Winter at Shirakawago

My eyes drifted away from my phone into the snow-capped scenery overlooking the window.  The tall evergreen trees covered with snow calmed my heart.  It was December but not yet Christmas. I was seated on a bus filled with guilt and contemplation.  Were my actions an hour ago reasonable or was I just plain selfish? From time to time, I would dismiss the negative thoughts and marvel at the beauty of the untouched snow we passed by.

I took a paid leave from work so I could take my friend and his companion to the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site in Gifu — Shirakawago. My friend and I worked for five years in the same workplace until I resigned and pursued a training program in Japan.  Coming from a tropical country, experiencing snowfall in winter is a must and probably one of the major reasons that my friend decided to visit.  It was his first time in the land of the rising sun and I was filled with excitement to revisit Shirakawago again with someone from home.

It was 7 am and I was a few minutes on foot from the hostel where my friend was staying when he sent a message. He decided to move the schedule to 8:30 because he woke up late. In addition, he wanted to avail of the free breakfast from the hostel. I was filled with irritation! I woke up at around 4:30 in the morning of winter and walked for 30 minutes to my town’s train station before daylight just so I could be on time. Now, who wouldn’t be disappointed and annoyed?! I decided to keep my cool and just sent him a message to meet me at the bus station instead.

I was on the bus and my thoughts were drifting. My friend and his companion missed the last bus to Shirakawago partly because of a mistake in the direction that I sent. And there I was asking myself, “Am I not tired of traveling to Shirakawago so many times?” It was already my fifth visit.  It would have been a whole new experience if I were with companions.  I was actually looking forward to building a snowman and throwing snowballs at each other. Oh well, it was another solo travel again.

It was the same place, only with a different drop-off point.  The gassho-zukuri farmhouses, the village people going about their daily lives despite the influx of tourists, the scarecrows that remained fixed throughout the change of seasons, the not-your-typical snowmen, the whole ground covered with inches of snow ——-all of these and even more make Shirakawago one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  It’s that magical picture of a quaint village that you thought you’d only see in a Christmas postcard.

Was I reasonable to just leave my friend to tend to himself and find the bus stop? Or was I just plain selfish in going to Shirakawago ahead so I could enjoy the scenery?  I couldn’t come up with an answer. The important thing was I apologized. Shirakawago is that charming of a place that would make you feel like others are at a loss for not having had a chance to see it.

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Shirakawago, Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland is real.  I’ve spent two winters in Japan and on those times I never failed to visit Shirakawago.  It is my favorite place during winter.  I had wonderful memories during my recent travel.

My trip last December 2015 was the most memorable because I got to spend it with my two friends.  I remember the first time I visited this place alone and told myself how special it would be if I could just share its beauty with family and friends from the Philippines.  As we were walking towards the village, my friend –who traveled for the first time in Japan, told me that she was about to cry.  I knew the feeling.  It was snowing heavily and the place was pristine white.  The date we chose to travel didn’t disappoint us because just by looking at the scenery, we knew we were in wonderland.

I enjoyed the place because it snowed all through out from the moment we arrived until we got on the bus.  We had to use an umbrella to keep our cameras dry and to keep the snow from getting our coats wet.  Well, from time to time, we savored the beauty of the snowflakes letting them cover us.

My friend took a lot of pictures and videos of us.  I didn’t have to worry about not capturing my moments in this beautiful place.  We were born in a tropical country so snow is something we considered magical. Each of us took turns making our own little snowman.  We made a video greeting our loved ones a happy new year.  My friend made a snow angel, and then after that, we had to look for missing gloves.

I remember telling my friend that she was lucky because not all first-time travelers in Japan go to Shirakawago unless they read or heard of it beforehand.  This place is famous locally but it’s a secret gem for foreign tourists.  Shirakawago is one place I wouldn’t miss every winter.

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If you want to see how Shirakawago looks like during summer, you can check my previous post Summer in Shirakawago.

Shirakawago, Gifu

Shirakawago is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Gifu Prefecture.  This place is a famous tourist destination in Japan especially during winter.  I`ve already experienced Shirakawago during winter but I still wanted to visit the place again in a summer because of the beautiful photos I saw in a blog.

Since it was a holiday, specifically Silver Week, the commute took longer than usual.  I didn`t really expect it.  The bus left the station at around 9:45 am and was supposed to arrive at 12:45 pm.  Instead, the bus arrived in Shirakawago at almost 2:00 pm.  My bus schedule for going home was at 3:00 pm so I was really stressed out thinking how I`d be able to enjoy my trip to Shirakawago.

When I arrived in Shirakawago, I hurriedly went to a bus counter and inquired about the availability of other buses at 4:00 pm just in case I wouldn`t be able to make it at 3:00 pm.  Fortunately, there were still available seats from Nohi bus.  When I was talking to the woman in the counter, she mentioned that most of the buses had been coming and going late because of traffic problems.  I assumed that my bus might also depart late so I didn’t buy a new ticket.

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It took me almost two hours to walk around and take pictures in Shirakawago.  If it`s your first time, maybe you can give yourself four hours.  You`d be able to really tour inside some of the houses and go to Shiroyama Viewpoint to get a good view of the whole village. I was not able to go there because of my limited time.  But in case you do, there`s a shuttle bus in the center of the village that goes there directly.  There`s usually a line of people waiting for that bus.   I went back to the bus station at 4 p.m. and I was glad the Meitetsu bus arrived just in time.  When the bus driver checked the names of the passengers, I wasn`t on the list!  It turned out that the 3 pm bus in which I had a reserved ticket for left on time. So the bus that newly arrived was for passengers who were scheduled at 4 pm.  I sat on a bench and waited until everyone got in.  After that, the two ladies who sat on a bench near me stood up and talked with the driver.  They also got left behind like me.  Fortunately for us, there were available seats at the back so the driver let us get in. The odds were in my favor!  I didn`t have any seatmate on my rides back and forth.

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Shirakawago during the summer is filled with green rice fields and different varieties of flowers. It`s a lovely village worth visiting when you are in Japan.  However, it isn’t really popular for first-time tourists who opt for Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka  If you want to see the other side of Japan, plan a trip to Shirakawago.  It`s very accessible especially if you`re just in Nagoya area. But please do check the best dates to travel or see what the place looks like at the moment before hopping on a bus.

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Tips for Travelers:

If you`re planning to go to Shirakawago during a big holiday like Golden Week or Silver Week, expect that there`s traffic congestion. If you are on a tight schedule and would want only a day trip, please book in advance, maybe two or three weeks ahead.  Or better yet, ride a train until you reach Takayama.  From there, you can buy a bus ticket going to Shirakawago.  In normal days, the buses arrive on time

How To Go There:

Go to Meitetsu Bus Center just somewhere at the back of Nagoya Station.  You can buy a ticket to Shirakawago (an estimate of 7000 yen round trip) on the third floor. Just ask the person behind the counter for the different time schedule. It`s best to buy a round trip ticket.

You can also ride a train going to Takayama.  Then from Takayama bus staion, you can buy a ticket going to Shirakawago.  This was what I did the first time I went to Shirakawago.  I rode a train going to Takayama and stayed there overnight because I still wanted to explore Takayama.  On the next day, I bought a bus ticket going to Shirakawago.  The bus may stop at different places but just remember that Shirakawago is the last stop and it`s where almost all the passengers get off