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Tour leader Charlea Jefts thinks that no trip to Japan is complete without a traditional countryside experience, and where better than Takayama, a well-preserved town in the Japanese Alps.
A trip to Japan isn’t complete without exploring the countryside, supping sake and spending the night at a ryokan; Takayama has it all! This small village within the Japanese Alps, surrounded by mountainous peaks on all sides, is one of the best places to experience traditional Japan. Arrive in Takayama in the afternoon to make the most of your 24 hours there.
Day 1 – PM
Check into your ryokan
A warm welcome as you check-in to your ryokan will start this journey back in time on the right foot; don’t miss spending a night at one of these traditional inns. Kind hospitality will see you being fussed over by hosts in traditional dress, shown to spotless tatami-mat bedrooms and served exceptional food. Ryokan suppers are known as kaiseki; a traditional spread of small and varied dishes that give you the opportunity to try a bit of everything.
The narrow streets of San-machi Suji, lined with wooden houses, appear unchanged from the Edo-period (between the 1600s and 1800s), but parts of the town can be traced back as far back as the Jomon period (2,000 years ago!). While beautiful, and better-known Kyoto has similar architecture in the Gion quarter (and the odd geisha pattering through the streets), every street in Takayama feels unchanged.
Spend the afternoon exploring the area. The narrow streets have shops selling traditional wares, workshops with busy craftsmen, and small museums – enough to keep you occupied for a few hours.
Once you’ve got a feel for the place, slip into one of the sake breweries here; a highlight in and of themselves. Many of the tastings are free (rising to 500yen), so you may find yourself dancing down the historic lanes and rolling back to the ryokan.
Evening in Takayama
Your first evening is best spent enjoying your kaiseki. After dinner everything closes down early in the inaka (countryside) of Japan. Take a stroll through the old quarters and stop off at the Kokubunji, a Buddhist temple. It’s a great way to walk off that filling dinner before a long soak in the onsen (hot spring bath at the ryokan). After this, head to your futon fat and happy.
Have an early start to take in the Jinya-mae food market that runs along the river; pick up breakfast or some snacks for your train journey back to modern Japan. Don’t forget your Sarubobo souvenirs as well, you’ll only find these cute monkey babies around here.
Hida Folk Village
Visiting this well-preserved traditional folk village, an open-air museum, is a real treat and only a 10-minute bus ride from the centre of Takayama. There are more than 30 traditional houses, temples and shrines; all rescued from destruction and brought to live on in this majestic mountain-side to give visitors a chance to see what life would have been like 100 years ago.
The village is also well-known for the gassho-zukuri (“praying hands”) houses, distinctive for steeply sloping roofs that resemble praying hands. You can wander around the village at your own pace and spend time in every little gassho-zukuri house.
Do pop into the craft workshops within the Hida Minzoku-mura area to watch demonstrations, and pick up a souvenir or two from the shop outside.
Aside from the beautiful old streets and traditional merchant’s houses, you may well know Takayama for its famous beef. Don’t leave without trying it! Unless you’re a vegetarian…
When you come back to the city in the afternoon, be sure to have a big bowl of Hida beef ramen for lunch. Or take your pick from beef sushi, grilled beef sticks, and steamed hida beef buns.
While away the afternoon with a few hours visiting the float museum (Takayama Yatai Kaikan) and the Takayama Jinya, traced back to 1615 and once the seat of local government.
Takayama is only a small town, so its easy to walk from one side to the other in around twenty minutes. Alternatively you can hire a bike to explore the city on two wheels (we recommend the Green Hotel for the best ones). Fortunately, the whole town is quite flat!
Takayama is well set up for tourists, with plenty of English signs and a helpful tourist office.
Best time to visit?
Takayama is lovely in every season. The spring and autumn festival see floats paraded through the streets so this can be an interesting time to go. The friendly folk there also give out headphones to narrate the festival in English and give an insight into the history.
More than 24 hours?
Spend another night in a ryokan, try a yakiniku dinner and consider taking a day trip to neighbouring Hida Furukawa. Read about Lily’s experiences here, but try not to take sides!
Wander through the traditional streets of Takayama on our Traditional Japan self-guided itinerary.