Hidden amongst the mountains of the Hida region, Takayama is a great example of a traditional Japanese town. The well-preserved old town is home to several sake breweries and morning markets. The Takayama festivals in spring and autumn are highly rated and offer a great insight in to traditional Japanese culture.
History Of Takayama
Takayama grew up around Takayama castle, which now lies in ruins on the hill overlooking the city. Although this area was controlled by the Tokugawa shogunate, the remoteness of this mountainous region mean the inhabitants were isolated from much of Japanese political and cultural life. As a result, the area around Takayama has many unique and interesting traditions.
Residents of Takayama are known for their traditional woodworking skills and skilled artisans from the area were often call upon to help build the complex palaces and temples of Kyoto.
In 2005, Takayama was merged with several neighbouring villages and towns; making it one of the largest cities in Japan based on area.
Takayama can be accessed by local JR trains, with trains arriving frequently from Nagoya and Toyama.
It is possible to catch a bus to Takayama from neighbouring towns. The spectacular scenery in this area makes this a great way to travel if you have time.
Where to Stay
The area around Takayama station makes a convenient base if you plan to make day trips to other areas in Hida. Most of the local buses leave from the bus garage next to the station.
Takayama itself is fairly compact so most places around town are easily walkable. If you plan to walk the temple trails or want to stay in traditional accommodation the eastern side of town has slightly more options.
Must See in Takayama
A local government building until 1969, this complex has been at the centre of political life in Takayama since the 1600s. It is a great example of Edo-style architecture, with several ceremonial and official tatami rooms at the front, and more interesting domestic quarters towards the back of the building. The complex also features a huge rice storage barn which is now a museum of Japanese artifacts.
This is the oldest part of town, and consists of 3 parallel streets on the eastern bank of the river. Many of the houses around here have been made in to souvenir shops or restaurants but a few have been opened as museums or galleries. During the day it can be quite touristy but early mornings or late afternoons are more peaceful.
Twice a year, Takayama is taken over by elaborately decorated floats for the Spring and Autumn festivals. Held on 14-15 April and 9-10 October, the Takayama festivals are considered one of the 3 most beautiful festivals in Japan. Daytime puppet performances are followed by atmospheric night parades lit by lanterns. If you can’t make it to the festivals, check out the huge festival museum (Matsuri no Mori) on the southern outskirts of town.
Easy spotted by the cedar branch spheres hanging outside, Takayama has several sake breweries. Many have bars or tasting areas where you can sample the wares, and others open for tours at various times of the year – check with the tourist office for the latest timetables.
Hida No Sato
If the lengthy bus ride to Shirakawago isn’t for you, you can check out gassho-zukuri style thatched houses on the western outskirts of Takayama. Set up to resemble a traditional village, the houses feature displays about rural life. Nearby is a craft centre, with workshops and exhibitions of local crafts.
Takayama hosts two morning markets from 6.30am (7am in winter) to noon each day. The market at Jinya-mae (in front of Takayama Jinya) sells mainly local produce, while the one on the eastern bank of the Miyagawa river sells snacks and crafts as well. Look out for the Japanese version of marshmallows – they’re delicious freshly cooked.