Enjoy the Forest that Coexists with Shirakawa-go to the Fullest: Toyota Shirakawa-go Eco-Institute

~ The catchphrase is "Wild and Smile: Let's Go Outside on Sunny Days" ~

Toyota Shirakawa-go Eco-Institute, located in Shirakawa Village, Gifu Prefecture, is a spacious facility approximately 37 times the size of Tokyo Dome. It is an accommodation that offers a wide variety of activities enjoyable for both adults and children.

This time, we had the opportunity to hear from Mr. Kurosaka, Manager of the Planning and Sales Department at Toyota Shirakawa-go Eco-Institute, who shared the charm of the facility in great detail.

Table of contents

● The Birth Story of Toyota Shirakawa-go Eco-Institute

-Please tell us about the background and history of how this facility came into existence.

In the Magoari area of Shirakawa Village, where Toyota Shirakawa-go Eco-Institute is located, there used to be a thatched-roof village with people's livelihoods. However, during the period of rapid economic growth, the harsh living conditions and the inconvenience of transportation in heavy snow regions led to a gradual departure of residents, and in 1973, there was a mass exodus from the village. Subsequently, Toyota acquired the land and utilized it mainly as a recreational facility for employees, particularly during the summer. However, in 1981, due to the impact of heavy snow, all the buildings, except for one thatched-roof house where the manager lived, collapsed.

For nearly 20 years, the land remained unused, but discussions arose in Shirakawa Village about finding a way to make use of it. Additionally, the growing awareness of environmental issues in society, triggered in part by the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, played a role in inspiring the concept of an environmental education facility. Through collaboration between Toyota and environmental NGOs, the idea for the facility took shape.

At that time, Toyota was coincidentally launching the world's first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, the Prius, and the timing seemed perfect. As a result, a plan was developed to open the Toyota Shirakawa-go Eco-Institute in conjunction with the 2005 Aichi Expo. The intention was to make it accessible to the general public and to foster an increased environmental consciousness among visitors.

Currently, the Toyota Shirakawa-go Eco-Institute is operated by the NPO Shirakawago Nature Coexistence Forum, which was established through a collaborative effort involving the local government (Shirakawa Village), the corporation (Toyota), and environmental NGOs. The institute operates under a commission from Toyota Motor Corporation.

Furthermore, it is positioned within Toyota's "TOYOTA ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGE2050," which sets goals for the year 2050, specifically as part of CHALLENGE 6: "Challenging for a Future where People and Nature Coexist."

● Characteristics of Toyota Shirakawa-go Eco-Institute

-Please tell us about the characteristics of this facility.

Located approximately 10 minutes by car from the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirakawa-go Gassho Village, this facility is surrounded by vast and abundant forests, boasting a privileged natural environment with clean air and pristine water.

There are two main features. The first is that it is a "lodging-type experiential facility" accessible to everyone, from children to adults. We believe that "outdoor nature experiences can serve as an educational platform for children and simultaneously provide healing and rejuvenation for adults." During children's camps, diverse interactions and activities with peers cultivate empathy and the determination to see things through. For adults, staying at the nature school, with accommodations, delicious meals, hot springs, and forest walks, is believed to provide mental healing and contribute to overall well-being.

The second feature is the provision of diverse nature experience activities by dedicated interpreters. As all of the magnificent nature is our playground, the appeal lies in enjoying a variety of seasonal activities amidst this abundant natural setting. Additionally, there is a special area called the "Dongurumi no Mori," featuring staff-crafted installations such as hammocks and forest swings. Here, not only guests but also anyone can freely play in the forest.

The catchphrase is "Wild and Smile: Let's Go Outside on Sunny Days."

● Recommended Activities at Toyota Shirakawa-go Eco-Institute

-I heard that there are quite a few activities that can be experienced. Could you please tell me some of them?

Depending on the season, there are various activities available. In spring, for example, I recommend wild vegetable foraging and outdoor cooking. Around the Golden Week period, the contrast between the remaining snow, cherry blossoms, and the blue sky creates a stunningly beautiful landscape. Harvesting wild vegetables with friends while enjoying such scenery and then cooking them as tempura or using them as pizza toppings is a delightful experience. In this forest, you can gather a variety of wild vegetables, such as Japanese fuki leaves, taranome (mountain vegetables), and udo.

During the summer night hike, you can walk through the forest on a night with minimal artificial lights and enjoy the magnificent starry sky and fireflies with your family and friends. If you listen carefully in the quiet of the forest at night, you may occasionally hear the calls of owls and horned owls, which naturally soothe and heal the heart.

Autumn offers stunning foliage. During the guided walk, you can explore the beautiful forest alongside the staff and learn about the lives of the forest animals and the wisdom of the ancestors of Shirakawa-go. It will be a time to reflect on and connect with the wild creatures and the people who lived in Shirakawa Village in the past.

In addition, we offer a variety of seasonal activities, such as catching and grilling iwana (a type of char) from the mountain stream, enjoying the atmosphere around the irori (traditional Japanese hearth) inside a thatched-roof house, and undertaking the challenge of climbing Mount Hakusan, one of Japan's three sacred mountains

-Shirakawa-go is one of Japan's top-heavy snowfall areas. What activities do you recommend during winter?

Depending on the year, when there's heavy snowfall, it's all about playing in the snow. For children in elementary school and above, I recommend snow wall climbing. We don't give them any instructions, but let them figure out how to climb on their own. The walls are surprisingly high, so it's quite fascinating to watch. After struggling and making efforts to climb, the children are filled with a sense of accomplishment once they reach the top.

Additionally, snow activities can be broadly categorized into three types: "walking," "creating," and "sliding."

The main activity under "walking" is snowshoe hiking on the snow. When there's fresh snow, it's so soft and walking on it feels great. On the morning after nearly a meter of snowfall overnight, the snowshoe hike involves moving forward by swimming through the snow (laughs). Additionally, snow absorbs sound, so when you stop and listen, it's incredibly quiet, and everyone is amazed by the silence. At night, the moonlight reflects off the snow, creating a truly beautiful scene.

Under the "creating" activities, building snow sculptures, kamakura (snow huts), snow arches, and igloos with stacked snow blocks are enjoyable. It's fascinating to light candles inside snow-made lanterns and experience the enchanting winter forest on a magical winter night.

For the "sliding" activities, there is snow sliding with snow sleds. It's a highly popular activity where various types of sleds are used to slide down courses designed to make the most of the natural terrain.

-As expected of a nature school, it seems that the programs for children are well-rounded. Could you please provide more specific details about their contents?

That's right. During the summer vacation, there are many programs specifically designed for children. For example, there are activities such as rafting experiences on the emerald-green Shiramizu Lake, insect collecting, and a two-week camp where children can spend time with their peers away from their parents, all aimed at making them more resilient in the forest.

During this extended camp, amidst the diverse natural environment of Shirakawa-go, including forests, mountains, rivers, and lakes, the children come up with activity plans on their own and challenge themselves in various ways. They venture into the forest and rivers to gather ingredients like mushrooms, nuts, and fish, and try outdoor cooking with the chef. They also climb mountains, spend nights alone in tents in the forest, and even make decisions about the daily menu and cooking duties, except for the first three days. These experiences contribute to the children's personal growth.

Being involved in the preparation of meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they come to understand the effort involved and develop gratitude for daily life.

-Please tell us about the vacation plans for companies.

We offer various plans for companies to utilize. These include 2-night, 3-day vacation plans that focus on promoting exercise, nutrition, and relaxation, ensuring a balance between work and activities. Additionally, we provide customized corporate training programs tailored to specific objectives, such as orientation for new employees or leadership training for mid-level managers. The content of the training is arranged according to the company's goals. Some companies have participated with the aim of team-building and have even undertaken mountain climbing activities.

In this nature school, we make use of the surrounding World Heritage site and the abundant natural environment to offer experiences that enrich the heart. We hope that people from all walks of life will come and join us for these enriching experiences.

Information about Toyota Shirakawa-go Eco-Institute

Facility Name: Toyota Shirakawa-go Eco-Institute

Address: 223 Ukai, Shirakawa-mura, Ono-gun, Gifu, Japan 501-5620

Access: Please refer to the image on the right.

TEL:05769-6-1187 (Reception hours 9:00~18:00) 


MAIL: [email protected]

Official HP

■ The person we have spoken with

Mr. Makoto Kurosaka

Activity/Planning Staff

■ Editorial postscript

Before hearing about it, I had a strong image that nature schools were places where young children could experience nature in the mountains and rivers. However, this facility seems to have a higher rate of adult visitors than children. Many people who came for corporate training also visit privately, indicating high satisfaction with their stay and experiences.

Adults and children are all classmates. Healing the mind and body in nature and opening the five senses can not only refresh but also lead to new realizations and experiences filled with wonder. Why not immerse yourself in the magnificent nature based on the World Heritage site of Shirakawa-go?