We walked uphill through snow-covered path* for half an hour to Ogimachi observatory, offering spectacular views of Shirakawago Ogimachi village where many Gassho-zukuri (Gassho style) farmhouses are clustered.
Shirakawago is one of the rare villages in Japan which have preserved sustainable rural lifestyles and untouched countryside landscapes. Until quite recently this small village had remained in isolation, which contributed to preservation of unique lifestyle. We visited snow white Shirakawago in late December of 2009.
Though most tourists make a day trip to Shirakawago and actually there are nothing to do at night, the greatest advantage of staying overnight in Shirakawago is to take a stroll in the serene village around sunset or early in the morning. The tranquility is hardly imaginable compared to crowd of tourists in the daytime. After the highway was completed in 2008, increasing number of tourists descend upon Shirakawago by bus in the daytime. One of the local residents says to me that the most beautiful view in Shirakawago is the dim light from the window of the local old houses seen when the sky gets deep blue in the evening after sunset.
Most inns here are family-owned, called "Minshuku" in Japanese. This area has fortunately been free from urban development and thus there are no large deluxe modern hotels in the village. Minshuku basically allows you to "stay at home". At Minshuku, basically privacy is very limited. There are no private baths and toilets in your room. Due to simple thin wall between rooms, baby cry next room kept us awake. Though material "luxury" is limited, if you are adventurous and can stand lack of modern life for a night, it is strongly recommended to have a mental "luxury" of experiencing the local lifestyle which itself is the reason for being registered as UNESCO world heritage cultural asset. Living there overnight and taking a stroll in a peaceful village made us feel as if we were back in time.
Next day, we went to Takayama, a town famous for picturesque streets lined with old private houses and local shops such as Sake brewery. If you are adventurous, try Hida beef nigiri sushi (raw!), famous for sweet and tender. Takayama has received more and more international tourists in recent years. Though Takayama is no longer off-the-beaten destination, but this city still remains old small town atmosphere which are absent in Tokyo or other large cities crowded with skyscrapers.
Our ryokan tonight was Yatsusankan, a luxury ryokan in Hida Furukawa, a small town located two stations north of Takayama. Like Takayama, Hida Furukawa has a charming old town atmosphere, but smaller and more quieter than Takayama. After walking in the snow-covered path, onsen (hot spring) in Yatsusankan was the perfect place to get relaxed. The ryokan is generous to offer free sake in the hot spring (by 7pm). If lucky, you can soak in onsen seeing snow over a cup of sake (yukimizake in Japanese). Dinner course consisting of Hida beef, fresh river and sea fish, and many more local specialty were very delicious. The whole experience can be highly recommended.