December 28, 2019

Discover the beauty of traditional Takayama in Japan

Takayama's old town is beautifully preserved.
Tucked away in the mountainous Hida region of Japan’s Gifu Prefecture, Takayama retains a traditional charm, unlike few other Japanese cities. Surrounded by mountains in every direction, and nicknamed ‘Little Kyoto’, it makes an ideal side trip between Tokyo and Kyoto.

The city dates back to the late 17th century and has a wealth of temples, museums and galleries for a town of its size. Takayama's old town is beautifully preserved with many buildings and whole streets of houses dating from the Edo Period (1600-1868), when the city thrived as a wealthy town of merchants.

The city is easily explored on foot or by rented bicycle. Most major attractions are within walking distance of the station and are well sign-posted in English.

Morning markets, selling everything from vegetables and pickles to carvings and clothes, are held in daily from around 6:30 am to noon. The Jinya-mae Market is in front of the Takayama-Jinya old administrative building, and the Miyagawa Market lines the Miyagawa River.

Morning markets, Takayama

The sake is ready!

The wonderfully preserved Sanno-machi historic district has some lovely old houses and shops, some of which have been trading for centuries.

Sake is one of Takayama's local specialties and several old sake breweries can be found in Takayama's old town. It’s easy to identify them by the ‘sugidama’, balls of cedar fronds hanging above the entrance. The cedar balls are green when the brewing season begins, and when the balls turn brown, it means the sake is ready. You can sample the latest vintage and learn more about sake appreciation at a number of the stores.

The biannual Takayama Matsuri, held in spring (April 14 and 15) and autumn (October 9 and 10), is regarded as among Japan's most beautiful festivals, attracting large crowds.

Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall.

If you cannot be there for the festival, at other times of the year the Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan or Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall displays four of the eleven spectacularly ornate floats, which demonstrate Takayama's legendary craftsmanship. Some are more than 300 years old, and are still wheeled out during the festivals. Others are scattered in storehouses across Takayama's old town.

The museum is located next to the Sakurayama Hachiman-gu shrine, which reigns over the Autumn Festival and is dedicated to the protection of the city. The Hie Shrine, in the south half of the old town, is honoured during the Spring Festival.

Takayama Festival in spring.

The Higashiyama Walking Course is a pleasant walking route through Teramachi (Takayama's temple town) and Shiroyama Park, the former site of Takayama Castle. The 3.5-kilometre walk passes more than a dozen temples and shrines, and you’ll witness rare everyday scenes of rural Japan.

Sakurayama Hachiman-gu shrine.

Sarubobo dolls - for happiness and good health.

Make sure to pick up one of the Sarubobo dolls which are a mascot of the region. Sarubobo means ‘Happy Monkey Baby’, and legend says that a long time ago, grandmothers and mothers made these dolls for their young ones to wish them happiness and good health. It’s said, that if you have this doll, you will be healthy and happy too.

Everyone has fun in Takayama, even when it snows.

Getting there:

From Tokyo: 2 hours to Nagoya Station by JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line, and 2 hours 10 min from Nagoya to Takayama Station by JR Takayama Line. Takayama is 1 hour and 30 minutes by shinkansen from Toyama. Further information:

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