This Picturesque Japanese Village Is One of the Snowiest Places on the Planet

The fairytale hamlet with its thatched-roof huts is a winter wonderland.

Shirakawa-Go Village Snow Winter Snowfall Record Japan
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If your preferred vacation activities lean toward making snow angels in deep drifts and sipping hot cocoa by the fire while pretty white flakes gently swirl outside, put the picturesque Japanese village of Shirakawa-go on your dream travel list.

This mountain hamlet is one of the snowiest spots in Japan — and the world. Shirakawa-go, which literally translates to "white river village," can receive nearly 400 inches of snow annually (that's around 33 feet). In comparison, Syracuse, New York — routinely named one of the United States' snowiest cities — receives closer to 120 inches annually.

Interestingly, the "lake effect" snow we see in the Great Lakes region in North America is amplified in Japan, where there's "ocean effect" snow. Weather patterns blow from Siberia across the (relatively warm) Sea of Japan, creating clouds with lots of moisture. When these clouds enter the higher altitudes of the Japanese Alps, they dump out all the precipitation they've built up in the form of snow.

Shirakawa-Go Village Snow Winter Snowfall Record Japan
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The area's snowfall typically occurs in early December and continues to accumulate until at least late February, according to the Shirakawa-go Tourist Association.

The village is famous for its January and February winter nighttime illuminations of its historic houses covered in snow. This series of weekly "light-ups" is a particularly lovely time to visit, as buildings are illuminated in sync for a couple of hours on certain Sunday nights, making the winter snowglobe scene especially idyllic.

Shirakawa-Go Village Snow Winter Snowfall Record Japan
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Shirakawa-go's climate actually had a hand in UNESCO designating the village, along with neighboring Gokayama, a World Heritage Site. The villages' steeply pitched, thatched-roof huts were specifically designed to withstand heavy amounts of snowfall, and some date back 250 years.

Shirakawa-Go Village Snow Winter Snowfall Record Japan
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More than 100 of these Ghasso-style buildings remain today, and UNESCO notes they are the only examples of their kind in Japan. Centuries ago, families would live in the unusually shaped homes on the lower level, and then up in the rafters, they'd raise silkworms for their trade. "The Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are outstanding examples of traditional human settlements that are perfectly adapted to their environment and their social and economic raison d'être," notes the UNESCO website.

Shirakawa-Go Village Snow Winter Snowfall Record Japan
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Because of its solitary location, surrounded by mountains on all sides and shut off to the rest of the world before modern transportation, villagers here developed not only this unusual type of architecture but also a strong sense of community.

Shirakawa-Go Village Snow Winter Snowfall Record Japan
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Experience the local hospitality on a visit to Shirakawa-go, located in north-central Japan. You can reach the village via bus or train from major cities. Be sure to pack warm winter clothing and sturdy footwear to visit this magical, historic village in the winter months. And if bundling up isn't your thing, other seasons are equally inviting as the area erupts in pink cherry blossoms in the spring, lush greenery in the summer, and changing leaves in the fall.

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