Thatched roof houses of Shirakawa-go

I love traditional Japanese guesthouses. They are the perfect combination of rustic, simple and unusual to appear exotic. Combined with genuine hospitality of their owners, fabulous home-cooked meals and ubiquitous hot baths they make for a most enjoyable stay. So, it comes a no surprise that a stay at one of the thatched roof houses in Shirakawa-go was on our to-do list during our trip to Japan.

How to book?

The houses are called gassho-zukuri and stand under Unesco protection. I almost thought that was also the reason why they are so difficult to book. A simple Booking search simply won’t do, you will have to put in some more effort.

My Japanese friend told me the safest bet would be to call and immediately offered to do that for me. I, still not fully grasping the concept of Japanese politeness, wanted to do it myself. How hard can it be?

First, I tried Japanese Guesthouses but received no reply after completing their booking request. With the help of Google Maps and Google Street View I then located a couple of guesthouses in the old village. None of them had a complete listing including a website address. I began running the names of the houses through Google Search (just to clarify: this post is not sponsored by Google!) until I came across Kanjiya’s webpage.

This time the reply came back promptly. But it was all in Japanese. A couple of back-and-forth emails later I somehow managed to book us a room with dinner and breakfast. My friend later told me my Japanese was very polite when I showed her the whole correspondence. Thanks, Google Translate.

How to get there?

After all the trouble with reservation, it was a completely legitimate question: How the hell will we get there if even Booking has not yet discovered this place?

Besides, there is no railway line to Shirakawa-go. And places off the extremely efficient Japan Rail network to me somehow seem difficult to get to. Usually, this is only my unfounded assumption. Japanese busses are just as well organised and it was no different this time.

We got to Shirakawa-go from Kanazawa by a direct bus, a very comfortable one on top of that, in less than an hour and a half. The bus terminal is right next to the Kanazawa station, so it is really a no-brainer. The next day we took another equally efficient bus to Takayama and that was the whole science around it. You could just as easily do the trip vice-versa.

What to expect?

Crowds

If Booking has not yet discovered Shirakawago, tourists certainly have. In fact, the whole busloads of them. So no, this is everything but an undiscovered, off-the-grid destination.

Paper thin walls

Literally. I was only hoping that the three Australian kids in the room next to us were well-behaved. Surprisingly, they were.

Cold nights

Not only are the internal walls paper thin, so are the external ones too. And gas heaters are turned off during the night. If you come in winter, better bring a hat, as the thick bed covers can only do so much.

Amazing food

The kaiseki dinner and breakfast were simply yummy. Every bit as tasty as you would expect anywhere in Japan.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely. If nothing else for a quiet walk when the crowds have left in the evening. You will have the village almost to yourself. Perhaps there’s a reason behind the complicated booking after all.