Do you dream of traveling to Japan, but are unsure which city to explore? Are you looking for a city that combines tradition, nature, and fun? Look no further than Takayama, a beautiful, old city nestled in the mountains in the Hida region in Japan.
Unlike some of Japan’s more modern cities, Takayama still maintains many of its traditional features. If you are interested in learning about authentic Japanese culture, enjoying a hike in Japan’s mountains, or attending a spring or autumn festival (matsuri), Takayama is the city for you.
Some of Takayama’s best features are its markets, particularly its morning markets. Daily, there are two-morning markets – the Miyagawa Market along the river in the Old Town, and the Jinya-mae Market in front of the Takayama Jinya, the old government office building.
These markets allow Takayama residents and visitors to mingle, experience the fresh air, and try new cuisines and traditional Japanese dishes. Market vendors sell produce, local crafts, flowers, prepared food, and related goods, and even souvenirs.
Make sure you get to the markets early, as they open at 7 AM daily and 8 AM during the colder days of winter, and close at noon.
Takayama also boasts the Hida Folk Village, an open-air museum, which presents more than 30 traditional houses from the Edo Period. These buildings include the village leader’s impressive home, farmhouses with thatched roofs, and logging huts, all relocated from their original locations to the museum for visitors to explore.
If you are more interested in experiential learning, rather than seeing museums, visitors can also attend workshops at the Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Center, to learn how to make local, and authentic, Japanese handicrafts.
Visitors can leave Takayama not only with memories, photos, and filled with delicious Japanese foods, but with sarubobo dolls, furin wind chimes, and ceramic cups, that they made themselves.
If you’re still not tired after the morning market, folk village, and handicraft workshop, you can take a leisurely walk through the Higashiyama Walking Course.
This walk winds through the city’s temple town, known as Teramachi. This 2-mile walk includes wooded hills, the ruins of the Takayama castle, and over a dozen temples and shrines. The walk allows you to reflect on your day in the historic city, and take a break from the crowded streets.
The Old Town (Sanmachi)
If you love history and architecture, Takayama’s old town, also known as “Little Kyoto“, is the place for you. Sanmachi contains old sake breweries, cozy coffee, and tea houses, preserved old homes, and other businesses, many of which have been operating for centuries.
A highlight of the old town is Takayama Jinya, an intricate traditional Japanese-style building.
This was used as the government office during the Edo Period, a time of great economic growth in Japan. The building and its complex are currently open to the public as a museum. It makes a great visit for any history buff interested in learning more about when Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, the military government.
Takayama also has a wide selection of street food, which has delicious food selections that are specific to the area.
If you have a sweet tooth, many travelers recommend old-fashioned Japanese sweets, such as taiyaki, a fish-shaped cake made with waffle batter.
They can be filled with sweet red bean paste, chocolate or vanilla custard, or even a sweet potato filling. If you’re in a more savory mood, be sure to try mitarashi dango (sweet rice dumplings), rice crackers, or traditional sushi.
Twice a year, Takayama hosts a festival to celebrate the change of the seasons.
The festival of the Hie Shrine, also known as the Sanno Festival, takes place in the Spring, in Takayama’s southern old town from April 14-15.
Later in the year, the festival of the Hachiman Shrine takes place in the Autumn, in Takayama’s northern old town from October 9-10. While the festivals celebrate opposing seasons, both include a display of festival floats and are joyous, exciting celebrations.
Unlike a typical American parade, the festival floats stay in the streets of Takayama throughout the day, for visitors and residents alike to admire up close. Upon the floats are Karakuri ningyo, which are intricately painted mechanical dolls that sing and dance for onlookers.
A portable shrine known as a mikoshi is also carried through the streets of Takayama, in respect of the Shinto deity. During the evenings of the festivals, the floats move throughout the street, which is arguably the best part of the celebration.
If you’re not visiting Takayama during either of the festivals, you can still experience some of the fun by visiting the Matsuri no Mori, a museum close to the city center which documents the famous seasonal festivals.
In the museum, you’ll find replicas of festival floats, screens that show videos and photos of floats from past festivals, decorations, and of course, Karakuri dolls. The museum also has massive taiko drums, which are said to be the largest drums in the world.
Attractions Around Takayama
If you want to explore the areas surrounding Takayama, there are also many nearby attractions.
Just under 32 miles away from Takayama lies the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go, a historic village area. This site includes unique historic homes, with steeply pitched thatched roofs. This style of houses, known as Gassho-style houses, are thought to be the only example of this style in all of Japan.
The Japanese Alps also lie close to Takayama and attract hikers and nature lovers from all over the world. These mountain ranges tower over the quaint, rural land surrounding them, providing travelers a breath of fresh air after visiting Japan’s many crowded cities.
If you are looking for a smaller, more traditional city reminiscent of the “old Japan”, look no further than Takayama. This city not only offers historic and natural sites but hosts a twice-annual festival, attracting tourists from all over the world to see its exquisite floats. Book your visit to Takayama today, to experience a calmer way of life in Japan.
Virtual Tour Of Historic Takayama