Discover the Japanese village holding onto its heritage
NESTLED in the mountainous Hida region in Japan’s Gifu Prefecture is the heritage-rich city of Takayama, which aptly translates to “tall mountain.”
Unlike Japan’s other bright or bustling cities, Takayama exudes a serene atmosphere accompanied by traditional living, natural beauty, unique cuisine, and friendly locals.
Given its relatively cut-off location from the rest of Japan, it has been able to develop a beautiful culture over a 300-year period and to this day maintains a thriving timber industry.
And up until recently, Takayama was a relatively unknown city in rural Japan, but the rise of travelers looking for a bucolic addition to their Japanese experience has put Takayama on many tourists’ itineraries.
The area boats everything a rural-seeking traveler could wish for including stunning foliage transitions from the pinkest cherry blossoms in spring and blanketed emerald forests in summer to golden-leaf-strewn streets in autumn to snow-covered rooftops during winter.
There’s also a healthy helping of authentic experiences to be enjoyed in Takayama, all of which can be explored easily in around 24 hours.
While Takayama may look difficult to reach, it’s well connected by buses and trains to Japan’s bigger cities such as Kanazawa, Tokyo, and Nagoya making it a perfect place to visit for a day trip or short stay.
Plus, when you’re there, you quickly realize the compact layout of Takayama’s traditional houses, shops, parks, restaurants, and museums makes getting around the area on foot not only easy but also a pleasure.
Here’s a roundup of the best experiences and food in central Takayama to enjoy for 24 hours and remember for a lifetime.
Ditch the generic croissant and head to one of Takayama’s two morning markets.
Locally known as Asaichi, the markets are held every day between 7am and midday, selling a variety of local fruits, vegetables, pickles, sauces, and some adorable homemade crafts.
Autumn is arguably the best time to visit these markets as the juiciest apples and pears are ripe and on sale. Grab a can of the locally produced apple juice too for a refreshing boost to your morning.
The sellers encourage you to try their produce even if you don’t buy, but we bet our bottom dollar you will leave the market with a bag full of delicious, nutritional treats.
Find these Asaichi at Takayama Jin’ya, a historical government house and along the Miyagawa River near the center of town.
Ask your accommodation or the tourist information center at the train station for directions if you’re unsure of where to go.
Hida Folk Village
If typical four-walled museums aren’t your thing but you’re desperate to indulge in some of Japan’s cultural history, head to Hida Folk Village, locally known as Hida no Sato.
The open-air museum, set on a mountainside, exhibits more than 30 traditional houses built in the Hida region between 1603 and 1867.
The buildings feature traditional sliding doors (shoji), floor mats (tatami) and heating (kotatsu). Depending on the type of building there is also artwork, furniture, tools, and stored goods.
Many of the houses have the traditional thatched roofing which is truly unique to see, given this ancient building technique is now almost completely devoid within Japanese cities.
There are plenty of activities at the museum including traditional Japanese games, a stamp trail, and dress-up games.
The Hida Folk Village is a 30-minute walk or 10-minute bus ride from Takayama station, each offering incredible views of Takayama and its mountains.
• Entry fee: JYP700 (US$6.25).
• Opening times: 8:30am – 5pm, Monday to Sunday.
For a reasonably small city, Takayama is renowned for its distinctive dishes namely Hida-gyu (beef).
The story of Hida-gyu started back in 1981 when farmers realized a bull named “Yasufuku” had the perfect genetic makeup to produce the tastiest beef.
He went on to father 39,000 calves in his lifetime and to this day, Hida-gyu remains one of the finest varieties of beef in the world.
The tender, marbled meat melts in your mouth no matter whether its flashed in a pan as a fillet steak or barbequed in the traditional Japanese-style as thin strips.
Hida-gyu also features in Hoba miso which is another region-specific dish consisting of beef cooked in red miso paste, served on a Japanese magnolia leaf alongside plenty of pickles, baby mushroom-filled miso soup and heaps of rice.
Takayama also hosts two world-renowned festivals which were active factors in promoting the area for tourism.
The Takayama Festival (Takayama Matsuri) is celebrated as one of Japan’s most beautiful festivals held twice a year in spring and autumn.
The two-day festivals have packed schedules full of float parades and traditional performances.
If you’re planning on visiting Takayama in April or October, be sure to check out these festivals. But book accommodation early as several hundreds of people attend every year.