Winter Japan Day 3 - Shirakawa-go
Updated: May 2, 2019
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!
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.
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.
Date: February 2015
Accommodation: Ryokan Asunaro, Takayama (http://www.yado-asunaro.com/english/)
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.