Listed on UNESCO Heritage Site since 1995, the popularity of Shirakawa-go has been increasing ever since. The special characteristics of the heritage village in Gifu Prefecture is the thatched-roof farmhouse, gassho-zukuri. Its unique shape that looks like hands in prayer position whose length almost touches the ground has caught attention visitors worldwide.
Your visit to Shirakawa-go could be much more memorable if you have a chance to go local by staying in one of these houses. Indeed, some of them are not only transformed into restaurants, souvenir shops or museums, but also guest houses where you can stay overnight.
Interested? To make your holiday plan runs smoothly, here’s what you need to know before staying in a gassho-style guesthouse.
ONLY AVAILABLE ON CERTAIN SITES
I recommend you to order any gassho-style guest house on specialized websites focusing on traditional Japanese accommodations, such as https://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/ryokan-search-results/Shirakawa-go/ and https://shirakawa-go.gr.jp/en/stay/?index.
In fact, larger-scale accommodation sites you’re familiar with, booking.com and agoda.com for instance, hardly have gassho-zukuri guest houses on their list.
ROOM RATES: NOT A SHOESTRING, YET RELATIVELY AFFORDABLE
The average rate per night for staying at gassho-style guesthouses is between 9000 Yen and 13,000 Yen ($84 to $122), including breakfast and dinner. There’s an option for dinner or breakfast only as well, or none.
Historical houses requires old-fashioned maintenance, that usually takes a lot of money and time. Therefore, the rate won’t beat budget hotels in a million years. Bear in mind that some guest houses only receive cash payment, so please double check this to the agent.
Like all traditional Japanese inns, or ryokan, all gassho-zukuri rooms have neither private toilet nor private bathrooms. So yeah, you have to share those facilities with others. You will sleep on futon bed on tatami floor, Japanese carpet made of straw or styrofoam.
OLD-FASHIONED DINING EXPERIENCE
Since all restaurants in Shirakawa-go don’t open until late at night, it is recommended to take the dinner package at the guest house. The streets are dark after 7 pm and night life equals to staying at home.
At the same time, it’a a great opportunity to reach the experience of going local to the fullest by enjoying home cooking. You will seat on the floor, with a pillow that takes place of a chair, with a table surrounding irori, an ancient Japanese sunken hearth to heat to heat the room and cooking.
Suppose you have certain allergies, vegetarian or pescatarian, you should inform the owner or the agent prior to your arrival, so they can adjust your preference.
UNUSUAL Check-in AND Check-out TIME
Only starting from 3 pm can you actually check in at the guesthouse and surprisingly, the check out time is considered very early, at 9 am.
What you can do to maximize your stay at the guest house is that you come earlier to keep your luggage, then continue exploring Shirakawa-go as relax as you can. Between 5 pm to 6 pm when places of interests gradually close down, you return to the guest house to spend the rest of the evening and take a rest, as you need to leave early.
If you take the complete dining package, make sure you don’t check in too late, otherwise the host will wait for too long and finally won’t be able to cook your dinner.
Generally speaking, gassho-zukuri guesthouses are family business and and inherited from their predecessors, as many of the houses are older than 200 years old. The host who serve you during your stay is the owner, not employees, from cleaning, mending the room until preparing your breakfast and dinner. They even stay under one roof with you.
Therefore, it would be better to show some gratitude for their services and manage your manner. For example, keep the silence during night time when they and other guests are sleeping.
NO BIG SUITCASES
Although it’s still possible to accommodate a large suitcase in the guest house, it could be exhausting to drag it on streets for a long time. Moreover, Japanese buses have narrow corridors that only fit up to medium-sized suitcases and no extra space for large ones. Thus, learn to travel light will be very handy for you.
NOT FOR LARGE GROUPS
Usually, a gassho farmhouse has 4 to 5 rooms, with maximum capacity of 12 people. If you travel with a group of friends or family, make sure that the rooms at the guest house where you’re staying are still vacant to keep everyone together under one roof. Moreover, you’re allowed to stay there just for one day, not more.
Due to limited room capacity, staying overnight at gassho-zukuri guest houses will never be the part of tour operators’ itinerary for Japan tour packages. In other words, you need to plan and book your own trip if you really want to experience a unique stay at the heritage farmhouse.
So, are you physically and mentally ready to adapt with the local culture?