The main reason for the steep roofs and massive structure of Shirakawago's farmhouses is the large amount of snow the region receives every winter. Ogimachi Village typically gets covered by one to two meters of snow during the peak of the white season. While causing the locals quite a bit of hardship, the snow turns Shirakawago into an idyllic winter landscape. To make it even better, the village organizes special illumination events on selected Saturday and Sunday evenings in January and February that attract plenty of tourists.
In 2016, Ogimachi was illuminated on the following dates:
- January 16, 2016 (Saturday)
- January 23, 2016 (Saturday) & January 24, 2016 (Sunday)
- January 30, 2016 (Saturday) & January 31, 2016 (Sunday)
- February 7, 2016 (Sunday)
- February 14, 2016 (Sunday)
During the light-up event, many of the village's gassho-zukuri farmhouses are lit up individually from 17:30 to 19:30, while the entire village is softly illuminated by floodlights until around 20:00. Just like during daytime, the Shiroyama Viewpoint is one of the best places to enjoy the sight of the village, but note that the only way to reach the viewpoint during the light-up event is by the walking trail from the village, which can get closed during bad weather. The road to the viewpoint is closed to both cars and pedestrians.
Visitors to Shirakawago note that the temperature usually drops to far below freezing during the light-up event, and that roads and trails are covered by snow and sometimes ice. Appropriate clothing, face protection and sturdy shoes are required. Some parts of the village are, furthermore, not well lit with dangerous, uncovered water canals flanking the trails. Consequently, it is recommended to bring a flashlight. To reduce the burden on the small village, all tourists are also asked to carry home any garbage they produce.
The light-up events attract a lot of tourists to the small village of Ogimachi. Because local accommodation is limited and regular buses do not run late into the evening, travelers are advised to plan their visit carefully in advance. Below are the most common ways to enjoy the event:
The best way to enjoy the light-up event is by staying overnight at one of the farmhouses in the village. However, because of the limited number of lodgings and the high popularity of the event, rooms get booked out many months in advance. Note that Sundays tend to be less busy than Saturdays (unless Monday is a public holiday). Note also that some buses to Shirakawago require seat reservations and may book out on the day of the illumination and the following day.
Visit by bus tour
Multiple tour companies offer bus tours for seeing the light-up event. Some of them simply provide a chartered bus for access from Takayama or Kanazawa and back, while others include an overnight stay (usually in Takayama). The majority of tour companies target domestic travelers, but a few of them also cater to foreign tourists, including Nohi Bus (online reservation through Japanican) and Club Tourism.
Visit by car
The regular parking lot in Shirakawago is closed to private cars during the light-up event. A special parking lot is opened instead and connected to the village center by free shuttle buses. Note, however, that winter tires and winter driving skills are required to access Shirakawago in winter by car.
information source: japan-guide.com