Japan: Ainokura

Between our major stays in Tokyo and Kyoto we wished to see a little bit more of the countriside of Japan. We first doubted between an onsen (onsens are hot springs in japanese) or the gassho-zukuri region (traditional homes made with wood and straw), but were completly decided when we saw pictures from Shirakawago (Ogimachi). It looked like a dream town, and Ainokura certainly was!

Ainokura is a small little village in the Gokanyama district which is known for being one of the World heritage site gassho-zukuri towns. It is smaller than Ogimachi and was our second choice after we learnt that the first one was completly fully booked for the night. However, at that time we didn’t know how lucky we were to change towns!

While Ogimachi is bigger (more houses to visit) and easily conected by bus it certainly is 100 times more crowded so it loses a little bit the charm of being “lost” in the countryside. On the other side Ainokura is the perfect gorgeous place in the middle of the mountains, but a little more hard to get to.

The morning of our trip to Ainokura started in Shibuya at 5:25 and ended in the afternoon at 14:00. The long trip included a JR train to Shinagawa, 100 minute drive with the Hikari shinkansen train to Nagoya (the bullet train), another 150 minute drive with the JR Hida Ltd Express to Takayama (with excellent views! take a window seat), and finally two buses, one to Shirakawago and the other one from there to Ainokura itself. Now you can see why I was mentioning that it was quite hard to get to :) Minus the buses everything is included with the Japan Rail Pass, which was very convenient!

Bonus tip: If you are planning your trip to Ainokura take into account that there are only 3 or 4 buses per day from Shirakawago, so better plan all the previous considering this bus timetable and that you are required to be in your minshuku (traditional bed & breakfast) before 17:00.

One of the most incredible experiences in Ainokura is that you are able to spend a night (and only a single one is allowed) in one of the gassho-zukuri farmhouses that are now working as minshukus. The stay includes both traditional dinner and breakfast.

We chose the Goyomon house for our stay, our lovely hostess made us very welcome and prepared the most delicious homemade dinner. I was specially surprised by both the grilled brook trout prepared in the living room hearth, and the koi (carp) sashimi. Soups and vegetable tempura were so good too!

The day we arrived we met our hostess whom welcomed with matcha tea and cookies, and left our bags in our room in order to have a litte walk before having dinner. Our friend Carlos recommended us to send our baggage from the Tokyo to the Kyoto hotel directly with a very common post service all hotels in Japan seem to offer. This was excellent as it allowed us to travel the large trip quite light (we had only 2 backpacks with us with the things we needed to spend one night) and the next day we arrived to our Kyoto hotel in the evening with our bags already stored in our room, which was quite a luxury :) for a good price (sending 2 big bags with next-day express service was like 20€). So, we extend our friend advice for all of you travelling to Japan with a similar itinerary.

There are two main routes in Ainokura, one through the town, and the other a panoramic view route climbing a small part of the mountain on the right side. During the second one you will be able to take the most iconic pictures of the town. We saw very few visitors in the town, and some locals, which is noticeable in the pictures, most of the times we felt completly on our own in one of the most gorgeous places in earth (maybe being in our honeymoon may have maximized my feelings ;) ). Bonus tip: Visitors can’t come to the town before 10:00 so take advantage of this extra privacy if you spend the night in one of the wonderful inns.

We made the reservation for the Goyomon thanks to the people in the Japanese Guest houses website. You will fill in a form with your preferences and they will come back to you with a confirmation of your request or (as in our case) with an alternative. We thank Vincent for leading us to Ainokura and the Goyomon! Reservations for the guest houses in the region were only available with a phone call and only in Japanese, that’s why it is so important the (free) service given by the Japanese Guest houses website.

Hope you like the pictures and that they show how Ainokura is the most gorgeous place we have ever visited! and the absolutely perfect alternative to Shirakawago. Read the comments between pictures to get more details about our visit!

Shirakawago bridge

The only way to visit Shirakawago is by crossing this long bridge, we had to run it shouting “sumimaseeeeeen” (sooorry) to get the bus for Ainokura :) that leaves from the middle of the town.

Shirakawago bridge Damaris Ainokura bus stop

This is the bus stop in Ainokura, yes it is just like it seems in the middle of the motorway :) across the road there is also a parking for cars.

Ainokura walking path

Happy to be in Ainokura after a rather long trip! The only way to get to the village is walking this pretty green path.

Ainokura first view

This was the first time we saw Ainokura, a precious vision.

Goyomon living room

Goyomon’s living room, having a matcha tea next to the floor hearth.

Dani with Goyomon hearth Goyomon living room Damaris at Goyomon living room Goyomon welcome cookies Goyomon living room Goyomon room doors Damaris Goyomon room Goyomon futon

Our beds folded. When we returned from our walk ready to have dinner, our sweet hostess had already made them.

Goyomon street Damaris Ainoukura rain

That first afternoon it was raining so we had to manage to cover both the camera and ourselves, pictures were a little trickier and risky :)

Ainokura streets Dani Ainokura raining Ainokura rice fields

Rice fields in Ainokura.

Damaris Ainokura raining Ainokura green Ainokura house detail Dani at Ainokura house entrance Ainokura primitive house Damaris hello kitty feet Damaris umbrella Ainokura house Goyomon hearth Goyomon trout Damaris seating Goyomon dinner Goyomon dinner

Traditional dinner minus the trout which was still being cooked in the hearth. If you are wondering, we ate the trout using the same stick in which is cooked.

Goyomon futon Dani samurai

After taking a bath we were recommended to use the Yukata, the traditional night gown which includes three pieces, the dress, a belt and a large cape. The other Japanese guest in the house also was wearing his Yukata, so although it looked touristy in us, in fact Japanese did not seem to think so.

Damaris yukata Dani yukata Damaris yukata

Amazing sleeves or what? :) Of course I was all the night spreading wings like this.

Goyomon Goyomon traditional instrument

Apparently the daughter of our hostess was a national champ with this traditional percussion instrument, and she showed us a recording of her finale.

Goyomon breakfast

The next morning we had the traditional breakfast with lots of Japanese pickled veggies.

Ainokura view

Luckily the rain had stopped for the next day, and we took tons of pictures of the town!

Damaris jump Ainokura view Ainokura house Ainokura trees detail Ainokura village people

We were talking with this adorable lady for quite a long time. We think she was telling us some legends of the town taking her gesticulation and a few words as reference :)

Ainokura straw

The straw is drying to mendle the roofs when necessary.

Ainokura top of the roof Ainokura umbrellas Ainokura sign Ainokura streets Damaris Ainokura Damaris Goyomon street Goyomon sign Dani Goyomon sign

Can you read Goyomon in the sign? Saying good-bye to our home for those two wonderful days.

Ainokura shop

The only shop in town which was a grocery, restaurant and souvenir shop, all at the same time. Beneath you can see the giant raddish available in the grocery shop.

Ainokura raddish

7 Comments / 8 

  1. LeeLee - 2nd July 2013

    Great post. Japan looks amazing.

  2. Louise - 2nd July 2013

    I am so happy for you, and just a tad bit jealous. It’s been 3 years since I last went to Japan and I’ve only been to the major cities (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe). But I’m still hoping to go back. Seeing a great old town I just can’t wait to hop on the plane again.

    I love your photos, and the writing that you did. You guys must’ve been a brilliant time! I’m definitely going to dig into your archives!

    • We reply...

      We did have a terrific time! :) I miss those days so much. We did not have the chance to visit neither Osaka nor Kobe, hope next time (fingers crossed is near) we can explore more of the country.

  3. Lionel and Marie - 28th July 2013

    Wonderful blog and pictures ! Congratulation.

    We’re planning to get to Ainokura bi mid-August. Your post is definitely full of pricious information. Thanks for that.
    But still there is one technical question : how do you leave Ainokura ? :) Do you know especially if we can catch the Nouhi bus to get directly to Kanazawa?

    Thanks,
    Cheers,
    Lionel

    • We reply...

      Thanks!!! You should definitely go to Ainokura ;)

      We took the Kaetsuno bus back to Ogimachi (Shirakawago) and there a Nohi bus to Kanazawa (1h 15min).

      :)

  4. Yury - 30th June 2014

    Just wonderful.. I found this blog when trawling through tripadvisor on Ainokura and followed your link. I have a question about timings because I am considering following your foot steps in November ;-). So you arrived at Ainokura at around 2pm, spent the night there, and then at what time did you leave the next day for Kyoto? And at what time did you arrive in Kyoto?
    Regards,
    Yuy

    • We reply...

      Thanks Yury! :) How great that you are travelling to Ainoukura during fall! Wish you the best time there, it is so pretty, I would go back there in a heartbeat. I checked in my travel diary and we left Ainokura at 11:18am with the Kaetsuno bus to Ogimachi (Shirakawago). We arrived at Ogimachi at 12:04 and seized that chance to walk around a little and buy some ice creams and mochi (yumm), we then took the 13:50 Nohi bus from Ogimachi central station to Kanazawa. We arrived at Kanazawa at 15:05 to take the following JR train, which was the LTd Express, to Kyoto station at 16:01 (arriving at 18:09).

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