Takayama – A mountain town that embraces tradition and hospitality
Takayama is a city located in the northern part of Gifu prefecture in Hokuriku area. The city can be reached easily from Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya using JR Railways. From Tokyo and Osaka, use the Shinkansen to Nagoya and transfer to the “Wide View Hida” Limited Express. In total it is about 4h from Tokyo, 3h from Osaka and 2h from Nagoya.
There are also bus services from these and also from smaller cities.
Surrounded by mountains and with a great part of the city still maintaining its traditional cityscape and charm, Takayama is the ideal place to relax from Japan’s busy big cities. Also, all four seasons can be enjoyed in Takayama, with cherry blossom in late spring, fireworks and traditional dances in summer, red maple foliage in autumn and much snow in winter. Additionally, in spring and autumn, Takayama Festival that has recently been added to the UNESCO world heritage counts as one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan.
A day in Takayama – an example course
Morning Market and Takayama Jinya.
A great place to start your journey through Takayama is the Jinya Mae Morning Market where you can buy local products including fruits, pickles, Takayama Miso, Sarubobo (handmade good luck charms in monkey shape) and more. Many of the products are freshly made and organic. Right next to the Morning Market is the Takayama Jinya which was the office used by local deputy and administrator. If you are interested in the Edo period (1600-1868), this building is highly recommended, since you can have a close look at the architecture and usage of a government building. From here, you can cross the Nakabashi Bridge, from where to both sides you have a great view over the Miyagawa River. It is also an ideal spot for taking pictures of the beautiful scenery.
Walk along the river and Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine
Across the bridge, you now have reached the old town of Takayama. This part fascinates with several streets consisting entirely of traditional wooden structure houses. Many stores and restaurants invite to take your time and discover Takayamas diversity, but why don’t you first walk once through the entire street? These streets are busy with tourists throughout the year, so if you would like to find a tranquil spot not far from the Sanmachi, the old town, Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine is ideal. From the old town, you can walk along Miyagawa River towards the north, and after a few minutes you will see a huge Torii (Shrine gate). Once you have reached the Torii, turn right and proceed towards the Shrine. Located just at the edge of a forest, this Shrine has a mystical atmosphere and is normally not very crowded.
Lunch in Honmachi Sanchome Shopping Street
If you follow the street back to the Torii and cross the bridge, you are close to the Honcho Sanchome Shopping Street. To get there, you need to go one street further from the street next to the river, and turn left. After only a few minutes you have reached the Shopping Street and can look through stores or have a lunch with local specialties at one of the restaurants. A recommendation is the restaurant “Tenaga Ashinaga,” where you can try two specialties at the same time: Hida Beef and Houba Miso. The former has a reputation for being among the best beef in Japan, and the latter is local Miso with a rich flavor served on a Magnolia leaf. They also have dishes for Vegetarians, and their prices are reasonable (about 1500 Yen for a good lunch including a free drink).
Exploring the Old Town
At the end of the Sanchome Shopping Street, you get to the bridge Kajibashi. If you cross the bridge and directly walk towards the right, you will get back to the old town. There you can experience more of the local culture – including food and craftwork.
If you like Japanese Sake, the Shopping Street offers many stores where you can purchase all kinds of Sake (and even non alcoholic “Amazake,” a sweet beverage consisting only of fermented rice and water). Furthermore, many stores offer a Sake tasting: for a price of several hundred Yen (depending on the store and the brand), you can try about 90 ml of a great variety of local Sake. Funasaka Sake Brewery attracts with a wide variety of Sake that can be bought and tasted, as well as with English signs. By the way, did you know that you can easily recognize Sake stores from the outside? In Japan, Sake stores traditionally have a Sugidama (cedar branches in a ball shape) below the eaves, so make sure not to miss these beautiful signs.
Did the walking make you a little bit hungry? Throughout the old town you will see stores selling local Senbei (rice crackers). Located in the northern end of Sanmachi, Hida Mikomaya can be recommended for two reasons. Not only is their quality superb and they offer many different flavors, but you can even make your own rice crackers in a little oven! Closely observe the movements of the Shop owner, and in about 15 minutes and for 500 Yen you can bake 10 rice crackers.
Of course the street has many restaurants that offer the whole variety of Takayamas local cuisine, and stores selling traditional Japanese goods such as pottery or wooden handicraft.
Day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage village Shirakawago
If you want you do a day trip, the village Shirakawago is easily accessible and definitely worth seeing. Located in a valley closely surrounded by high mountains, this village consisting of 60 houses built in the Gassho-Zukuri (thatched and steep roofs) style brings you back into old times when people lived still in close relation with nature. If you want to get more information about the history of the village and the building of the houses, you can enter some of the houses for a small fee or visit the Gasshozukuri Minkaen Museum with 26 farmhouses and interesting information about the daily life. Another option is to take part in a guided tour, some of which leave from Takayama and include the bus fee both ways, a guided tour of both Shirakawago and Gokayama (another UNSECO World Heritage village with a similar building style) and a delicious, healthy local meal. For further information visit the homepage of Nohi bus or inquire at the Nohi bus center or any tourist information in Takayama.
Further information and links
Takayama General Guide1：
Takayama General Guide2：