Takayama is a city nestled in Hida region of Gifu prefecture. Despite it being a city, Takayama’s scenery is the opposite of what you could usually see in busy metropolitans. Instead of sky-high buildings, you’d find yourself travelling to mountainous areas, lush forestry and charming villages. Whether you want to visit the Japanese Alps, see the famed Shirakawa-go or relax in an onsen village, Takayama is an excellent starting point for you.
I went to Takayama during Christmas break last year. Being there during winter made it extra special to me. Winter after all is the best season (at least for me).
Getting to Takayama:
The city is accessible by train or bus if you are coming from major cities such as Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo. The bus fare is about Y2800 ($28 USD) and would take five hours. You can easily reserve tickets online.
A quicker alternative is taking the Shinkansen but it is the more expensive way depending on your point of origin.
Exploring Takayama’s Old Town
It was dusk when I arrived in Takayama. I gave myself few hours to rest before I went out to explore the Edo section of the area. Almost all establishments closes at 5:00 pm, so there were hardly any people. The buildings in the area date back to Edo Period (1600-1868).
Situated between Tokyo and Osaka, Gifu is a central trade route during this period. The influx of merchants and travellers paved way for construction of many shops and houses in Takayama. These buildings house businesses that have been operating for many years now, most of them found in Sannomachi street. Sake breweries are quite interesting to visit should you have time.
Savouring Hida Beef in Takayama
Takayama is also known for Hida-gyu, the beef that came from the Japanese cattle bred in Gifu prefecture. Just with the marbling and texture, you can already tell that this is fine quality meat. Although I did not go to a yakiniku place, I did try it in different kinds of foods.
Hida gyuuman is a beef bun generously packed with sweet and juicy beef that could be considered a meal itself rather than just a snack. The dough of the bun is soft, highlighting the flavour of the beef in every bite.
Beef nigiri is another dish to try. It is similar to sushi but with seared beef on top. I remember that there were a variety of sauces and seasonings that you could choose to top the beef. Don’t forget to mention how you want your beef to be cooked whether it is rare or medium rare. I love that they serve it on a senbei plate. It eliminates waste and at the same time, it complements the beef sushi.
If you stay in ryokans, you can definitely try Hida beef since it is in your meal plan. During my stay in Mozumo, I was able to eat sukiyaki and beef sushi for dinner.
A visit to gassho village, Shirakawa-go
This charming village is just an hour away from Takayama. You can ask your hostel if they could book a tour for you or you could catch a bus from the terminal. Another option is to drive.
This historic, mountain village is known for its gassho-zukuri architecture present in its farmhouses. A notable feature of the gassho-zukuri style is the thatched roof whose shape is like two palms clasped in prayer. The materials of the roof are strong enough to withstand heavy snow and shed the snow every now and then. Some houses are open to the public. Each house might look similar interior-wise however each has different history.
The houses are spacious featuring large spaces even in the attic. Depending on the residence, you would see some artefacts related to the daily life of the villagers in the olden times. A prominent feature is the storage space for sericulture. Villagers keep trays of silkworms and mulberry leaves in these spaces.
With over 100 Gassho-styled houses, it is essential to remember that there are residents who are still living in the village. Please remember to conduct yourself properly.
The Gondolas in Shin-Hotaka Ropeway
Just before I went to the onsen. I visited Shin-Hotaka ropeway. You can buy discounted tickets which combine the bus fare and the ropeway ticket in Lawson ( front of Takayama station). It would take about an hour and a half to reach the ropeway from the bus terminal but I can attest that you would love the scenery along the way.
Always remember to check the forecast first. They also have a real-time stream that shows the current weather conditions in the ropeway. I took my chances but unfortunately, it was still zero visibility when I got there
On the side note, you’ll get an impressive view of the Alps and Okuhida region on a good day! I’m looking forward to coming back already.
There two ropeways and the total travel time is 12 minutes (one way). There is an observation deck in Ropeway 2.
Combination Ticket – 5000 yen ($50) – Ropeway + roundtrip bus fare.
Getting there: If you do not have the combination ticket, it should cost you around 2160 yen ($22 USD) per way.
Hotspring heavens in Okuhida onsen
Actually, this is the main destination of my trip. I had an exhausting year in 2016 and an even more exhausting year ahead. Plus, I considered it as birthday and Christmas present for myself. In short, I thought of many ways to justify my splurging.
There are five onsen towns that make up Okuhida. Since it is amidst the Japanese Alps, you can admire the picturesque scenery as you soak in your rotenburo (open-air baths). Ryokans and minshukus abound in the region and with five villages to choose from, you certainly will not run out of options.
I stayed in Mozumo for a night, with the whole night spent going back and forth in my open-air bath. You can read about my Mozumo experience here.
Take a bus from Takayama terminal and get off in Hirayu onsen stop. The trip should be around 50 minutes to an hour.
If you do not have the combination ticket, it should cost you around 1570 yen ($16 USD) per way.
Last Hurrah in Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village)
Three days were admittedly short time for Takayama. Just before I depart for Kyoto, I visited Hida no Sato. Hida no Sato is an open-air museum with various gassho-zukuri houses assembled to recreate the setting of a mountain village. Many of these houses were relocated from Shirakawa-go. There is a lot to be seen here and I was quite surprised that they weren’t many people. You can visit houses of different influential families, the village leader’s house, logging huts, storehouses and even working areas for sericulture.
Because of my interest in food, I was keen when I read about the details of banquet preparation and the kinds of food they usually serve. You can also head to Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Center to buy handicrafts. There are also workshops for various crafts such as wood carving, sarubobo doll making, lacquer and ceramics.
Getting here: There is a combination ticket Y900 ($9 USD). This is for both the entrance fees of Hida no Sato and the roundrip bus ticket from Takayama terminal.
Author’s Note on Takayama
There you have it! It’s been a year since I took this trip. I don’t feel any remorse splurging given that 2017 was indeed an exhausting year. This will probably be updated next year since this is at the top of places to visit next year. I definitely recommend you to include a trip to Takayama when you visit Japan. Maybe also add some sidetrips to Norikura and Kamikochi if you have more time.
Check out the Nohi bus website for planning your travel: https://www.nouhibus.co.jp/english/