In the Japanese Alps lies the charming heritage village Shirakawa-go. This mountain village is known for its traditional wooden farmhouses with characteristic gassho-zukuri roofs. These thatched roofs have an angle between 45 and 60 degrees and are built like this to prevent snow piling up on the roof during the winters.
Shirakawa-go is a popular and easy day trip from Takayama, and a very worthwhile place to visit. This step by step guide includes everything you need to know about traveling from Takayama to Shirakawago.
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Takayama to Shirakawago
Traveling from Takayama to Shirakawago can be done in three different ways:
- By bus
- By tour
- By car
Bus from Takayama to Shirakawago
Public transport in Japan is very efficient and despite the fact that Shirakawago is quite remote, the village is well connected to both Takayama and Kanazawa by bus.
How to travel from Takayama to Shirakawago: bus
1. Buy a bus ticket online
Once you have decided upon your desired travel date, you can book a ticket online (up until a month in advance). As this is a popular travel route and seats are often sold out, I highly recommend booking a bus ticket in advance.
Important: you need separate tickets for each leg of your trip.
For example, say you want to travel from Takayama to Shirakawago and subsequently to Kanazawa; you will have to buy two tickets: one for Takayama to Shirakawago and one for Shirakawago to Kanazawa. All tickets can be bought at the Japan Bus Online website.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to book ahead, you can try booking a ticket at the Nohi Bus Center at Takayama station for the same day. However, there is no guarantee there will be seats available.
The Nohi Bus office is very easy to find, it’s right at Takayama train and bus station, on the facade of the office there is a large green sign that says ‘Takayama Nohi Bus Center‘.
2. Print your Takayama to Shirakawago bus e-ticket
After you’ve made a booking online, an e-ticket will be sent to the email address you provided. Make sure to print this ticket, as you will need to show it to the driver upon entering the bus. It’s not enough to show your e-ticket on your phone, it must be a printed version.
3. Wait at bus stop #4 at Takayama Bus Station
At the bus station in Takayama, you can find large signs with the names of the destinations in both Kanji as well as English, making it easy to find the correct bus stop.
The bus to Shirakawago leaves from bus stop 4, it’s best to be at the bus station at least 15 minutes ahead of the departure time.
4. Board the Shirakawago bus
Before boarding the bus, stow large backpacks or suitcases in the luggage compartment of the bus. Keep any valuables with you, while theft is rare in Japan, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Show your printed ticket to the driver and find a seat on the bus. Now settle in for the 50-minute ride to Shirakawago village. The views from the bus are beautiful, especially as you get closer to Shirakawago.
5. Arrive at Shirakawago Bus Terminal
Before you know it, you’ll be arriving it Shirakawago. Time to explore this lovely historic alpine village! If you have a large backpack with you, I recommend storing this in one of the coin lockers available at the bus terminal in Shirakawago.
Important things to know when traveling the Takayama – Shirakawago bus
The trip from Takayama to Shirakawago is around 50 kilometers and takes 50 minutes.
A one-way ticket from Takayama to Shirakawago costs ¥2600 per adult, a roundtrip ticket is ¥4600.
You can find the timetable here. Buses depart at irregular intervals so be sure to check the schedule carefully.
No, this bus is not included in the JR Rail Pass. While the JR Rail Pass covers JR buses in several regions, the company operating the bus from Takayama to Shirakawago is Nohi Bus and unfortunately, the JR Rail Pass cannot be used on this route.
An alternative to the National JR Rail Pass, is a local JR Pass. For example, the Takayama-Hokuriku Area Pass covers the Kanazawa – Shirakawago – Takayama bus route and can be a worthwhile investment if you plan to travel extensively around this region.
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 inside the Shirakawago Tourist Office.
A one-way ticket from Shirakawago to Kanazawa costs ¥2000, the trip takes between 75 and 85 minutes (depending on whether or not you make a stop at Gokayama Suganuma along the way).
Pros and cons of traveling to Shirakawago from Takayama by bus
- It’s the cheapest way to travel between Takayama and Shirakawago.
- It’s very straightforward and hassle-free.
- It’s the best way to travel if you plan on continuing your journey to Kanazawa after visiting Shirakawago.
- The bus doesn’t stop along the way, so no photo opportunities.
- There is only a limited amount of bus tickets available and the bus may be (very) crowded during the peak season.
- You have less flexibility than with a car.
Taking a Shirakawago tour from Takayama
Making a day trip from Takayama to Shirakawago can also be done by booking a tour. While I haven’t personally taken an organized tour from Takayama to Shirakawago, I have used Klook (the tour operator mentioned below) for other trips. Their service is excellent and tours are good value for money!
Day tour from Takayama to Shirakawago
There are a couple of different tours, but in my opinion, the best one is this full-day tour from Takayama. The program starts at 8 am and ends at 3 pm, a visit to both the villages of Gokoyama and Shirakawago is included in the tour.
Also included in the tour are transportation in a comfortable touring car, a knowledgable English speaking guide, and a traditional Japanese lunch. The tour can be booked online via Klook and costs around €57.
Half-day tour from Takayama to Shirakawago
If you have limited time available, you can also opt for a half-day tour. Morning tours start at 8 am and finish at noon. The afternoon tour begins at 1 pm and ends at 5 pm.
You will only visit Shirakawago and have around two hours to explore the village on your own. This tour included transportation (touring car) and a guide, the price is around €38. Book your ticket online here.
Pros and cons of booking a tour to Shirakawago from Takayama
Visiting Shirakawago as part of a tour is most suitable for people who value convenience and who like to learn more about the history of the village and its surroundings from a professional guide.
- Joining a tour is completely hassle-free.
- You can easily book online (weeks or even two months ahead) and are certain of traveling on a particular date.
- Tours are well-organized and an easy and efficient way to make a (half) day trip to Shirakawago from Takayama (or even from Nagoya).
- The tour starts and ends at a specific time, so you don’t have much flexibility.
- You cannot travel onwards to Kanazawa from Shirakawago, as the tour takes you back to Takayama.
Traveling from Takayama to Shirawakago by car
I’ve rented a car in Japan twice, once on Hokkaido and once on Shikoku. After you’ve gotten used to driving on the left side of the road, driving in Japan isn’t that difficult and a great way to explore the country independently!
Nevertheless, there are some things to pay attention to when renting a car in Japan.
Important things to know about driving in Japan
An international driving permit is always required
It’s of the utmost importance to bring an international driving permit (based upon the 1949 Geneva Convention). If you do not have one, you cannot rent a car in Japan (except when you have a Japanese driving license)
Drive on the left side of the road
As mentioned above, people drive on the left side of the road in Japan. This can be easy to forget if you are driving on quiet roads without much traffic, so pay close attention to which side you are driving on.
Stick to the speed limit
This should go without saying, but don’t drive to fast! There are lots of traffic cameras in Japan and fines for speeding don’t come cheap.
Tolls (and how to pay them)
On National Expressways tolls are levied, which can be paid in cash or a credit card. Between Takayama and Shirakawago, the fastest route is driving part of the E41, which is an expressway. For a return trip from Takayama to Shirakawago tolls are ¥2480 (¥1240 one-way).
When entering and leaving an Expressway, make sure to choose the correct toll lane, usually NOT the one with ETC above it as this lane can only be used by cars that have an ETC (Electronic Toll Card).
If you plan on renting a car in Japan for a couple of days it can be worthwhile to rent an ETC card, you can read more here.
Download an offline map
To make navigating around Japan a bit easier, I recommend downloading an offline map (such as Maps.Me). If you rent a car, there will probably be a GPS included (or you can rent one for a small fee).
Unfortunately, most GPS systems are in Japanese and adjusting the settings can be a nightmare. Frankly, I’ve found it impossible to do so, which is why I’ve used my phone for navigation most of the time.
How to travel from Takayama to Shirakawago by car
The easiest way to book a car is online. I usually book via Rentalcars.com, they offer competitive prices and often several extras are included in the rental price (such as an additional driver or even a car seat).
When you pick up your rental vehicle in Takayama, ask a member of the staff to set the GPS to English. If this is not possible, ask if they can set Shirakawago as your destination.
Also ask if there is a home destination programmed into the GPS so you can easily navigate back to Takayama at the end of your day trip to Shirakawago.
It’s only a 50-minute drive from Takayama to Shirakawago and the scenery is beautiful. When you arrive at Shirakawago village you must park your car at one of the designated car parks as vehicles are not allowed within the village. The parking fee is ¥500, you can find a map with the parking lots here.
How much does it cost to rent a car?
The exact price of your rental car depends on the type of vehicle as well as the extras you choose to add, such as additional insurance or a car seat for your kid or kids.
A small car will cost approximately ¥8000 for one day. However, if you add total coverage insurance you are looking at another ¥5000 (yes that’s pretty steep). If you are traveling as a family and need a baby seat, child seat or child booster seat, add ¥550 per rented item.
Pros and cons of traveling to Shirakawago from Takayama by car
In my opinion, traveling by to Shirakawago by car is most suitable for traveling families and people who want to maximize their flexibility during their day trip to Shirakawago.
- It’s no problem to bring (a lot of) luggage as you can just throw this in the trunk of your car. Particularly convenient when you are traveling with a baby, as you suddenly need so much more stuff during the day.
- If you are traveling with multiple people, renting a car can actually be cheaper than buying separate bus tickets for your entire group.
- You have full control over your itinerary and can stop wherever you want to take a picture, stay in Shirakawago as long as you like and pay a visit to Gokayama as well if you want to see more beautiful gassho-zukuri style houses.
- You need to drive back to Takayama to return your vehicle. While there are some rental companies that allow their cars to be picked up in Takayama and dropped off in Kanazawa, the one-way fees are quite steep.
- You need to bring an international driving permit from home and can’t spontaneously decide to rent a car in Japan.
Can I spend the night in Shirakawago?
Yes, you can! In fact, this will make your trip even more memorable as you can sleep in one of the gasshō-zukuri style houses! Another bonus: you will have the village all to yourself after all the day-trippers have left.
This lovely century-old traditional Japanese wooden house has been carefully renovated in 2017. The rooms are traditional with tatami mats and futon beds and have a private bathroom.
There is a shared kitchen that can be used to prepare meals and a convenience store nearby. Shirakawago Terraco has free onsite parking, friendly staff and a central location which make it a great place to stay in Shirakawago.
While the Shiroyamakan is not a cheap place to spend the night, it will be a memorable one for sure. Built in 1884, this beautiful building features tatami floors and rustic wooden beams.
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.
With private bathrooms, comfortable futon beds, and traditional furniture, you will be very comfortable at the Shiroyamakan. 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 do I get from Takayama to Shirakawago: in conclusion
I hope this guide to visiting Shirakawago from Takayama has given you all the information you need to plan a trip to this beautiful village in the Japanese Alps.