Last weekend we decided to escape from Tokyo for a long weekend & our trip took us west, then north, and up into the Japan Alps to Gifu prefecture.
We spent the first night in Hidayu in an onsen (hot springs spa) enjoying the hot natural spring waters bath inside the onsen as well as the "rotenburo" (outdoor bath).
On Sunday we drove to Takayama (http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5900.html) & walked around the old town & from there we went further into the mountains to Shirakawa where we stayed in the Toyota Eco-Institute (http://www.toyota.co.jp/en/community_care/sirakawa-go/index02.html)
This is a great place for nature hikes with good quality western style rooms, a decent restaurant (the head waiter is a bit of a wine expert - ask him for some good choices), and a nice hot springs ofuro (bath) - both inside & rotenburo style. They even remind you that you are in the middle of nature and you're probably going to find a few bugs floating in the rotenburo. As the sign (in English, as many of the institute's signs are), just scoop them out with the net - they won't hurt you!
When we woke up on Monday there was about 5 inches of fresh snow, but by the time we drove down the mountain at 10:00 it had melted from the road. At the bottom of the mountain we came to Shirakawago, a village of thatched roof houses that became a world heritage site in 1995. You can read more at http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5950.html
These houses were built about 200 years ago. We toured one where the 6th generation of the family still lives. The houses were built in this valley to keep their gunpowder making, which was an illegal activity, secret. They made gunpowder from the feces of the silkworms they raised in the top floor, plus human urine, plus a couple of other ingredients.
We have seen pictures of these houses many times with snow on their roofs and lights glowing from the shoji covered windows. That is only done during the "light up" which runs for about 7 weeks starting in January. While not as pretty a sight as those picture it was still quite lovely to see the thatched roof houses with snow melting on the roofs and steam rising from the melting snow.
The thatch on the roofs are changed every few decades and to our surprise we found out it only takes about two days to change a roof. Of course, it also involves the helping hands of around 200 people - all neighbors - who pitch in to help each other at no charge to their neighbors.
If you're in Japan and want a memorable site to visit then Shirakawago is definitely on the recommended list.