March 30, 2019

JAPAN TRAVEL: Get to Know Takayama City—The Retreat Every Stressed Soul Needs

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  • JAPAN TRAVEL: Get to Know Takayama City—The Retreat Every Stressed Soul Needs
  • Cradled amidst a mountainous area of Gifu Prefecture, Takayama City (also called Hida Takayama) engulfs you in a mesmerizing atmosphere that draws you back to the olden days when there was no rush by modernity, and time itself was gentle and consoling. The number of tall buildings is small compared to the prevailing scenery of mountains and hills that surround Takayama.

    Takayama is a quaint city in the mountainous part of Gifu Prefecture.

    Takayama City is located in the northern part of Gifu Prefecture, which is also called the Hida region, hence the term Hida Takayama that the city is also often called. This quaint city thrives on wood crafts and pottery, as well as tourism kept up by Takayama’s charmers such as its well-preserved old town, gastronomic gems, and the centuries-old Takayama Festival.

    A beautifully preserved old town.

    Takayama City is an ideal destination for city dwellers and corporate workers—practically anyone buried deep in urban stress. An activity as simple as walking on the traditional streets provides enough sense of recovery. The atmosphere is completely different—as if the place drifts through time at its own gentle pace, which allows you to get back in touch with yourself and catch up with life.

    Takayama Old Town — The Little Kyoto of Hida

    Most of the old structures in Takayama old town now house shops, cafes, and sake breweries.

    Takayama Old Town, also called the “Little Kyoto of Hida,” lets its visitors experience the same historic ambiance as Japan’s old capital with graciously preserved houses and buildings from the Edo period. Sannomachi Street (Kamisannomachi) is the seat of most of these ancient structures, which now house old shops, cafés, and sake breweries.

    The ambiance is especially mesmerizing at sunset.

    Takayama is the home of some of the best-tasting sake producers in Japan, so dropping by the breweries in the old town, marked by sugidama or cedar balls hung in front of the shops, is a must. Along Kamisannomachi and the adjacent streets there are many restaurants and cafes, as well as museums such as the Hida Folk Archaeological Museum and the Takayama Old Town Museum.

    A sugidama is hung by the entrance of Funasaka in Takayama old town.

    Most of the establishments in Little Kyoto are open from 9 am and close early at 5 pm. It is best to explore the place while most of the stores are open, so plan your visit in the morning or early afternoon.

    Takayama Old Town Information
    Location: Kamisannomachi, Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture

    Also read: A visit to Takayama Jinya, A Historic Government Office in Japan

    Miyagawa Morning Market

    Miyagawa Morning Market is situated by the side of Miyagawa River.

    One of the things to look forward to as you wake up early in your hotel room is a visit to Miyagawa Morning Market, a tradition that has lasted since the Edo period.

    Locals showcase their very own products at Miyagawa Morning Market.

    Along Miyagawa River, locals showcase their very own products—fruits and vegetables grown in their own yard, food and snacks prepared in their own kitchen, souvenirs crafted by their own hands. Despite the language barrier, you can surely feel the warm hospitality of the locals communicated through such sweet gestures as smiling and greeting you “Ohayou gozaimasu” (Good morning!), and offering free samples of their treats.

    Be sure to smile back at the friendly locals!

    The products sold at Miyagawa Morning Market, especially the fruits and vegetables, vary per season. Items range from fresh produce, spices, and sweets to chopsticks, charms, and other wood crafts, which are all sold at reasonable prices and the best quality.

    While the morning market runs until noon, it is highly recommended to get up and visit early so that you can also savor the freshness of the morning in Takayama.

    Miyagawa Morning Market Information
    Address: Shimosannomachi, Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture
    Operating Hours: 7 am to 12 pm (Apr to Oct); 8 am to 12 pm (Nov to Mar)

    Also read: Miyagawa Morning Market Tour: A Walk along the Streets of Hida-Takayama

    Shinhotaka Ropeway

    Shinhotaka Ropeway is one of the best sightseeing attractions in Takayama.

    For sightseeing, Shinhotaka Ropeway is one of the best attractions a visitor should not miss in Takayama. It is currently the only ropeway in Japan that features a double-decker gondola.

    If coming from Takayama city proper, the road to Shinhotaka Ropeway is already a scenic one. You will pass by little mountainside villages and a lot of tunnels that unveil beautiful natural scenery every time.

    Shinhotaka Ropeway has four stations, starting from the base Shin-Hotaka Onsen Station, where you will ride a single-story ropeway to the next station, Nabedairakogen. Within a short walking distance is Shirakadabaira Station, where the double-decker ropeway is waiting to take you on a seven-minute scenic ascent to Nishihotakaguchi Station, the highest point of the ropeway at 2,156 meters above sea level.

    Shinhotaka Ropeway is currently the only ropeway in Japan that features a double-decker gondola.

    Every station has its own facilities, such as a souvenir shop, cafeteria, and hot springs. The topmost viewing deck at Nishihotakaguchi Station offers different kinds of scenery, all revealing a unique picture of the surrounding mountain ranges, which include Kasagadake, Hotakadake, Nishihotaka, and Yarigatake.

    In summer, you can revel in a scenery of vibrant green landscapes.

    Most of the year is a great time to go to Shinhotaka Ropeway, depending on what kind of scenery you prefer—cherry blossoms in spring, colorful foliage in fall, glowing mountainscape in winter, vibrant green landscapes in summer. However, there may be the challenge of limited visibility in winter, particularly in December, and rainfall and extreme heat in July to August.

    Shinhotaka Ropeway Information
    Address: Shinhotaka, Okuhidaonsengo, Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture
    Hours: Winter: 9 am to 4:30 pm (last ascent from Shinhotakaonsen Station; final descent from Nishihotakaguchi Station is 4:15 pm)
    Website: (English available)

    Also read: Shinhotaka Ropeway: A Cloud 9 Experience in Takayama City, Japan

    Takayama Festival

    Takayama Festival is said to be one of the most beautiful festivals in Japan. /IMAGE Visit Hida Takayama (Official), Japan Facebook

    Said to be one of the most beautiful festivals in Japan, Takayama Festival is a bi-annual celebration held every spring and autumn, featuring huge festival floats that are especially stunning to see at night. The festival turns quaint Takayama into an energetic venue where visitors can witness and join the locals of Takayama for a celebration.

    The festival floats are especially stunning at night. /IMAGE Visit Hida Takayama (Official), Japan Facebook

    Takayama Festival in spring, called Sanno Matsuri, is held for Hie Jinja Shrine from April 14 to 15. The autumn festival, Hachiman Matsuri, is dedicated to Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine and happens from October 9 to 10 every year. Takayama Festival, both in spring and in autumn, consists of day and night parades of yatai floats and amusing marionette performances. At night, each float is lit by about 100 lanterns that illuminate not only the floats themselves but also the mood of the festive evening.

    Takayama Festival Information
    Location: Kamimachi area, Takayama City (Sanno Matsuri) / Shimomachi area, Takayama City (Hachiman Matsuri)
    Festival Dates: April 14-15 (Sanno Matsuri) / October 9-10 (Hachiman Matsuri) annually

    Gastronomic gems all over Takayama

    Takayama ramen and Hida beef curry in Cafe Mount View at Shinhotaka Ropeway.

    It is not only the nostalgic townscape that can heal your soul—the local food scene of Takayama also gives comfort food a whole new meaning. It is not just the food being delicious, but it is also the restaurants, housed in old traditional structures, that make the experience even more special.

    Takayama ramen and Hida beef are some of the best local delicacies and also the easiest to find everywhere in the old town. Takayama ramen, also locally called chukka soba, is a simple soy-sauce-based ramen dish but it is the kind that you would look for on sick days. What’s striking about Takayama ramen is the strong aroma that would make your mouth water even from afar, and the deep umami taste.

    Takayama ramen in Cafe Mount View at Shinhotaka Ropeway.

    Hida beef is in the same league as Kobe beef in terms of quality and taste. Besides being cooked as steak or barbecue, Hida beef is also used in many dishes such as burgers and curry in Takayama.

    Hida beef curry in Cafe Mount View at Shinhotaka Ropeway.

    Thanks greatly to its climate and mountainous topography, Takayama is one of the best producers of sake in Japan. It is also interesting that most, if not all, of the sake breweries are part of Takayama’s history, with the oldest one brewing since the 17th century. Aptly so, you can find Takayama’s sake breweries in the old town (Kamimachi area).

    A variety of sake in a sake brewery along Kamisannomachi.

    Other delicious delicacies to try in Takayama are Hida milk, fresh, thick, and creamy, and mochi in different flavors.

    Getting to Takayama City

    By train: From Nagoya Station, take the Takayama Main Line to Takayama Station. It takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes.

    By bus: From Meitetsu Bus Center at Nagoya Station, take the JR Tokai Bus, Meitetsu Bus, or Nohi Bus to Takayama Nohi Bus Center. It takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes.

    Written by Rei Leaño

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