Takayama: Gateway to the Northern Alps
Takayama is a beautiful Edo period castle town at the foothills of the stunning Northern Alps in Gifu Prefecture.
The city has managed to retain its traditional charm and cultural heritage, and is a must see place for anyone visiting the Central Honshu area of Japan.
There are many things that make Takayama special. Its well preserved Edo period houses in the old part of town, traditional ryokan inns, famous sake breweries and craft shops are just a few things that come to mind.
The great thing about Takayama is that it is compact enough to be tackled on foot or bicycle, making it an easy place to explore and enjoy. Most of the main tourist attractions can be found in the centre of town, within walking distance of the train station.
Most of the main sights of Takayama can be seen in a full day, but give yourself at least two days to fully enjoy this experience. I recommend a stay overnight in a local ryokan where you can soak in an onsen (hot spring) and enjoy local delicacies like Hida beef.
What to see in Takayama?
Your first stop once you reach Takayama and leave the station should be the Sanmachi District, which is the centre of the old historic town. Here you will find three main streets (Ichi-no-Machi, Ni-no-Machi and San-no-Machi with some of the best preserved Edo period buildings in Japan. Today many of the traditional buildings are shops, restaurants, museums and even homes dating from the Edo period (1600-1868). Keep an eye out for the famous sake breweries of Takayama, which are easily recognisable with their sugidama, cedar branches hanging over the entrance. Here you can sample some of the famous sake of the region made with pure crystal clear mountain water and top quality rice.
Photo: Elvis Huang on Flickr
A short walk from the Sanmachi District is Takayama Jinya, which was originally built in 1615 as the administration centre for the Hida area, and later taken over by the bakufu and used by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Here you will find immaculately preserved government offices and buildings from the Edo period as well as the only remaining office building of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Takayama’s Morning Markets
Takayama is also famous for its two morning markets which take place from 7 am to noon. The biggest and best is the Miyagawa Morning Market along the banks of the Miyagawa River. Here you can pick up fresh local farm produce, snacks, regional delicacies, and local crafts and souvenirs. The smaller of the two markets is the Jinya-mae Morning Market which you can find in front of Takayama Jinya. This one is more of a farmer’s market with local produce and goodies sold by the friendly locals.
Photo: Carrie on Flickr
Takayama Yatai Kaikan
Takayama is famous for its Spring and Autumn festivals which are regarded as one of Japan’s three most beautiful festivals. Here you will find a rotating selection of four of the twenty-three yatai (floats) used in the famous Takayama Matsuri. Some of the elaborately decorated floats date from the 17th century and are prized for their exquisite carvings and lacquerwork. Some of the floats also feature karakuri, which are mechanical puppets that perform tricks and acrobatics. You can also watch a video of the festival which gives you a sense of the atmosphere and grandeur of the event. The festivals honour the Shinto god, who resides at the base of the mountain behind the city.
Photo: Jonathan Khoo on Flickr
Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village)
Hida no Sato is located just outside of town and is a short 10 minute bus ride from the station. The open-air museum features dozens of traditional houses from the local Hida region and is truly stunning. A particular favourite of mine are the traditional thatched-roof gassho-zukuri farmhouses, built with roofs like hands in prayer to survive the heavy winter snowfalls in the region. You can try your hand at a number of traditional crafts ranging from weaving and wood carving to straw crafting and needlework craft.
Photo: Jackie Proven on Flickr
If you are looking for a traditional Japanese experience with an old castle town, beautiful mountain scenery and unique local culture, then definitely put Takayama high-up on your list of places to visit in Japan.
Photo: Party Lin on Flickr