The Real-life Hinamizawa: 5 Must Do’s At Shirakawa-go

The UNESCO World Heritage Site Shirakawa-go, located in land-locked Gifu Prefecture, is one of the most iconic tourist spots in Japan. With its picture perfect 合掌造り [gassho-zukuri] (lit. “praying hands,” reflective of the way the sloping roofs look) huts, it is a favourite for photographers and travellers worldwide. Fans of the anime Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni (When They Cry) will be familiar with Shirakawa-go as the model for the fictitious village Hinamizawa. Here are some must do’s in the area while geeking out at the similarities.

1. Head up to the observation point

View of Shirakawa-go from the observation point

The observation point is a pleasant 20 minutes walk from Shirakawa-go bus terminal, but can also be reached via a shuttle bus for those less inclined to exercise. The view of Ogimachi, the largest and most popular of the villages, is so picturesque it could almost be a painting. Cute huts dot green rice fields across a backdrop of snow-capped Mt. Haku, one of the three sacred mountains of Japan. Plus, here you can really see the semblance of Shirakawa-go to Hinamizawa.

The observation point itself basks in the shadow of leafy green trees (in warmer months), creating a very peaceful atmosphere. Winter presents another gorgeous scene, with the thatched-roof huts and entire village blanketed in heavy white snow. The village floods with tourists during a popular illumination event held during winter months.

2. See the inside of a Gassho hut

The inside of the Wada house at Shirakawa-go

There are a number of Gassho huts open to the public, but Wada House is the biggest and most prominent. The family has always had high social status, with some former members being government officers or landlords of Ogimachi village. The family has now kindly opened up part of their house to tourists for the sake of cultural appreciation. Currently run by a 20th generation Wada family member and his wife, visitors are able to glimpse the lifestyle of these villagers who endure bitter winters and heavy snow every year. Admission is 400 yen per adult, 250 yen for kids (as of October 2022). The fireplace is lit all year round, and visitors can take photos and videos inside.

3. Walk across the suspension bridge

If you are coming to Shirakawa-go by bus, then this is one bridge you must cross. The Deai-bashi suspension bridge which hangs over Shokawa River connects the main bus terminal and car park with Ogimachi village. Serving as an entrance to the car-free village, the bridge affords panoramic scenes of the river, mountains and village. While it is solid enough that it doesn’t really sway, you can feel the vibrations of other people walking across together with you. Another testament to the dynamism of the scenery across seasons, the contrast between winter and spring is a world apart.

4. Take in the culture of Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine

Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine

The anime Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni (When They Cry) created a boom for yandere girls amongst fans in the West. It is a well-known fact that Ogimachi, one of villages in Shirakawa-go, formed the model for the fictitious village of Hinamizawa in the series. Fans will no doubt recognise many parallel scenescapes with many almost carbon copy similarity. In this mysterious village, many bizarre occurrences and two-faced girls plagued the male protagonist after he unknowingly transferred there.

Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine is another spot that appears consistently throughout the series as Furude Shrine. It deifies Oyashiro-sama, the god of Hinamizawa, and is the site of the annual Watanagashi Festival. The structures of the shrine, from the torii gates to the purple curtains, bear undeniable resemblance to those in the series. It has become so well-known for its connection to Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni that aspiring comic book artists have taken to writing their wishes for success on ema (votive picture tablets) and hanging them up. Make sure you check out the impressive artwork and interesting wishes on the tablets. It is a must do for those on an anime pilgrimage to Shirakawa-go.

5. Drive by Miboro Dam

Although not in Shirakawa-go per se, Miboro Dam is located around a 30-minute drive away and is enroute from Takayama or Gifu City and Nagoya. The dam forms another interesting historical nugget to the area. Completed in 1960 over 3 years, it is a rock-fill dam 131 meters high, 401 meters wide, and supports a 256 MW hydroelectric power station. Downstream of the dam is a facility (closed Wednesdays) where you can learn more about the history of the dam and its power generation capabilities. The road leading to the facility is lined with cherry trees making for some excellent photo opportunities.

Miboro Dam
Crystal blue waters and sakura at Miboro Dam

On the lakeside stands two nearly 500-year-old Shokawa-zakura cherry trees. They were moved here, when the dam was constructed, from two shrines which originally stood in a village located at the bottom of what is now the lake. It is said that each petal represents the memory from someone who lived in the villages before they were flooded.

500-year-old Shokawa-zakura cherry trees
500-year-old Shokawa-zakura cherry tree

Truth or mere romanticism, you can decide.

If you enjoyed this Shirakawa-go x real-life Hinamizawa pilgrimage, check out more geeky anime-themed adventures!

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