Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, also known as When They Cry, is known to be an endless bloodbath with yangire girls and bone chilling curses. There is so much going on in this horrific anime, but have you ever given much thought to the village of Hinamizawa? Hinamizawa is the host village of the Hinamizawa syndrome, known for creating excessive anxiety and paranoia that drives our main characters to the brink of insanity. Who would want to visit Hinamizawa with the threat of the Hinamizawa syndrome over their heads? Everyone would, of course!
For all you Higurashi no Naku Koro ni fans out there, Hinamizawa is based on a real village in Japan called Shirakawa-go. Shirakawa-go is an UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its gassho-zukuri, or triangle-shaped roofs, houses that have been standing for over two and half centuries. Gassho-zukuri refers to the way the roofs appear similar to a Buddhist monk’s hands during prayer. This design allows for farmers to raise silkworms in the attic even during the winter and decrease the amount of snow that piles up on the roof.
Although Shirakawa-go is known for its past and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the history, you will have no trouble equating the village to its fictional clone, Hinamizawa. The village residents may not be so keen on its relation to such a gruesome anime, but anime fans all around will love this site nonetheless!
|Cost of Admission||There is no cost of admission for Shirakawa-go, but a bus ticket must be purchased either at the bus center or it can be done online. Please make note that seat reservations must also be made either at the bus center or by phone.|
|Hours of Operation||There are no set hours of operation for Shirakawa-go, although one should be mindful about the bus schedule and their accommodations.|
|Official Website (If available)|
Once you get off the bus in Shirakawa-go, you will feel as if you were transported back in time to a period when things were simpler. The houses seem to be untouched by the advancement of humankind, unlike many of the cities in Japan. It is not crowded nor overrun by tourists who get in the way of every image you try to capture. It is a merely simple place, allowing you to enjoy the greenery that you just cannot experience in major tourist sites in Japan.
Depending on what season you go, you will get to experience a different Shirakawa-go. In Spring and Summer, much of the plants are a bold green, giving the village the color of life. In Fall, the leaves change colors and paint the village a crisp red. Yet, it is Winter that seems to bring out the true feel of Shirakawa-go. It is the time when the snow has blanketed the ground and layered on the roofs of the gassho-zukuri. This is the season you can truly appreciate the gassho-zukuri!
Now, gather some courage, as you must cross the rope bridge to access the village. You may worry about the bridge, but it is very stable. Once you step off the bridge, you will be met with the sight of dozens of gassho-zukuri houses! Take your time to stroll through the streets. It can be quite relaxing since Shirakawa-go is not like the metropolis that is Tokyo. Here, you can just enjoy the scenery at your own pace!
As you walk along, you can stop at the shrine that is in the village or take a look at the various gassho-zukuri houses. There are even a few shops you can enter. If you follow the pathway, you can find the short hike which will take you to the overlook. The hike may seem steep, but it should not take long. The hike itself will take about 10 minutes, if even that. Once you reach the overlook, you get a wonderful view of the village! With such a picturesque view, you cannot help but feel that there is an eerie calm in this village.
Shirakawa-go may seem very quiet at first, but there is plenty to see and experience, especially if you visit as a Higurashi no Naku Koro ni fan. If you walk around Shirakawa-go, you can see some familiar places such as Rika and Satoko’s house, the waterwheel, and the shrine. Walk around and see how much you can recognize. You would be very surprised!
Shirakawa-go is not the type of place to go to if you are looking for a fast paced type of vacation. It is not a place where you rush through everything within a few hours. Shirakawa-go is a place for you to absorb in the countryside; enjoy the nature that you do not get much of in the city. Cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are busy and fast paced, but they are not representations of the entire country of Japan as a whole. If you want to see another side of Japan, you can find a piece of it here in Shirakawa-go.
If you have made up your mind to visit Shirakawa-go, it is important to note that a bus ticket has to be purchased and a seat reservation has to be made. For those who cannot speak Japanese to call and do so themselves, this can always be done at the bus center. You are technically able to get a seat reservation and bus ticket on the day of your trip, however there may be no availabilities that day or no return bus, although many people who do visit Shirakawa-go opt to stay overnight in the village in one of the gassho-zukuri houses! Others will visit Shirakawa-go on the way to Takayama from Kanazawa or vise versa.
For those of you who are concerned about scheduling, just buy your ticket and make your reservation the day before! If you really enjoy Shirakawa-go, you can also take a separate bus to go to Gokayama, which has the gassho-zukuri houses but tends to be more secluded in comparison to Shirakawa-go. Bus centers usually do have some English speaking staff so purchasing the tickets should not be an issue. In Toyama, Kanazawa, and Takayama, the bus centers are located right next to the JR stations.
In Winter, on select weekends, the gassho-zukuri houses will be lit up at night. It is another great reason to visit in Winter! Japan loves their omiyage and if you want to purchase some to take home, you may want to consider buying Sarubobo! Sarubobo is a mascot of the Gifu prefecture, which Shirakawa-go is located in. Sarubobo comes in different colors, each representing a different area in which people would like luck in like fertility and health! Although, if Sarubobo isn’t your thing, you can always pick up Shirakawa-go themed Hello Kitty or Rilakkuma accessories! You’ll find them in almost every one of the omiyage shops.
Maybe you are more interested in the region’s local specialty. Shirakawa-go has a soba and udon restaurant, but if you are hungry, you can’t just leave Gifu prefecture without trying Hide beef! In Shirakawa-go, you can find Hide beef skewers as well as croquettes. There are also other foods such as agemochi and of course, senbei (rice crackers)! Shirakawa-go has many shops that sell senbei, a favorite omiyage to take home.
While you walk around Shirakawa-go, you may also have some fun spotting the small details that prove that the village has advanced on with the rest of civilization. Yes, the village has an old feel to it, but if you look carefully, you can spot things like a stuffed Doraemon peeking through the curtains of a home or a satellite dish hanging on the roof of one of the historic gassho-zukuri homes. It just shows that you can’t keep society from progressing with the times, even though you try to preserve as much of the heritage as possible.
As a UNESCO World Heritge site, Shirakawa-go is one destination you should not hesitate to visit. Right now, Shirakawa-go is not the busy tourist attraction that many other cities are, but who knows what will happen in the future? If you are not keen on exploring the history and wonder that is Japan, you can still get excited seeing all of the settings that resemble Hinamizawa. It is your chance to be a fangirl or fanboy. Shirakawa-go may seem like a small, quiet village but you will be surprised by how much you may actually enjoy the village. Just please do not bring the Hinamizawa syndrome back home!