Your blog is amazing ! I've read it front back and side ways twice ��not sure if you would mind if we talked via Email . [EMAIL DELETED] , I would love to run my travel plans past you !! Elle

Anonymous said...

We love Shirakawago! Can't wait to go again. A minor point: those kerosene heaters emit carbon monoxide, not dioxide. Well, they might put out CO2, but it's the CO you need to watch out for!

Anonymous said...

Paul visiting shirakawago during late march next year migh possibly catch in winter ice melting which impact the beauty of the place. Any advice here?

Paul said...

Hi Anonymous,

Don't worry about the snow melting or the lack of greenery ... the main sight is the collection of farmhouses which have looked relatively the same for hundreds of year. Just go.

Paul