How to do a roadtrip to the gassho villages of Shirakawago and Gokayama in Japan.
Gassho villages in Japan are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, known for their, well, ‘gassho’ houses. These are adorable thatched houses with straw rooftops that are designed to withstand heavy snowfall. Gassho translates to hands in prayer, and it is what the roofs are said to resemble.
From Kanazawa, we drove to two gassho villages in a day. This is what to expect.
Our first stop of the day was the adorable village of Gokayama Ainokura.
Gokayama has a couple of gassho villages, we chose Ainokura. Ainokura is one of three villages of gassho houses on the World Heritage List. Later on, we drove past the other village, Suganuma, which was described to be the other pretty village. Based solely from the car view, it seemed accurate.
Ainokura is nestled amongst mountains, and extremely picturesque. You can walk around the village, or you can follow the map and find designated view points. We arrived around noon, and we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves.
We were hoping for some snow, but alas. I thought the village was pretty even without the snow though. For a snow-capped Gassho village experience, visit in the months of January to February.
There are restaurants and cafes here, and perhaps most importantly, toilets. We spent almost an hour meandering, and then we were off to Shirakawago.
Once we’re more than happy wandering Gokayama, we drove over to Shirakawago.
Shirakawago might be one of the most popular gassho villages in Japan. It showed… it was so crowded when we arrived. We didn’t spend much time here. I think we spent no more than 30 minutes here.
I felt like Shirakawago would definitely be a better visit during heavy snow periods of January and February. At this time, there is also an illumination event, where the the gassho houses are lit up in the evening.
The village has similarly styled Gassho houses as Gokayama, so we were done here quick.
Between Shirakawago and Gokayama, it’s clear my preference is for Gokayama since it was a lot less crowded. Shirakawago, however, is a much bigger village than Gokayama. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time (or people-energy) to explore the place fully.
BY CAR: We drove, so we just followed Google maps. Easy.
The parking for Gokayama costs 500 Yen.
The parking for Shirakawago costs a whopping 1,000 Yen.
By Public Transport: I’m not clear on how exactly to use public transportation to get to here, but this seems to be an option: Take the World Heritage Bus from Takaoka train Station. This bus travels to Gokayama and onwards to Shirakawago as well. The hop-on hop-off ticket costs 2,500 Yen.
By Tour Bus: If you’re not driving, I’d recommend joining tours that begin from nearby towns, making it an easy day trip. A quick google search showed tours beginning from Takayama, Kanazawa and even Nagoya.
Where to Stay:
Apparently the best way to experience gassho is to stay a night. That way not only will you be able to experience gassho living, you also get to enjoy the villages sans crowd. Furthermore, if you’re there in snowy periods, the snow tends to fall in the middle of the night or early in the morning.
You can stay in one of the Gassho houses, which seems bookable only via Japanese Guest Houses. We would have liked to experience this, but there weren’t any available when we checked. It was also quite expensive. Honestly? Blessing in disguise. We read that the Gassho houses are more bnb style, which means you’ll have to sacrifice some hotel comforts such as modern interiors or having to adhere to specific bathtimes according to the host.
We ended up staying in a Ryokan in Takayama and it was a major highlight of the trip. Stay tuned for that story.