Things to do - general

Stay in a traditional home built without nails and sample Japan’s version of moonshine

Start at Ogimachi

The focal point of Shirakawa-go is Ogimachi, a hamlet of gassho-zukuri style houses. Tall and narrow, with thatched roofs that slope steeply to the ground—a necessity during the heavy snowfalls of the winter—the name gassho-zukuri literally means “like praying hands.”

Each house is a masterpiece of carpentry. They are built without nails—every beam slots neatly into the next. The structure is so sound that these houses have stood since the 1800s, even in this earthquake-prone nation.

Gassho-zukuri Minkaen

This outdoor museum recreates a village. It features functional buildings such as storerooms and a temple, as well as the ubiquitous houses. Here, you can see demonstrations of local crafts, some of which you can have a go at. There are restaurants and souvenir shops, making it an excellent place to rest weary legs.

Doburoku Festival

Doburoku is the local tipple, a form of sake so popular that the autumn festival is built around it. Doburoku is an unfiltered sake that is a bit like moonshine—a “home” brew that is illegal to produce in all but a few designated special zones.

In mid-October, you can partake of the drink while watching performances of the Shishi-mai lion dance. The rest of the year the Doburoku Matsuri Hall can teach you all you need to know.

Keeping house

Some of the houses are still residences and are therefore understandably closed to the public. Others, however, are open and are definitely worth checking out.

The Wada House is right by the bus stop, in the center of Ogimachi, surrounded by a perfect Japanese garden.

The Kanda House is believed to be more than 150 years old and contains writing on the roof frame by the original carpenter from about 1850.

The Nagase House was home to a family of doctors and a display of Edo period (1603-1867) medical equipment is fascinating and troublesome in equal measure.