|Centrip Editorial Board

Shirakawago Light-up: Reservations, Observation Deck Tickets, & Directions

When one thinks of the Japanese countryside Shirakawa-go (白川郷) comes to mind. Most people think of the village of Shirakawa (白川村/Shirakawa mura) in the Ono district (大野郡/Ono Gun) but the Gassho-zukuri (合掌造り - a wooden house with a steep thatched roof) and the surrounding area of Gokayama (五箇山) are registered together as part of the Shirakawa-go World Heritage Site. The most famous area of Shirakawa-go is the Gassho-zukuri, named so because the shape of the roofs mirrors that of two hands coming together.

In some areas of Shirakawa-go, the altitude is high, and the temperature is low, resulting in a higher than average annual rate of snowfall. This leaves a pure white blanket of snow over the old village creating a golden aura of light reflected off of the snow in the evening light. Setting an incredibly romantic scene.

Shirakawago is a world cultural heritage site and can be visited at any time of year, but the light-up events only occur six times a year. It's an experience to be treasured but you can only participate with a reservation. So we have gathered all the information you'll need to see the 2020 Shirakawa-go Light-up, check it out!

2020 Light-up Dates

The light-ups in 2020 are held three times in both January and February when the heavy snows fall. The light-up lasts from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.

Times Dates Light-up Time
1st January 13 (Mon) 17:30-19:30
2nd January 19 (Sun)
3rd January 26 (Sun)
4th February 2 (Sun)
5th February 9 (Sun)
6th February 16 (Sun)

How to participate in the 2020 Light-up

Many tourists like to visit during the light-up event, but because Shirakawa-go is a small village, there are often problems such as tourists not being able to enter until after the lighting ends because of limited parking space. The Shirakawa-go Tourist Association has made reservations for light-up activities mandatory since 2019, aiming to improve the experience for everyone. So be aware you cannot enter the village without a reservation during the light-up period!

So how do you participate in the light-up event? Centrip Japan has put together a brief explanation of the 5 ways to participate.

1.Overnight Village Stay (registration begins August 1–31, by lottery system)

From August 1–31, 2019, the Shirakawa-go Tourist Association will accept applications for an overnight village stay during the event period and will draw from among the applicants. By September 10 the Tourism Association will contact people who have been selected, those who have not been selected will not be contacted.

Cancellation or changes after applying are not possible, so only one representative per group of customers can apply at a time. People making duplicate applications will be disqualified.

Many tourists like to visit during the light-up event, but because Shirakawa-go is a small village, there are often problems such as tourists not being able to enter until after the lighting ends because of limited parking space. The Shirakawa-go Tourist Association has made reservations for light-up activities mandatory since 2019, aiming to improve the experience for everyone. So be aware you cannot enter the village without a reservation during the light-up period!

2. Coming By Car (open during September. First-come-first-served basis)

In the middle of September after reservations for accommodation in the village are announced, reservations for parking permits from Shirakawa-go will be available on a first-come-first-served basis. Be careful if you reserve a space and need to cancel as there are no refunds.

Parking fee: ¥4,000 yen per car (1-10 seats/car)
Observatory entrance fee: ¥1,000 yen

3. Travel Agency Tours (announced at the end of August)

If you want to take a tour you can book a bus trip provided by travel agencies like HIS, Meitetsu World Travel, and Nippon Travel Agency. If you are interested, please visit their sites.

4. Light-up bus (applications start on August 20. First-come-first-served basis)

Unlike during normal periods, during the light-up period, only travel agency approved tour buses run at night, general buses run until 5:30 pm. Reservations are required for tour buses.

The tour buses are similar to a one-day tour. People who take tour buses must take the same bus when returning as when they arrived, and some buses are provided only until dinner. Currently, companies that operate dedicated buses are Nohi, Kaetsuno, and Toyama Regional Railway. All three bus companies operate from 11 am (Japan local time) on August 20, 2020. You can see their schedules online.

5. Taxi (open during September. First-come-first-served basis)

The procedure for coming by taxi is the same as by car. First, reserve a parking space, get parking permission, and contact a taxi company to reserve a taxi. If you can't drive and want to have a fun trip around Shirakawa-go that isn't tied to the bus schedule, you should first get a parking permit and then book a taxi.

How to purchase an observation deck ticket

If you want to take pictures of the entire village of Shirakawago, you have to climb up to the observatory of Shirakawago!
You can usually walk to the observatory on foot, but in winter the sidewalk is closed and a shuttle bus is required. Tickets are not sold to the observatory during the light-up period, so you can only get tickets the following three ways.

1. Overnight village stay (Be sure to get an observation deck ticket)
2. Buy a parking permit (Observation deck tickets are not always available)

When you get a parking permit, you can choose a combination of parking permit & observation deck ticket or parking permit. Since there is a limit to the number of parking permits & observatory tickets, it is not possible to reach the observatory by only purchasing a parking permit.

3. Light-up bus (Observation deck tickets are not always available)

Some buses may or may not have an observatory ticket, so check in advance.

For those who are not participating in the light-up event

Even if you do not participate in the light-up event, you can visit Shirakawago during the day before the light-up event begins. However, tourists who do not participate in the light-up must leave the village by 3 pm, parking is only available until 1 pm, and the observation deck closes at 3 pm. Sightseeing at Shirakawa-go takes about 3 hours, so please visit with that in mind.

Normal transportation

If you would like to go to Shirakawa-go in addition to taking part in the light-up event, please refer to the Centrip Japan article:

Things to keep in mind

The light-up is held in January and February, and it is very cold in Shirakawa-go. My friend wore a shirt under their jacket before leaving, but even that wasn't enough, they said it was so cold they thought they would die! Also, be sure to fully charge your mobile phone or camera for all those photos!
Also, since it is a residential zone, drones cannot be flown.

Click here if you want to know Shirakawa-go's best locations and souvenirs

Wrap-up

The Shirakawa-go Light-Up is one of the big seasonal events in the Chubu region, it's worth checking out, so if you are interested in the 2020 Shirakawago Light-up, book now!

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