Between our major stays in Tokyo and Kyoto we wished to see a little bit more of the countryside 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 completely 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 completely 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 connected 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 little 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!
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.
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.
Happy to be in Ainokura after a rather long trip! The only way to get to the village is walking this pretty green path.
This was the first time we saw Ainokura, a precious vision.
Goyomon’s living room, having a matcha tea next to the floor hearth.
Our beds folded. When we returned from our walk ready to have dinner, our sweet hostess had already made them.
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 :)
Rice fields in Ainokura.
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.
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.
Amazing sleeves or what? :) Of course I was all the night spreading wings like this.
Apparently the daughter of our hostess was a national champ with this traditional percussion instrument, and she showed us a recording of her finale.
The next morning we had the traditional breakfast with lots of Japanese pickled veggies.
Luckily the rain had stopped for the next day, and we took tons of pictures of the town!
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 :)
The straw is drying to mendle the roofs when necessary.
Can you read Goyomon in the sign? Saying good-bye to our home for those two wonderful days.
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.