It can be harder than you think to capture a glimpse of ‘old Japan’ – there’s very little sentiment in the Japanese building industry, and the old very readily makes way for the new. Whereas in Europe one can often find ‘old town’ areas preserved through hundreds of years, it’s just not something valued in the same way in Japan. To visit a town like Takayama then is really a treat!
Takayama is a charming city located in the Gifu Prefecture of Japan. The city is famous for its well-preserved Edo-era streets, traditional architecture, and fascinating cultural heritage. Takayama is a perfect destination for travellers who are looking to experience old Japan’s rural life, history, and culture.
Takayama is also known as Hida-Takayama, as it is located in the Hida region of Gifu Prefecture (and to differentiate if from the various other ‘Takayamas’ around Japan…calling your town ‘Tall Mountain’ doesn’t do much for your branding in a country with as many of them as Japan!).. The city is situated in a mountainous area, surrounded by breathtaking natural scenery, which includes the Japanese Alps, rivers, and forests. Takayama has a rich history that dates back to the Jomon period (10,000-300 BC). During the Edo period (1603-1868), the city became an important hub for the lumber industry, which contributed to the development of the region’s traditional architecture.
One of the main attractions in Takayama is the Old Town (Sanmachi Suji), which is a collection of narrow streets that are lined with well-preserved wooden buildings. The area is home to traditional sake breweries, handicraft shops, and local food stores, offering a unique insight into Japanese culture and lifestyle. The architecture in the Old Town is a blend of Edo, Meiji, and Taisho styles, characterized by latticed windows, wooden balconies, and white plaster walls. The Old Town has been designated as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings by the Japanese government, which highlights its cultural significance.
Another popular attraction in Takayama is the Takayama Jinya, which was a government office during the Edo period. The building was used to oversee the Hida region and was an important center for taxation and administration. Today, the Takayama Jinya is a museum that showcases the history and culture of the region. Visitors can explore the various rooms, including the courtrooms, interrogation rooms, and storage areas. The museum also has a beautiful garden, which is a great place to relax and enjoy the surroundings.
The Hida Folk Village (Hida no Sato) is another must-visit destination in Takayama. The village is located on the outskirts of the city and is a reconstructed traditional village that showcases the lifestyle and culture of the Hida region. The village has over 30 thatched-roof houses that were relocated from different parts of the region, and visitors can explore the interiors of these houses to get a sense of what life was like in the past. The village also has a museum that displays traditional tools, crafts, and artifacts. There is another village about 50 minutes bus ride away called ‘Shirakawa-go’, and this is one of the best preserved thatched housed areas in the country.
Takayama is also known for its festivals, which are held throughout the year. The most famous festival is the Takayama Matsuri, which takes place twice a year, in spring and autumn. The festival is known for its elaborate floats, called yatai, which are adorned with intricate carvings, metalwork, and textiles. The floats are paraded through the streets of the city, accompanied by traditional music and dance performances. The Takayama Matsuri is considered one of Japan’s top three festivals, along with the Kyoto Gion Matsuri and the Chichibu Yomatsuri. If you can possibly time your visit to coincide with a major festival by all means do so, but book well in advance as accommodation can be a challenge!
Food lovers will also find plenty to enjoy in Takayama. The city is famous for its Hida beef, which is a type of Wagyu beef that is raised in the Hida region. Hida beef is known for its tender texture and rich flavour and is often served as a steak or in a hot pot dish called sukiyaki. The beef is sold absolutely everywhere, and it seems like there’s a new variation on the menu every few steps as you walk through town. Takayama is also famous for its sake, which is made from locally grown rice and pure mountain water. Visitors can sample different varieties of sake at the local breweries or at the Takayama Sake Festival.
But most of all, Takayama is all about the hour before nightfall, as the day-trippers leave and the mists begin to rise from the river and creep through the old town. In a country of neon and concrete, you can still very much feel the ghosts of the past.
Getting to Takayama from Kobe is a bit of a trek, but it’s well worth it – the journey itself is really quite stunning, particularly once your train winds its way through the hills from Gifu onwards. It will take you about three and a half hours on a combination of the Shinkansen (to Nagoya) and then local trains. Ask at front desk if you need some help booking!
You can learn more about Takayama here – https://www.hida.jp/
If you’d like to learn more about studying in Japan, please visit our website at www.lexisjapan.com