Shirakawago In The Snow

For years, I’ve wanted to see the old-fashioned farmhouse hamlet of Shirakawa-go all lit up at night in the snow, and this week I got half my wish.

It turns out that ever since it was named a Unesco World Heritage Site, viewing the farmhouses lit up at night has become such a crazy tourist madhouse that you can only see it now on official tours, and by the time my friend Mika and I tried to book, they’d all been snapped up this winter by mainland Chinese on their annual New Year’s holidays. We managed to snag two bus seats for a little daytime walkabout, which was lovely, but we didn’t get to see them at night.

The temperature that day was seriously springlike, so the beautiful little watercourses running through the town were merrily bubbling away with snowmelt

You can see how dry and warm this winter has been – they usually have about two meters of snow at this time of year, and have to use those white “windows” on the second floor as doors

The nicest part of town is the part you have to pay extra to go into, so even on a busy day, it was peaceful and uncrowded. They’ve set aside some of the more interesting buildings as an open-air museum. This is a little soba mill.

You can go inside the buildings, where they’ve pointed out fun details like this cat door of yore.

You can see how thick the thatch is on the roofs. Replacing it is a major undertaking these days – I was told by an artist friend who lives in one outside Kyoto that they have to farm the reeds specially now, because all of the rivers have been paved for flood control, and there are no longer enough growing naturally to meet the needs of his village.

If you want to see the Shirakawago village lit up at night, here’s the email address for booking tickets on the night tour bus: kikaku@hokutetsukoku.jp. It costs ¥5,980 for a round-trip ticket, leaving from Kanazawa Station at 15:30, giving you from 16:50 – 19:10 to walk around the village, and returning to the station at 20:30. A bento bus dinner is included in the price. The difficult bits are booking early enough so you get a spot, and paying them. They don’t take credit cards, so you have to pay cash no later than 24 hours before you leave. Which means you need to be in Kanazawa the day before your trip and go to their office to hand over the loot.

When not franting about in the snow, Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Tokyo

When Detective Kenji Nakamura’s phone rings with the news that his mother’s death wasn’t an accident, his life begins to unravel…read more