Sightseeing in Takayama

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(Excerpt from ‘Must-See Japan‘, available now for all tablets, smartphones and kindle)

Takayama

A small and pleasant historic city nestling deep in the heart of Gifu prefecture, Takayama has seen a tourist boom in recent years, so much so in fact, that JR Takayama station was completely redeveloped in 2016 to cope with the influx of visitors. Also sometimes referred to as Hida-Takayama (in reference to the old Hida Province) the city has long been a local centre of importance, and due to its relative isolation and altitude, and the city still retains much of its old charm and uniqueness. Takayama makes for a good base from which to explore this rural part of Japan, as there is good access to the nearby Japan Alps, numerous winter ski resorts and the famous thatched houses of Shirakawa-go.

Most of Takayama’s main attractions can be found by taking the east exit from Takayama station and walking directly east for about 10 minutes. This is where you will find the picturesque Old Town, where whole streets of Edo-period merchant houses remain intact and a walk around the area really does feel like stepping back in time. The southern part of the Old Town, centred around Sannomachi Street, has many old houses, shops, museums and sake breweries (for which the city is famous). This is also close to Shiroyama Park, where visitors can see the old castle ruins and follow the easy but interesting Higashiyama walking course which loops back into town via a district of historic temples.

Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village) is an impressive open-air museum where over 30 historic buildings from around the Hida region were relocated to create a fascinating time capsule of an attraction. A wide range of buildings are preserved there, including some of the famous thatched farm buildings from nearby Shirakawa-go, and visitors are free to enter and explore all of them. Every morning the fireplaces are lit too, to recreate the feeling of a lived-in Edo village, with all of its authentic sights and smells. The Folk Village costs 700 yen to enter and is a 30 minute walk west of Takayama station, or a 10 minute bus ride on the ‘Sarubobo bus’ (210 yen, or 620 yen for a one-day pass). There is also a discount ticket combining the round trip bus ticket with entrance to the village for 930 yen (ask at the bus centre).

Possibly the biggest draw to Takayama is the famous Takayama Festival, which takes place twice a year, in the spring (April 14-15) and again in the autumn (October 9-10). Each festival features a wide range of processions, performances and ornately decorated floats being carried through the streets, both during the day and in the early evening. Widely regarded as one of Japan’s most beautiful festivals, people come from far and wide and hotels are often booked up months in advance, so plan ahead accordingly.

Getting there: From Tokyo, take the shinkansen to Nagoya (100 or 120 minutes) and then change to a JR Hida limited express train for Takayama (140 minutes). The whole journey is covered by the JR Pass (if using a Hikari bullet train to Nagoya). There are also Keio and Nohi highway buses which take 5.5 hours for 6,690 yen.

From Kyoto and Osaka there is a direct train called the JR limited express Wide View Hida (once a day, leaves Osaka at 7.58am, covered by the JR Pass). It’s also possible to take the shinkansen to Nagoya and go on from there.

There are also frequent buses from Matsumoto city.

(Excerpt from ‘Must-See Japan‘, available now for all tablets, smartphones and kindle)

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