555km (347 miles) NW of Tokyo.With its thatched-roof farmhouses, paddies trimmed with flower beds, roaring river, and pine-covered mountains rising on all sides, Shirakawa-go is one of the most picturesque regions in Japan. Unfortunately, it also has more than its fair share of tour buses (especially in May, Aug, and Oct), with about 1.8 million visitors annually. Still, because of its rather remote location, accessible only by car or bus, Shirakawa-go remains off the beaten path for most foreign tourists. A visit to this rural region could well be the highlight of your trip.
Although Shirakawa-go stretches about 39km (24 miles) beside the Shokawa River and covers 229 sq. km (88 sq. miles), mountains and forest account for 95% of the region, and Shirakawa-go's 1,800 residents and cultivated land are squeezed into a valley averaging less than 3km (2 miles) in width. Thus, land in Shirakawa-go for growing rice and other crops has always been scarce and valuable. As a result, farmhouses were built large enough to hold extended families, with as many as several dozen family members living under one roof. Because there wasn't enough land available for young couples to marry and build houses of their own, only the eldest son was allowed to marry; the other children were required to spend their lives living with their parents and helping with the farming. But even though younger children weren't allowed to marry, a man was allowed to choose a young woman, visit her in her parents' home, and father her children. The children then remained with the mother's family, becoming valuable members of the labor force