Takayama, Traditionally Yours
Nestled in the heart of the Japanese Alps in Central Honshū lies a historic town where life is slow and the atmosphere, incredibly charming. Visit Takayama, a delightful little piece of Japan that holds fast to its traditional ways, and seems more like a village, albeit offering every convenience of a big city.
Twice a year, Takayama shakes off its slumber and raises its voice to a riot of festive colour. The Takayama Festival that arrives during springtime and autumn attracts thousands of visitors from around Japan, and beyond. The intricately crafted floats displayed or paraded around the city by traditionally dressed locals bear testament to the artistry and craftsmanship that is predominant in this town. If you miss the festival season, you can still see these floats at the Festival Float Exhibition Hall.
Once home to Japan’s finest artisans and craftsmen, Takayama boasts this distinction through its well-preserved dark wood Edo Period buildings lining narrow and well-preserved streets. Now, these buildings are mostly craft shops, food stores and sake breweries, or even museums.
Farmer’s markets held every morning along the Miyagawa River and outside Takayama Jinya – a late 17th century historical government house, bring together local farmers and craftsmen. It’s a colouful melange of everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, crafts and pickles to clothes.
At the foot of the Northern Alps, you’ll find five hot springs collectively called Okuhida Onsengo. These include Hirayu, Fukuji, Shinhirayu, Tochio, and Shinhotaka. It’s a picturesque location from where you can enjoy relaxing open-air baths amidst the spectacular mountain vistas.
When to visit
Visit during spring or autumn to catch the Takayama Festival, or the cherry blossoms during spring.
The Hirayu Otaki is one of “Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls”. At a height of 64m and a width of 6m, the waterfall never fails to impress with its misty atmosphere and sheer size. In February each year, the ‘Frozen Hirayu Grand Waterfall Festival” is held where lighting events beautifully illuminate the frozen water. The snow, the frozen falls, and the winter chill all add to the beauty of this place.
The Shinhotaka Ropeway is a must-see attraction in the Okuhida area. It boasts double-decker gondola cars, the first of its kind in Japan. They offer excellent views as they ascend steeply over 1000m, up the side of the Hotaka Mountain Range. The Ropeway consists of two ropeways. The first makes a short, 200m climb to Nabedaira Kogen. Beyond this point, the double-decker ropeway ascends over 800m to the upper station. In the non-winter months, this is the starting point for a hiking trail that takes you upward to the Nishiho Mountain. From here, you could either climb further to the Nishi-Hotakadake and Oku- Hotakadake peaks or descend into Kamikochi.
Gain an insight into rural Japan by visiting the Hida Folk Village, where you’ll find traditional wooden houses clustered around a picturesque lake. Each of these is a self-contained museum, displaying traditional tools and other items. Nearby, you can learn how to make Sarubobo dolls, wind chimes and other handicrafts at the Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Center. Travel a little further and visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site Shirakawa-go Village.
Takayama is also synonymous with sake, and you’ll find many places to sample the different kinds of sake produced here. Savour some free sake at the festival held in mid-March each year, introducing new sake brews. Takayama’s local Hida beer is definitely worth a mention. Indulge in the local cuisine, including the Hida beef, soba noodles and the mouth-watering mitarashi dango (skewered rice balls dipped in soy sauce).
What to do
— Visit the Takayama Jinya government house
— Explore the farmer’s markets
— Visit the Hida Folk Village
— Discover Shirakawa-go