Travel period 1-2 Jan 2013

Japan’s Most Famous Well Preserved Old Town

After spending one week in the snow during our three weeks itinerary, we traveled to Takayama. It was supposed to be a short trip from Nagano, but we ended up losing half a day when we realized we didn’t exchange our JR voucher into JR pass (exchange possible in the major station only).

About Takayama

Takayama is a city in the mountainous Hida Region of Gifu Prefecture. Truth be told, due to its well-preserved antiquity, it has earned the title of being Japan’s “Little Kyoto” – a title which we agree with!

Pleasantly isolated by the surrounding Hida Mountains, the town oozes old-fashioned Japanese charm. These towering mountains overlook a scene of riverside markets, traditional shops, and Japanese-style inns. San-machi Suji street is the heart of the city’s historic district, lined with old, dark wood buildings entered through blue noren curtains.

The narrow streets are bordered by small canals of running water, often still used—as in centuries past—for washing clothes and removing winter snow. The town is known for its excellent sake, with breweries being distinguished by large cedar balls hanging from their entrances.

Widely considered to be Gifu’s crown jewel, the mountain-ringed city of Takayama is a fantastic destination in itself, but also an excellent base from which to explore the Japan Alps and the surrounding Hida area.

We stayed at Best Western Hotel Takayama. The hotel is conveniently located just a few minutes’ walk from JR Takayama station. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes around the hotel. However New Year in Japan can also be frustrating, as many tourist attractions, shops and restaurants are closed, and getting around can be inconvenient.

We got to Takayama late in the evening. Tired and hungry we dropped our bags, had a quick shower and went out for dinner. The street was pretty empty and while we walked for a good 45 minutes or so, we found a nice little restaurant in the small alley that was still open. We went in and had the famous Hida beef for dinner. The food was delicious, it was amazing.

The famous Hida beef

Hida is a ridiculously delicious 1st-class Japanese beef that rivals the other famous kinds of beef in the country like Kobe or Matsusaka. The meat quality of Hida is classified A/B rank and 5/4/3 grade, which basically means that it’s the winner! Needless to say, when you’re in this region, you must try a taste of this kind of beef.

Hida Folk Village

Hida Folk Village

The following day after breakfast, we walked from the hotel to Hida Folk Village (Hida no Sato); it was a pleasant 35 minutes’ walk . Walk on the bridge across Miyagawa river, and along the mountainous of Hida. The scenery was absolutely beautiful.

Hida Folk Village

Hida no Sato is an open-air museum that is 2km west from the city. You can find over 30 traditional houses here from the Edo Period that are still being carefully preserved today. The museum features buildings such as the former village head’s house, logging huts, storehouses and a number of gassho-zukuri farmhouses.

These massive farmhouses are named after their steep thatched roofs which resemble a pair of hands joined in prayer (“gassho”). They were moved here from nearby Shirakawa-go. Seeing the traditional Japanese farmhouses blanketed in snow it was a mind blowing.

A short walk from the Hida Folk Village is the Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Center, where workshops on local handicrafts are given. If you are visitors, you can learn how to make crafts such as beaded key chains, sarubobo dolls (a popular local doll), and take them home as souvenirs. Unfortunately, it was closed during our visit.

This is what Sarubobo (a popular local doll) looks like
Sarubobo souvenirs

Old Town

The old ancient wooden houses

Next up we took a stroll alongside the Old Town and right from the moment we stepped into this area, we were in awe with the rows and rows of streets that were filled with old wooden latticed buildings.

If you go further south of the Old Town, you will land on Sannomachi Street which is arguably the prettiest street, given the number of lovely homes, shops, restaurants, and sake breweries. Some of these establishments have been in business for centuries.

Takayama Jinya

Only ten minutes’ walk from Takayama station is Takayama Jinya, that is a beautiful traditional Japanese style building, and used to serve as Takayama’s government office during the Edo Period, when the city stood under direct control of the shogun, due to its valuable timber resources. Sadly, it was closed during our visit.

We would have loved to stay in Takayama for days but we only had one day to explore the town, so in the end, we didn’t manage to cover everything. However, what we did was more than enough to get a first feel of the town.

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