by Bryce Marley
Today Japlanning is showing you the rural city of Takayama. Situated in the heart of the Japanese alps, this historic area is loved by many and popular with tourists. It's a city that has embraced the past, and is filled with traditional architecture and areas, especially its famous old town precinct. Come take a look at why Takayama is definitely worth a visit if your looking for a more rural stop on your journeys through Japan.
Takayama is located in Gifu prefecture of Japan, which is right in central Japan, to get to Takayama, you're looking at a 5 hour train journey from Tokyo, thanks to a direct route being thwarted by the Japanese alps being between the two. However if you're in the Kansai region, it is a far more tolerable 3 hour train from Kyoto. Takayama was settled back in the Jōmon period (300BC-538AD), and was famous for it's citizens expertise in carpentry, and were key in working on the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, as well as many temples in the Kansai region.
The town, as we see it today, took it's shape and style at the end of the 16th century, with the building of the Takayama Castle with the name "Takayama" coming a hundred years later, when they were under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate. It's remote location, by the Japanese alps, has kept it from being too influenced by other areas, and the city has developed its own culture over 300 years.
Takayama has plenty to do for any visitor, especially if you're looking to take a step back in to ancient Japan.
Perhaps Takayama's most famous attraction, this part of the city, "Old Town", has been preserved with many of the buildings standing dating back to the Edo period (1600's). Here you can wander the streets admiring the Edo style architecture, visit traditional shops, a sake brewery, temples and shrines, art galleries and museums, as well as several heritage houses, you can tour and see what it was like to live in Takayama back in the 1600's.
Old Town can easily be toured for a day or two wandering through the shops and museums at your leisure.
Be sure to get down there in the morning one day, and check out one of the two morning markets that Takayama have. One is along the Miyagawa River and the other is out front of the Takayama Jinya. Pick up local craft and artwork, as well as fresh produce and flowers.
The Old Town district is located in Takayama by the Miyagawa River and is a 10 minute walk from Takayama Station, you can also find many accommodations around the area.
Located just on the other side of the river from the Old Town district, Takayama Jima was once the local government office that officials sent from Edo (Tokyo, today) were sent to oversee the town. The buildings of the Takayama Jinya complex were in use in a official capacity up until 1969, and now is open to the public as a museum.
You can tour through this traditional building and see how ancient government was run, with its rigorously maintained tatami mat rooms, you can see where was once used as meeting rooms, officers and the residential spaces of the complex. Admire the intricate details and notice the low roofs of the building, certain westerners may feel like a giant in here.
Next to the main building is a storehouse that still stands from its original construction in the mid 1600s. It is no ordinary storehouse however, this was the largest rice storehouse in Japan once, and has been repurposed to be a museum now that you can see amazing artifacts and documents from feudal lords from the past few centuries, as well as historic town plans that helped build the town of Takayama to its layout of today.
Takayama Jinya is located opposite the old town area on the other side of the Miyagawa River, and is a short 10 walk from Takayama Station.
Hida No Sato (Hida Folk Village)
Located just outside Takayama is the Hida No Sato, a open air museum that showcases over 30 traditional houses from the Gifu Prefecture that Takayama is a part of. All the houses were built during the Edo period throughout the prefecture, and relocated to the museum in the early 70's.
This museum has a village feel to it, with amazing structures showing off the traditional housing, gassho-zukuri farmhouses, store houses, as well as town buildings.
The most iconic being the farmhouses with their thatch tee-pee like roofs, these structures are a key reason for the regions world heritage status.
All the buildings are open to explore, with traditional furnishings inside, so you can see how it was to live day to day in the region in the Edo period, they even light all the indoor fireplaces every morning giving a full sensory experience to any visit. A visit to Hida No Sato is a great half day trek with a rich history, you will feel transported back to Edo times in the Gifu Prefecture.
Hida No Sato admission is 700 yen and is a 10 minute bus from Takayama Station, the Sarubobo Bus leaves every 20-40 minutes to the village for 200 yen per ride. You can also get a discount ticket that includes bus fare and admission to the Museum from Takayama Station for 900 yen. Alternatively you can walk there, it's about 30 minutes from the station
The Walking Course leaves from the side of the Old Town area, and is a leisurely walk through Shiroyama Park, which once was the grounds of Takayama Castle, you can still see ruins of the Castle and will encounter cute wildlife like Japanese serow, and is a nice escape from the city areas. On the return of the walk you go through Takayama's Temple Town past more than ten Shinto Shrines.
The round walk is about 3.5 kilometers and takes a couple of hours to complete.
The Takayama festival is one of the biggest festivals in Japan, and also considered one of the most beautiful!
The best part is that it is actually on twice a year! The Spring Festival is run from April 14 to 15 and a celebration of the Hie Shrine in the southern half of old town. The Autumn Festival is run from October 9 to 10 and a celebration of the Hachiman Shrine in the northern half of old town. So each festival is held in its respective half of old town, giving each half a time to celebrate!
The festivals are similar, yet unique and have beautiful floats constructed for parades, however if you are not here for either festival, don't fret, you can see many of the floats replicated and can be viewed year round at Yatai Kaikan museum which shows them off, as well as other items from the festival.
Yatai Kaikan is located in the northern half of old town and is a 20 minute walk from Takayama Station.
While in Takayama you will find, much like most of Japan, amazing food, however while in Takayama you must try Hida Beef. Hida Beef is a little controversial as many argue that it is superior to Kobe Beef, which is seen around the world as the best beef you can get. With rich marbling and amazing cuts, you would be remise to not try this legendary meat while in the region.
Takayama have many restaurants that specialise in serving Hida Beef. If this is out of your price range at all (Hida beef is cheaper than Kobe) try a Takayama delicacy a Hida Beef Steamed bun, which you can find these at snack stalls all over town and the old town especially.
When in Takayama there is no shortage of accommodation shortages form business hotels, to more traditional Ryokans, which are recommended as many have wonderful onsens in the premises, whatever type of accommodation your looking for you can find exactly what you want.
Both have great information on the areas Ryokans with details on how to book as well.
Takayama offers visitors a trip back in time to the middle of the Edo Period. It's a great escape from many of the big cities in Japan that sometime have you feeling like you have leaped decades into the future. With its traditional buildings, and shops, world heritage sites and quaint small town vibe, you can easily spend a couple of days here, soaking in the culture and in the onsens. Japlanning can't recommend a mini stay in Takayama enough!