It was mid February last year when I got to go Shirakawa-go for a self study trip. There were no snow in Osaka, but the temperature was pretty cold. Just the day before I departed to Shirakawa-go, my parents went back to Jakarta after visiting me. It was exam week and I had to manage my time between exam and to spend time with my parents, so I was quite tired to begin with for my study trip. But anyway I enjoyed them very much.
Early in the morning I had to depart from the center (the center where I studied Japanese has accomodations for its participants) to the train station. I totally forgot to reserve a taxi to take me to the station. It’s only a 20 minutes walk though to reach the station but still I barely make it to earliest possible train that will take me to Osaka station. I was half walking and half running to reach the train station because if I missed it, I will also miss the train in Osaka station that will take me to Takayama (the nearest town to Shirakawa-go).
Seated safely in my train I cursed myself for not waking up and departed earlier from the center. It was Monday and the train was packed with people. I could have already imagined how crowded it will be in the Osaka Station where I’ll have to catch my next train.
An hour later I arrived in the station and was proceeding slowly among all other people who were also catching their next train. The first thing I did after I managed to go up to the 2 floor was to ask the station officer the platform of my train. She checked on her computer and I rushed to the platform the moment she told me the location. Upon arriving to the platform I was greeted with an empty platform. Disappointed, I did my last attemp to ask a nearby station officer the being of my train. It was actually right behind me! I happened to arrived in the very front of the platform. Rushing to the train, I managed to get into it. Finally catching my breath I sit on a random seat and wait for the train to depart.
It took around 4 hours from Osaka station to Takayama station by train. It was a special direct train. The scenery that accompanied me along the way was snow and later hills and river. I sat alone as there were not many people in the train.
I was planning to travel alone for my self study trip as the purpose of this trip was to create a condition for the participants who were learning Japanese to use their Japanese to survive during the trip. But incidently I picked the same destination with some other friends. Not exactly the same, but we would somehow cross each other way during the trip. For example, I met Bion-san from Ivory Coast in the train who were heading to Takayama as well. I was also met with Kwan-san from Vietnam and Ken-san from the Phillippines who happened to be in Takayama and were planning to visit Shirakawa-go as well. So in the end I met people here and there along the trip.
It was noon already when I arrived in Takayama station, after saying goodbye to Bion-san, I went to the bus station to purchase a ticket to go to Shirakawa-go. It’s another one hour from Takayama Station to Shirakawa-go. In the bus I met a girl who I thought was an Indonesian, who happened to think that I was from Thailand. I made friend with her. Arriving in the Shirakawa-go village, we said goodbye as I need to find Kwan-san and Ken-san.
I booked an accomodation in the village because I planned to stay the night. There is this unique accomodation owned by local people called the Gassou-zukkuri. The architecture of the building was design to face the harsh winter with a lot of snow which happen to pass by the village every year. In 1995, the buildings itself was declared as UNESCO World Heritage because it was build since the Edo Period. Most of the accomodation there were at least 150 years old. I thought the inside would still be traditional, but it was not. The local people used some technology as well. Well what do you expect, this is Japan anyway. Haha.
Upon arriving to the accomodation that I have booked, the owner apologize because due to renovation of the house they couldn’t host me in their house. But she asked her neighbour instead to host me in her house, which also a Gassou-zukkuri. To stay in a Gassou-zukkuri, you had to reserve online first. Drop us a message if you want to know the website to do the reservation. One night stay includes room, dinner, and breakfast with local menu.
Later after check in, we rode a bus that take us to the hill nearby. From the hill we could see the village. The village looked like the one you might see in a christmast greeting cards. I felt like I was viewing the village of Santa Claus. Occasionally, they light up the village. When I visited that place, the light up schedule has passed so I didn’t get the chance to see it. Check the schedule for the light up if you plan to visit Shirakawa-go. You might be able to view it from the hill at night.
With Ong, the Thai girl I met in the bus.
The village also has some museums, temples, onsen, and souvenir shops. It’s a small village indeed. I think everybody knows each other in the village. I visited one of the museum and stroll around the village before going back to the guesthouse.
The girl I met in the bus to this village, happened to stay in the same guesthouse as I! We were served nice dinner by the host and the head of the family came during dinner to chat with us. He couldn’t speak english and none of the guests speak Japanese, so I acted as an interpreter for them. He told us about the history of his house and that he was the 3rd generation who own the house. They had to renovate the house regularly in order to preserve it. When someone from the village is renovating their house, everyone else come to help with the renovation. Since the declaration of the village as UNESCO World Heritage in 1995, more tourists come to visit their village and it is good for the economy. Although Shirakawa-go is a surrouned by mountain, that doesn’t hinder modernization from coming to that village. While preserving the long history of Gassou-zukkuri the people of Shirakawa-go were able to keep up with the present era.
I ended the night with a nice warm bath at the onsen nearby with other guests. We got a discount ticket from our host. Night in Shirakawa-go was silent. The sheer moon and stars brought an enthraling feeling while we stroll back to the guesthouse. (npa).