Shirakawago Village: A Real Life Horror Anime

This is the creepiest yet most beautiful place I've ever visited...
"Horror" in anime is a topic that is not often discussed by many fanatics of the medium, but it's a genre of anime that is my absolute personal favorite. I've discussed its complexity in numerous videos on my YouTube channel and was ecstatic to find out that I had a chance to visit one of the real life rural towns that built the setting for one of the most infamous and creepy horror anime to be released in recent years: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (When They Cry). I've always known about the real life location of this anime and always dreamed of going, as it's not only a personal favorite anime series but is also one of the most unique and picturesque settings of an anime I have seen in a long time. But it was a long way to go from my small apartment in Tokyo; I knew the travel was going to be long but certainly worth it. These are my experiences with the hidden village of the mountains... Shirakawago.

From Tokyo To Gifu

The first big hurdle was to make it from Tokyo all the way to the Gifu Prefecture, which was not an easy feat. Especially considering that this would be my first time to Gifu and that the village itself was in the middle of nowhere. There were a number of ways we could have gone, but we decided on the more simpler path of abullet train from Tokyo to Nagoya (Aichi prefecture) followed by the specialized Gifu Bus service that ran directly from Nagoya to Shirakawago itself. The Gifu Bus was very handy as there were many services running to and from the Shirakawago area every day, with the bus itself stopping by in scenic areas like Gujo Hachiman and the mountain ranges of Gifu. If that doesn't seem like a path you'd like to take, there are some other options marked on the image below that could also be taken (although prices and times may greatly differ depending on the route).
We took the JR Tokaido Shinkansen to Nagoya, followed by the blue line to Shirakawago. After a 2 hour bus ride, we finally arrived at Shirakawago Village. The village itself is also listed as a world heritage site, with many anime (and of course, non-anime) fans flocking from all over the country to bear witness to the beautiful greenery and almost mysterious and mythical feeling of the village itself. It almost didn't seem real at first; especially coming from a city kid like myself, it was the type of view you would only ever see in historical movies and old Japanese folklores. But as soon as I got the camera rolling, it was anime hunting time.

Shirakawago Sites Used in "Higurashi no Naku Koro ni"

The coolest thing about Shirakawago when talking about the anime Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is that there aren't simply just a few sites and buildings that were used. In fact, the entire village (as well as a few neighbouring villages in it's entirety) were used to set the world of the anime. So you could literally look in any direction and as long as you knew the anime well enough, you could almost always recognize it being used in a background of a conversation or as some kind of establishing shot. But here are just a few comparative shots I took in my video.
From the top of the Shirakawago Observatory
A familiar view of the entire valley town (used in multiple shots)
A shot from the infamous "Uso da!" scene
On the large hill up towards the Shirakawago Observatory
Furude Shrine
Scene where Keichi finds Rika's body at the shrine
Stairs towards the main temple
Front shot of Furude Shrine
Rika's house (in real life, it's an actual property with people living in it)
Rika's house (from a different angle)
River shot from the opening to Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni: Kai (Season 2)
Different angle of the same opening shot (the anime is certainly a lot greener)

We unfortunately couldn't get to see a number of notable shots from the anime (e.g. Keichi's house, which was situated in the neighboring village we had no access to at the time) but regardless of whether you are a fan of gruesome horror anime like Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (or not), Shirakawago is still a big recommendation for those who want to truly experience a genuine rural Japanese town. The town's many eat-ins and gift stores also come jam packed with all sorts of goodies exclusive to that town and prefecture. I would definitely like to come back to maybe visit a few of the neighboring towns to see how simiilar or different it is to this town or the others. Let's just hope I didn't bring home the curse from this town...
If you'd like to see our travels to Shirakawago in video form, check out this little video montage I put together.