I timed my arrival perfectly in the traditional village of Ainokura—right after the tour buses had departed. That allowed me to walk into the village and experience it as it was (and still is, in many ways) for centuries: remote, peaceful, and very quiet. A few people who must have arrived via car still wandered around but there was almost no sound. Just the wind moving through the trees, across the rice paddies, and over the traditional gassho-zukuri thatched roofs.
Located in a remote mountain valley, Ainokura is the most remote of three villages that make up the Historic Villages of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama, a UNESCO World Heritage site located on the border of Gifu and Toyama Prefectures on the northern side of the island of Honshu. The uniqueness of the grass-roof architectural style and the quiet, well-preserved environment is what draws people to the villages. But most come as part of bus tours, and don’t stay overnight. I spent the night in a traditional inn—and it was so worth it.
How to Get There
The local authority operates a bus line that connects everything quite well, including to several JR stations. I was coming from the south after a couple of days in the Japanese Alps so I caught a Nouhi bus from Takayama to Shirakawa-gō where I switched to the local line to Ainokura. From the bus stop on the road, it was a few minutes to walk down to the village.
Leaving Ainokura the next day, I simply continued the bus trip to Shin-Takaoka on the Shinkinsen where I continued (via a literally eight minute train ride) to Toyama.
Where to Say
The only options are traditional farmhouses—but that’s exactly why you want to stay here! I used Japanese Guest Houses and was super happy with my accommodation, a farmhouse being used as a minshuku (traditional inn) with a quiet, traditional atmosphere, and the classic dining room with an open fire pit in the floor.
What to Do
Not much! Relax and wander around. Soak up the atmosphere. Enjoy the views. Walk up to the overlook to really get a sense of the layout. Visit the small village gift shop for snacks, crafts and a drink in one of the most pleasant places you’ll ever be. Learn how to make washi paper. And visit the local museum for more history and detail on how the homes are constructed and how the villagers have lived for centuries.