The village is famous for its farmhouses, which are built in a unique architectural style known as gasshō (合掌). The name means "hands together" as in prayer, referring to the steep roofs that keep the snow off in the winter. Underneath the roofs, the large attic area was used to house silkworms.
Another feature which has brought fame to the village is the recent Japanese game series 'Higurashi no Naku Koro ni' (2002) and the anime series that followed. Although the village residents are not too altogether thrilled that an anime series depicting large levels of violence has based itself on their village, it has brought the tourists none-the-less. A number of locations from the anime series can be visited in Shirakawa; the most prevalent site being the Hachiman Shrine, the site where Rika Furude met an unfortunate end and also the major shrine of the village.
Shirakawa-go can be reached by highway bus from most major cities in Japan. Tickets for buses to Takayama should be reserved beforehand as Takayama is popular tourist destinations for both Japanese and foreigners. In addition to buses one can catch the Shinkansen Bullet Train to Nagoya, transfer to a standard train to Takayama and take a bus from the Takayama Bus Station to Shirakawa-go. The train ride from Nagoya to Takayama is particularly enjoyable, providing the passenger with much of the mountainous beauty that Japan has to offer (a good break from constant metropolis). The return ticket for Nohi Bus from Takayama to Shirakawa-Go can be bought for ￥4300 at Takayama Bus Station. No reservation is necessary. Another option is to hire a car (this can be done from several places in Takayama) and drive to Shirakawa-go. A new ‘super-highway’ is now open which will have you in the village in under an hour.
Hiring a car is also recommended if you wish to access the many different areas around Shirakawa-go; areas such as Hirase Onsen or Kawai Village (and some mountainous areas). Keep in mind that in the snow season many of the roads leading up the mountains will not be open.
Joining a Bus Tour is easy way to visit Shirakawa-go. iSiteTAKAYAMA offers a half-day trip from Takayama by comfortable bus everyday. The fere is 3,800yen for round trip, it is the cheapest price. If you want to go there no transfer from Takayama or don't have a driving license in Japan, this Round-Trip Bus Tour is good way to visit Shirakawa-go.
Another is the Three Amo Waterfalls: Taka falls, Naka falls, and Ki falls, which can be seen along the pass leading to the Amo highlands.
Another waterfall, Hakusui Falls, pours from the artificial Hakusui Lake, which was created by a dam at an elevation of 1,260 meters. To take a rest from hiking and relax a little, the area also has several hot springs, such as the Hirase hot spring bathhouse.
Shirakawa-go has numerous tourist shops with a variety of souvenirs available. One of the unique items of the area is the 'Sarubobo' doll. The doll is a faceless red 'monkey' which is intended for a person to imagine the face of one of their children or grandchildren, then pray for the wellbeing of said child whilst you imaging the face.
The actual Shirakawa Gassho village has a couple of places to eat. Look out for ramen restaurants and the like. These will only be open during daylight hours. The village, being mainly day tourist oriented, will close down after the sun sets.
The Hachiman Shrine at Shirakawa-go prepares their own brand of sake which is available both through the shrine and through most of the tourist shops in the area. This sake is mainly used for their matsuri (festival) celebrations. This sake is characterized by the large amount of rice which is still in the bottle. Shirakawa-go also produces a local blend of distilled sake which is quite proof (60% approx). This is available through the various Ryokans and tourist shops in the area. It is a nice drop and one does not understand its strength until it 'hits home' so-to-speak.
Shirakawa-go offers numerous ryokan based Japanese inns for overnight stays. Most of these inns are gassho based inns and offer both dinner and breakfast in the accommodation fee. Information on such places (in reasonable English) is available via the Shirakawa Commerce and Industry Society's homepage. Dinner is generally traditional Japanese dishes consisting of river fish and exquisite mountain vegetables; you will almost certainly sleep on a futon on a tatami mat. One such establishment is Magoemon, next to the river in Ogimachi.
As Shirakawa-go's buildings are mainly produced of highly flammable traditional materials, smoking is heavily regulated in the village. If one must smoke they must do so at a designated position within the village (indicated by bench seats, a sign and a 3 foot high large ash tray). Please refrain from smoking unless in a designated area. Shirakawa-go has a backup village fire suppression system, however, triggering it via a burning cigarette butt would be a foul end to a good holiday.
Although this is a moderately popular tourist destination, some people do live in some of the traditional houses. Keep this in mind as you tour.