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Winter Japan Day 3 - Shirakawa-go

Updated: May 2, 2019

#Takayama #Shirakawago #Shirakawagoe #NikonD5100

Woke up in the morning and discovered that the temperature was dropping each day, and the snow was getting thicker outside the window.


After breakfast, we took a stroll around town before heading to the bus station. Walked past the Hida Kokubun-ji temple again and it was transformed into a winter wonderland.


The streets were completely covered in white after a night of snowfall. Some cars had almost been buried.

Frozen in time.

Ice-cycle.

Walking along the main road towards Takayama bus station. Before the trip, I thought snow boots would not be necessary. I thought it was exaggerating. Well, I was wrong.

Crystal ball.

Waiting for our bus in the Takayama bus station to Shirakawa-go. Tickets may be purchased at the info/ticketing counter in the bus station in advance (behind the glass door). It costs 4,420¥ per person for a non-reserved return ticket. Buses to Shirakawa-go depart from bus bay number 4. A long queue had formed 30 minutes before departure time. The morning buses depart at 8.50am, 9.50am,10.50am and 11.50am for non-reservation seats. We took the 10.50am bus and reached Shirakawa-go just before noon. The journey typically takes 50 minutes to an hour. More info on the bus schedule here: http://www.nouhibus.co.jp/english/shirakawago_kanazawa.html

Japan's public transport is perhaps one of the best in the world, especially in terms of punctuality. So do not be late for the scheduled bus as it would truly arrive a few minutes earlier for boarding and will depart precisely when it needs to.

Exiting the snow-filled highway to Shirakawa-go.

Mesmerizing scenery of snow-covered landscape along the way.

Arriving at Shirakawa-go (白川郷) after an hour's journey. This is the car park and bus stop area.

It's not hard to imagine how much snow has been falling over this winter.

The elegant suspended pedestrian bridge that connects the bus stop and information centre to the main village across the river.

Yes, it was wobbly and shaky with all the highly enthusiastic tourists walking on it. It was slippery due to the high foot traffic that had melted the ice, effectively creating a suspended ice skating bridge. Do hold on tight to the ropes. But views from the bridge were simply magnificent.

A panoramic view of the Shogawa river valley with the village of Shirakawa-go (白川郷) on the opposite side.

Finally, this is what we have been looking for - the gassho-zukuri house of Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising traditional houses with distinctive steep thatched roofs in gasshō-zukuri (合掌造り) style which symbolises a pair of hands together in prayer. More photos of different gassho-zukuri houses below.

Watch your steps as the thick snow could mislead where the edge is. A cold bath might not be what you need during winter.


Has anyone seen my van?

Getting ready for European Rally Championship winter challenge.

The walking trail up the hill to Shiroyama viewpoint. It's a short 10-minute walk uphill that can be slippery during winter. Every winter, Shirakawa-go typically gets as much as 2 metres of snow, well, quite evidently.

Self portrait with the Ogimachi Shirakawa-go village in the background.

On selected Saturday and Sunday evenings in January and February, the village organises a specialWinter Light-Up event where the snow-covered roofs of many gassho-zukuri houses will be illuminated in floodlights. It's a breath-taking sight that many have flocked to Shirakawa-go for.


The light-up starts at 5.30pm but many photo-enthusiasts have set up their tripods at the best spots as early as 1.30pm (when above photo was taken). So be very early if you want to get the best seat in the house but be prepared to stand in the cold for 4 hours.


We were there on the last light-up evening on the 14 Feb. Unfortunately, unless you have booked your overnight accommodation in one of the farmhouses months in advance, it would be quite impossible to stay for the light-up at 5.30pm as the last bus to Takayama would leave at 5.20pm (reservation required). Alternatively, you may also charter a taxi round-trip from Takayama that would cost around 40,000 to 50,000¥ per vehicle. All taxis were fully booked in any case when we checked the day before.


So if you're planning to visit the Winter Light-Up event next winter, book early and get yourself a night's stay in one of the houses. I'll be back!


A breath-taking panoramic view of the Ogimachi Shirakawa-go village.

The Wada-ke House. The Wada family was one of the richest families and village leaders of Ogimachi. Their former home is the largest gassho-zukuri farmhouse there and is open to the public as a museum today.


Despite being a huge house belonging to one of the richest in the village, the entrance is small and humble in comparison. An admission fee of 300¥ per person is chargeable. Definitely worth a visit. Take note of what's above you whenever you walk under the roof eaves. Definitely not a place to hang out as well.

Massive solid timber roof structures holding up the gassho-styled roofs, all tied together with ropes by hand. This impressive structure is what's holding up the thick snow above and withstanding many harsh winters, some for more than 250 years.

The huge attic in Wada's house, which was used to house and rear silkworms.

The living area within Wada's house.

The irori (sunken fireplace) in the house. The openings on the ceiling allow smoke from the fireplace to rise, preserving the wooden beams and ropes in the attic above.

The footpath leading to the entrance of Wada's house, if you could see where the path is.

A tourist posing with Olaf the snowman from Disney's Frozen.

Public toilets are not available everywhere in the village. Most are located along the main street. Use it immediately when you see it when you need to.

The main street of Shirakawa-go where most restaurants, shops and services are located. There were moments of sudden heavy snowfall. While it might cause more inconvenience and discomfort (wet and cold), I must say that the flurry had made the village more beautiful.

Driving off isn't as easy as just hopping on, turning the ignition key or pressing the start-stop button, and stepping on the accelerator. Can't imagine what needs to be done before one could drive off.

Late lunch in one of the restaurants along the main street. The restaurants can get quite crowded due to the limited options and large number of tourists. Probably want to avoid peak lunch hour. And my bottle of hot sake with lunch. Keeps you warm and makes you happy.

The main street with continued heavy snowfall after lunch.

Crossing the suspended bridge and leaving the village of Shirakawa-go. Hordes of tourists were entering the village at around 4pm on our way out, with many of them carrying tripods and DSLRs. Clearly, the bulk of visitors arriving at that hour were there for the Winter Light-up event. Having seen tripods and cameras all set up as early as 1.30pm on the Shiroyama viewpoint, I guess these enthusiastic shutterbugs would be in shock and greatly disappointed when they reach the hilltop.

Looking back one more time at this beautiful village before heading to the bus stop. Just didn't want to leave. Will definitely plan to go back again and stay in one of the gassho-zukuri houses.

In the queue and waiting for our bus back to Takayama. The bus stop doesn't have a shelter. Be thankful of what we have in Singapore.

These are the ice spikes available at most souvenir stores in Takayama. The rubber ring wraps around your shoe to provide much better grip in the snow and icy surfaces. This is especially useful if you are not wearing snow boots, or simply want to prevent any embarrassing moment from happening.

The iconic mascot of Takayama - the Sarubobo. 'Saru' is monkey and 'bobo' is baby in the local Hida dialect. So Sarubobo means baby monkey. It is a Japanese amulet associated with happy marriage, happy home, easy childbirth, and protection from bad things.


Started the day with a walk at the Hida Kokubun-ji temple, and I shall end with the same.


CONTINUE DAY 4


GENERAL INFORMATION:


GENERAL TIPS:

  • The weather could feel colder than the numbers suggest due to wind and flurry. It's better to be over than under-prepared. Do bring along REAL winter jackets from reliable makers.

  • Jackets with hoods are absolute essentials. Scarfs, neck and face warmers are very effective as well. Some locals were even wearing ear muffs.

  • Bring a good pair of gloves that are thick enough but also fit well. Better if it's a pair of touchscreen-enabled gloves since we use our smartphones so often. It can be annoying if you are planning to use your smartphone as your camera and need to remove your gloves every now and then.

  • Consider bringing heat packs as well to add some warmth in your pockets.

  • Cold weather is dry weather. Bring some REALLY good moisturiser with you. Those little travel-size tubes will not be enough as it's easy to underestimate the amount of moisturiser needed everyday. Bring different types if you are particular about application on different areas like body and face (remember to check-in if it exceeds 100ml).

  • Get a pair of snow boots or equivalent. Sinking your feet into thick snow (intentionally, inevitably or accidentally) means water seepage into your shoes. Having water in your shoes and wetting your socks in winter do not seem like a good idea.

  • Walking on icy surfaces is extremely slippery too. I've seen many people in their usual sneakers, running or cross-trainer shoes slipped and fell. Otherwise, you may buy an ice-spike sole attachment (around 1,500¥ a pair) to enhance your foot grip. They are available in most souvenir shops.

  • A pair of shades/sunglasses would be useful as the snowy landscape can be rather glaring.


PHOTOGRAPHY INFO & TIPS:

  • Was using Nikon D5100, Nikon AFS DX 10-24mm f3.5-4.5, Sigma 17-70mm f2.8-4 DC, Nikon AFS 50mm f1.4, Nikon AFS VR 70-200mm f2.8, Sony HX50V, Sony Action Cam AS30V, Apple iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy Edge.

  • Other than keeping your hands warm and functionable, gloves should be of perfect fit to handle and operate your camera easily. Best if they are designed for winter photography. Get touchscreen-enabled gloves if you're using cameras with touchscreen feature.

  • Consider bringing cameras with bigger buttons and controls if you don't mind the bulk. I find it hard to use those tiny buttons on the D5100 with my gloves on.

  • Make sure your equipment can be used in sub-zero environment. Perhaps, do a test in your home fridge before your trip. This includes your lens as many lenses have complex electronic components these days.

  • Use a lens hood. It can be useful to prevent snow from hitting the glass directly, which can be annoying and hard to wipe dry.

  • Extra batteries are critical as they deplete fast in cold weather.

  • A waterproof outermost jacket with a hood could potentially eliminate the need to carry an umbrella during light snow. Imagine carrying an umbrella while trying to shoot.

  • Most indoor areas are well heated during winter, which is great for us but not our lenses. If you have stayed in the warm indoors for long enough (e.g. for a meal), condensation will occur. Hence, try to keep your camera cold in the bag if you want to be able to shoot immediately.

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