Explore Central Honshu
The last of the three World Heritage Site villages, and perhaps the loveliest, is AINOKURA (相倉), 4km further north of Kaminashi. The bus will drop you on the main road, a five-minute walk from the village, which nestles on a hillside and will not take you more than an hour to look around – make sure you hike up the hill behind the main car park for a great view. You could also while away a little more time in the Ainokura Minzoku-kan (相倉民族館; daily 8.30am–5pm; ¥200), a tiny museum of daily life, including examples of the area’s handmade paper and toys.
Appealing as it is, Ainokura’s charms can be all but obscured as you battle past yet another group of camera-toting day-trippers. To experience the village at its best stay overnight, making sure you reserve well in advance – they don’t like people just showing up here. Seven of the gasshō-zukuri offer lodging, including Nakaya (なかや) and Goyomon (五ヨ門). If you’re just visiting for the day, Matsuya (まつや), serving soba, tempura and sweets, is a friendly place for lunch and they’ll look after your bags while you wander around.
If you’re heading to Ainokura from the Sea of Japan coast, take a train from Takaoka to Jōhana (城端), where you can pick up the bus to the Gokayama area.