Highlights You Can’t Miss in Takayama
People often associate Japan with bustling crowds, ultra-modern technology, mad pop culture and busy busyness. While it’s true there’s plenty going on in the main cities – and yes Shinjuku in Tokyo is the world’s busiest train station – there are also so many serene pockets where life proceeds at a far gentler rate. A step back in time to when things were less frantic than today’s pace of life.
Hida Takayama, nestled in the mountainous part of Gifu Prefecture, is definitely one of those charming spots. The old town, especially the Sanmachi Suji District, is immaculately preserved. The streets are lined with traditional style dark-wood houses (the area was known for many years for its quality timber and skilled carpenters), cute shops brimming with traditional and quirky gifts, sake breweries, artisan producers making regional specialities in shop windows and lots of fabulous, atmospheric places to eat. The ‘Hida Beef’ from this region is almost a religious experience. You could while away hours pottering through shops, sampling the local wares and enjoying the traditional vibe.
The whole area (not just the old town) is well worth visiting if you’re in the central Japan region. With hillside shrines, a fascinating festival float museum and a picturesque setting on the Miyagawa River, it’s a gateway to the Hida region and the Japan Alps – with some of the country’s prettiest hiking. And a short distance from the city centre is Hida no Sato or Hida Folk Village, a collection of thatched-roof houses from central Japan arranged to look like an old-style village.
It’s a fascinating experience poking round these incredible Edo period (1603-1867) buildings, absorbing how people lived their lives, reading the fascinating information and playing old style Japanese games like stilts and spinning tops. The calm, pristine lake is filled with wide eyed, open mouthed carp just waiting for you to dole out some of the feed available at the shop. It’s a beautiful setting which makes you feel at ease the moment you enter the gates.
There is so much good food in this area. As mentioned, the marbled tender Hida Beef is a mandatory eat (unless you’re a vegetarian) and the area is well known for its local takes on sushi, ramen and soba as well; definitely visit this area hungry. It’s well worth indulging in a sake tasting with a qualified sake master; it’s fascinating learning just how precise, dangerous and demanding the process of making it can be – not a vocation for the faint hearted. If sake isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of umeshu (plum wine) around too, perfect with soda water on a summer’s day.
If it’s not already, Hida Takayama should definitely be on your must visit list for this part of Japan. Step back into the time of the samurai and forget the stress of modern, digital life for a day.