My wife and I visited Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO world heritage site famous for its gassho-zukuri farm houses and different atmospheric environments across four seasons. The bus ride up the mountains was scenic and enjoyable, as the greenery of forested hill slopes on the low lands gradually transformed into the browns of tree trunks and barren branches against the snow-clad highlands.
A gorge and bridge separated the bus station from Ogimachi, the largest village as well as the main attraction of Shirakawa-go. Crossing the bridge was like leaving the familiar behind and venturing into a dreamlike world of thatched and wooden gassho-zukuri farm houses. April still had its winter cold and snow piled on the surrounding mountain slopes and around the grounds of farm houses. Although we missed the winter wonderland atmosphere of snow covered farm houses, there was enough snow and coldness around to remind us that spring has not quite arrived in Shirakawa-go.
A short 15 minutes' walk from the bridge and we arrived at Yokichi ryokan. This is one of the few gassho-zukuri farm houses that are located besides the gorge and river. Others are located in between the gorge and mountain slope.
The cheerful lady owner greeted us and advised us, in surprisingly good English, that our room is being prepared. She offered us a map and marked out attractions for us to explore while she prepared our room. Remarkable!
When we returned, she led us to a corner room at the end of the guest corridor. The room faced the gorge. And what a room and what a view. Evening sunlight bathed the room with long shadows. The room opened out to a back garden and the gorge. Sounds of running waters filled the room and the owner asked if we preferred another room in case our sleep was disturbed by the "noise" of running waters. We did not miss a beat to confirm the room less she changed her mind!
Our spacious room was very clean and the floor was laid with tatami mats. A large low table had a tea set from which we enjoyed the complimentary Japanese tea and snacks. A hanging rack was provided in a corner for our winter wear. Bath towels and yukatas were neatly placed on the tatami mat. A small TV was provided but we did not use it, as there were far better things to do in this small, enchanting village. An electric heater proved useful at night and in the early morning.
Bathroom facilities comprising shower cubicles, WCs and wash basins were provided on a communal basis. Guests can book a cedar wood bathtub for private use. Facilities were clean and well-maintained.
We had dinner and breakfast at Yokichi. These were astonishing, tasty and home-cooked meals served keiseki style. The region's famous hida beef was served. Meals were consumed in a common dining room where guests sat on tatami mats around low tables placed around a central open hearth. The lady owner introduced all the guests and we enjoyed chatting and dining together. After dinner when we returned to our room, it was already laid out with futons for our night's sleep. To savour the winter night, we ventured outdoors. The streets were dark except for a few street lights and lighting from farm houses.
Although most travel guides mentioned a day's trip to Shirakawa-go, we were smitten by our stay and the magical beauty of Ogimachi. Accommodation with meals was not cheap but the experience was worth it.
The climb uphill to the viewpoint is a must for a panoramic view of the entire village. The viewpoint marks one end of Ogimachi. From here, a leisurely stroll across the village led us uphill along the main street to where the well-photographed gassho-zukuri farm houses are located. The street leads on to the main trunk road. This marks the other end of Ogimachi. In the village are small shops, restaurants, museums and onsens.
Although Yokichi, its rooms, facilities and services are basic by typical hotel standards, they scored high for me and my wife as they showcased the passion of the owner to share a unique lifestyle with her guests. The attention she had put into making our stay exceptional warranted the high ratings. Yokichi offers a truly unique stay experience to complement this unique location.
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