The main reason for the steep roofs and massive structure of Shirakawago's farmhouses is the large amount of snow the region receives every winter. Ogimachi Village typically gets covered by one to two meters of snow during the peak of the white season. While causing the locals quite a bit of hardship, the snow turns Shirakawago into an idyllic winter landscape.
To make it even better, the village organizes special illumination events on selected Sunday and Monday evenings in January and February that attract plenty of tourists. During the light-up event, many of the village's gassho-zukuri farmhouses are lit up from 17:30 to 19:30.
In 2021, the event was cancelled due to the coronavirus.
Because the number of visitors to the light-up event has grown too large in recent years, the number of visitors allowed into the village is now limited in order to avoid overcrowding and traffic jams and to ensure a safe and pleasant experience for all visitors. It is mandatory for everybody to get an advance reservation in order to visit the village during the light-up events. Below are the three possible ways to visit:
- Visit by bus tour
Multiple tour companies offer bus tours for seeing the light-up event. Some of them simply provide a chartered bus for access from Takayama, Kanazawa, Toyama or Takaoka and back, while others include an overnight stay (usually in Takayama). Advance reservations should be made directly through the bus companies or travel agencies. The time period when reservations are accepted depends on the company and tour. In past years, many started selling their packages from around October. Some of the tours include a ticket for the shuttle bus to the Shiroyama Viewpoint.
- Visit by car
Visiting the event by car requires an advance online reservation for a parking lot. In past years, a first round of advance reservations was accepted from August, and the remaining parking lots were sold on a first-come first-serve basis. Some visitors accessing Shirakawago by car are able to purchase tickets for the shuttle bus to the Shiroyama Viewpoint (1000 yen per ticket). Winter tires and winter driving skills are required to access Shirakawago in winter by car.
- Stay Overnight
The best way to enjoy the light-up event is by staying overnight at one of the farmhouses in the village. Because of the limited number of rooms, a lottery-based reservation system is in place for many of the local lodgings. Overnight visitors get the privilege of a parking lot and a shuttle bus ride to the Shiroyama Viewpoint.
Note that visiting the light-up event by regular bus is not possible, because the last buses of the day depart Shirakawago before the start of the light-up event. Also, note that visiting by taxi requires the reservation of a parking lot (see under "Visit by car" above).
Just like during daytime, the Shiroyama Viewpoint is one of the best places to enjoy the sight of the village. However, due to limited space, the only way to access the viewpoint during the light-up event is with a pre-purchased ticket for the shuttle buses that depart from the village center. Tickets cost 1000 yen and can be purchased in combination with a parking lot reservation or are included in selected bus tour packages. Same-day tickets are not sold, and the walking trail to the viewpoint is closed during the event.
Visitors to Shirakawago note that the temperature usually drops to far below freezing during the light-up event, and that roads and trails are covered by snow and sometimes ice. Appropriate clothing, face protection and sturdy shoes are required. Some parts of the village are, furthermore, not well lit with dangerous, uncovered water canals flanking the trails. To reduce the burden on the small village, all tourists are also asked to carry home any garbage they produce.