Shirakawa-go is a little village in the Japanese Alps that is famous for its traditional wooden farmhouses with their typical gassho-zukuri roofs. The angle of the thatched roofs is between 45 and 60 degrees, and they are built this way so that snow won’t pile up on them in winter.
Shirakawa-go is a popular day trip from Kanazawa, in this guide you will find a step by step guide how to travel from Kanazawa to Shirakawago.
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Kanazawa to Shirakawago
From Kanazawa, there are two ways to get to Shirakawago:
- By bus
- By car
Traveling from Kanazawa to Shirakawago by bus
How to travel from Kanazawa to Shirakawago by bus
1. Buy a bus ticket online
The first thing to do is to buy a bus ticket to Shirakawago. You can buy a ticket online up until a month in advance and I highly recommend you do so.
We didn’t and while the first two buses of the day were fully booked, we were able to buy a ticket (at the bus station itself) for the 9.40 am bus. However, we were very lucky we could travel the same day as often all tickets are booked.
Note that you have to book separate tickets for each leg of your journey. For example, if you plan to travel from Kanazawa to Shirakawago and continue to Takayama later that day, you will have to buy a ticket for the Kanazawa – Shirakawago part AND a ticket for the Shirakawago – Takayama part. Both can be bought via the website mentioned above.
If you prefer, you can try to buy a ticket for the same day at the bus station itself, there is an office of Hokutetsu, the company that operates the buses between Kanazawa and Shirakawago (together with Nohi Bus).
Their office is just north of bus stop 2 and it’s easy to find. However, there is no guarantee there will be seats available.
2. Print your e-ticket
After making an online booking, you will receive an E-ticket by email which you must print and show to the driver before boarding the bus.
Despite being a high-tech country, Japan is quite oldfashioned in some ways and it’s not enough to show the e-ticket on your phone (at least, it wasn’t when we were traveling this area in 2016).
3. Locate the correct bus stop
The bus to Shirakawago leaves from the Kanazawa East Gate Bus Terminal, bus stop 2 to be exact. Make sure to be at the bus stop on time and plan to be there at least 15 minutes ahead of the departure time.
Kanazawa station is quite big and while it’s not rocket science to find the right bus stop, it’s never a good idea to have to rush when carrying a large backpack while trying to decipher the beautiful but incomprehensible Kanji signs.
4. Board the bus
Boarding the bus is straightforward, note however that you must show your ticket to the driver before getting on. Also, if you are traveling with a large backpack this will be stowed in the luggage compartment of the bus.
Please keep any valuables with you, despite the fact that Japan is very safe and theft is rare, it’s always better to be smart about this.
5. Enjoy the view
Now sit back and relax, while admiring the views from the bus. You’ll see rice paddies and the closer you get to Shirakawago, the more mountainous (and beautiful) the surroundings will be.
6. Arrive at Shirakawago Bus Terminal
After a beautiful drive, you will arrive at Shirakawago Bus Terminal. Here you can store large luggage in one of the lockers so you don’t have to lug it around while exploring the beautiful houses of Ogimachi.
Important things to know when traveling to Shirakawago by bus
The journey takes between 75 and 85 minutes, depending on whether or not you make a stop at Gokayama Suganuma along the way.
A one-way ticket from Kanazawa to Shirakawago costs ¥2000 per adult, a roundtrip ticket is ¥3600.
You can find the timetable here. Buses depart at irregular intervals so be sure to check the schedule carefully.
No, it’s not. While the JR Rail Pass covers JR buses in several regions, the companies operating the bus from Kanazawa to Shirakawago are Hokutetsu and Nohi Bus. Therefore the JR Rail Pass is not valid on this route.
There are alternatives to the National JR Rail Pass, for example, the Takayama-Hokuriku Area Pass does cover the Kanazawa – Shirakawago – Takayama bus route.
No, unfortunately, that’s not possible. From Suganuma, you can only travel in the direction of Kanazawa.
Alternatively, you can travel by bus from Shirakawago to Gokayama, explore this village and board a bus in the direction of Kanazawa. Note that buses do not stop at Suganuma at all between December and April.
Yes, you can. As mentioned above you will have to purchase a separate ticket for this journey, which can either be bought online or at the ticket office located within the Shirakawago Tourist Office. A one-way ticket costs ¥2600, the trip takes 50 minutes.
Pros and cons of traveling to Shirakawago from Kanazawa by bus
- It’s the cheapest way to get there.
- It’s easy and hassle-free.
- Onward journeys to Takayama are fast and easy.
- You can’t stop along the way to take pictures of the scenery.
- There is only a limited amount of bus tickets available.
- You have less flexibility as there are only 10 buses a day and departure times are irregular.
Traveling from Kanazawa to Shirakawago by car
Renting a car in Japan may seem daunting but it’s actually a lot easier to drive in Japan than you might think. Navigating the busy cities such as Tokyo or Kyoto can be a nightmare, however, driving in rural areas such as the Japanese Alps is absolute bliss.
I’ve rented a car in Japan twice, once to make a road trip around Hokkaido and once to make a road trip around Shikoku. And I can tell from personal experience, there are some things to keep in mind when driving in Japan.
Important things to know when driving in Japan
- In Japan, people drive on the left side of the road. Keep this in mind if you are used to driving on the other side of the road, it’s especially easy to forget on quiet roads without much traffic.
- Bring an international driving permit based upon the 1949 Geneva Convention. If you fail to do so, you cannot rent a car in Japan.
- Tolls are levied on National Expressways, these can be paid in cash or credit card.
- Download an offline map (such as Maps.Me) to make navigating easier. You most likely will have a GPS in your rental car, however, most are in Japanese and it can be difficult to adjust the settings.
- Stick to the speed limit, there are speed cameras and fines are high.
How to travel from Kanazawa to Shirakawago by car
1. First of all, you will have to rent a car. I recommend booking through Rentalcars.com as they offer the best price and good conditions. In Kanazawa, there are several pickup points, but prices are usually lowest when picking up your car at Kanazawa Train Station.
2. Ask the staff at your car rental company to set the GPS to English (if possible). If not, ask them to insert Shirakawago as your destination. Also ask if there is a home destination on the device so you can easily navigate back to Kanazawa at the end of your sightseeing day. Don’t worry if there isn’t, the staff at the Tourist Information Center in Shirakawago is happy to help.
3. Time to get going! The fastest route from Kanazawa to Shirakawago is via the Hokuriku Expressway and the Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway. Note that these roads are toll roads, toll costs are approximately ¥2000 (one way).
4. Once you have arrived at Shirakawago, park your car at one of the designated car parks. The parking fee is ¥500, vehicles are not allowed within the village. You can find a map with the parking lots here.
How much does it cost to rent a car?
That depends on several factors, such as the type of car and whether or not you choose to add insurance. A small car will cost approximately ¥5000 for one day, however, if you include insurance another ¥1000 will be added.
When you are traveling as a family and need a baby car seat, child car seat or child booster seat, add ¥550 per rented item.
Pros and cons of traveling to Shirakawago from Kanazawa by car
In my opinion, traveling by to Shirakawago by car is most suitable for traveling families.
- You can easily bring your luggage and any stuff you may need during the day.
- Depending on the size of your party, it may actually be cheaper than the bus.
- You have full control over your itinerary. If you like, you can stop along the way for lunch, take pretty pictures and even visit Gokayama on your way to Shirakawago.
- You will need to return to Kanazawa to return your vehicle. A few rental companies allow cars to be picked up in Kanazawa and dropped off in Takayama, however, the one-way fees are quite steep.
- You need to bring an international driving permit from home, so you can’t spontaneously decide to rent a car in Japan.
Can I spend the night in Shirakawago?
It’s definitely possible to spend the night in historic Ogimachi village, you can even sleep in one of the gasshō-zukuri style houses!
A lovely century-old traditional Japanese wooden house, which has been carefully renovated in 2017. Rooms are traditional and feature tatami mats and futon beds and have a private bathroom.
A shared kitchen can be used to prepare meals (there is a convenience store nearby). Free onsite parking, friendly staff and a central location make the Shirakawago Terrace a great place to stay in Shirakawago.
While definitely not a cheap place to spend the night, your stay at the Shiroyamakan will be a memorable one. The building dates from 1884 and rooms feature tatami floors and rustic wooden beams.
With a private bathroom, comfortable futon beds and traditional furniture, you will be very comfortable at the Shiroyamakan. However, what will make your stay truly unforgettable is the family running this place! Run by the same family for many years, the 4th and 5th generations are currently operating this wonderful ryokan.
Service is exceptional, as are the meals served at the hotel. If you decide to splurge on one hotel in Japan, make it the Shiroyamakan!
How to travel from Kanazawa to Shirakawago: in conclusion
I hope this guide has given you all the information you need to plan your Shirakawago trip. It’s a beautiful village that is very much worth visiting.
Please let me know if I missed any important information or when you have any questions. You can leave a comment below or send me a message.