Have you ever seen a photo of a place that looks so magical that you kind of find it hard to believe that it’s real? Well that’s how I felt after the first photo I saw of Shirakawago. This village, surrounded by mountains, looked exactly like something taken from a storybook. I was mesmerised that a place like this still existed but over the last five months in Japan I’ve realised that time travelling is very much possible in this country and my latest trip to Gifu Prefecture just proved this once again.
On a Friday night after work a friend and I flew from Kagoshima Airport to Centrair International Airport in Nagoya. We decided to stay in a hotel at the airport because it was the easiest option after a late night flight. The airport is significantly bigger than Kagoshima’s airport and home to four different hotels. We found our hotel with help from the information desk and almost immediately it felt like the time traveling has started. Everything was so futuristic and fancy. The first thing that caught my eye was the robot at the door. It had a really friendly face, which was good considering that it definitely picked up movement and could stare at you as you walked past it. We payed for our rooms via a vending machine and afterwards scanned our cards to unlock the future. Maybe it wasn’t really that impressive but it wasn’t like anything I’ve ever experienced before.
First up is the locker room where you store your bags and everything else you don’t want with you in your bed. Inside your allocated locker are slippers you have to change into and even matching hotel outfits for all the guests. After you’ve prepared yourself for bed you enter another room, a much darker room. There’s a slim pathway down the middle with “capsules” on both sides at the top and the bottom. The number is displayed in the front and then all you have to do is walk down the middle to find the number matching your key number. The capsule itself is rectangular sized, small but big enough for comfort. You crawl inside your little capsule and then from the inside you can close it by pulling down a thick piece of material and hooking it at the bottom. You can hear people moving around to get themselves in bed but other than that, there’s complete silence and it’s easy enough to fall asleep…
After waking up in the future it was time to time travel some more. We rented a car at the airport for more freedom and so the road trip began!
First stop was Yoro Park!
Prior to the weekend I researched what else, other than Shirakawago, there is to do in Gifu Prefecture. Yoro Park came up as one of the first recommendations and now I completely understand why. We were there early in the morning, before the crowds, which made this a very peaceful adventure. The walk up to the waterfall was relatively steep but not difficult at all. The path is beautifully set out which makes it accessible for most people. It also follows the little river upstream until the beautiful Yoro Falls appears before your eyes. This waterfall is one of Japan’s top 100 waterfalls!
We couldn’t stay too long because the next stop, Shirakawago, was about 2 and a half hours away and I wanted to get there with enough time to explore.
Since we’ve left the airport in Nagoya we were surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It was incredibly beautiful and being from South Africa and not used to snow at all, this really excited me. I felt sorry for my friend, Josh, who constantly had to listen to me freaking out whenever we saw a new mountain with snow. And of course the further North we travelled the thicker the snow got and then the further away we travelled from the city more and more snow was laying on the ground. For me the drive alone was already worth it. The last time I saw that much snow was also my first time to see snow on a visit to Canada.
Anyways, eventually we reached Shirakawa-go and it didn’t disappoint. It really was a picture-perfect magical village. The snow was thick on the ground and on the roofs of the houses. It was a winter wonderland! Before we properly walked around the village we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant. The food was so good it deserves its own blogpost but unfortunately that’s not my style so you’ll just have to take my word for it – haha!
After walking around and seeing the village, we decided to walk to the viewpoint to see it from the top. It was still as beautiful as I imagined but if I have to be completely honest, if it wasn’t for the mountains surrounding the village I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which makes it a popular tourist destination and so if you’re like me (and Josh) and prefer smaller crowds and more nature, then half a day is more than enough time here!
However, at certain times of the year this village has a “light-up” event where all the houses light up at night time! These events are usually sold out months in advance so if this is something you’re interested in – be sure to keep an eye out on their website!
From Shirakawa-go we drove to our guesthouse, Guesthouse YAMASHITA-YA, which was 30 mins away from Shirakawa-go but really close to Gokayama. Gokayama has 2 similar villages, Ainokura and Suganuma. These villages have the same style houses but are much smaller and therefore doesn’t have as many tourists.
On the second day we decided to wake up just before sunrise to try and catch the sunrise over the village. It was quiet and a little cold but still so beautiful. The clouds were teasing us the whole morning and unfortunately I didn’t get the photos I was hoping for but it was still nice to relax in the silence before the world wakes up. There’s something so special about that.
From Gokayama we went to Shinhotake Ropeway!
This was definitely the highlight for me. I mean you can show me a photo of a beautiful mountain and I’d be happy so just imagine how I was feeling when being surrounded by the Japanese Alps! Even thinking about it now makes me really happy!
Although I believe that taking a ropeway to the top of a mountain is cheating, this was the only way we could get to the top on that day. You need special gear for these winter weather conditions, which we unfortunately didn’t have but these mountains will definitely see me again with proper hiking gear and ready to conquer.
For now, it’s back to reality and back to the present. ❤