Your guide to one of Japan’s oldest and most attractive cities
Though less frequently visited by foreign tourists than Tokyo or Kyoto, the charming city of Takayama in central Honshu is somewhere more travelers should know about. If the bright lights of Tokyo are a bit much for you, this is a quieter and more remote alternative that oozes history and, in spring and autumn, puts on two of the country’s most popular festivals. Here’s how to spend 24 hours in one of Japan’s most picturesque spots.
Takayama in autumn
Start the morning with a traditional Japanese breakfast of miso soup, steamed rice and other tasty morsels to set yourself up for a day’s exploring. Sufficiently fortified, spend the morning pottering the picturesque backstreets of the photogenic Sanmachi-suji district and see what you discover. Shinto shrines, sake breweries and bonsai gardens await, lying tucked away in unexpected places.
Experience the quaint streets of Takayama
After stopping for a bite to eat for lunch at one of the old town’s delightful cafes, make your way to Hida Kokubun-ji, the city’s oldest temple, and keep a look out for its characterful gingko tree, thought to be over 1,200 years old. It’s worth paying the 300 Yen (about US$2.50) to get into the treasure hall, which is full of interesting artifacts. After that, enjoy a hilly walk through the peaceful Shiroyama-koen Park and see how many temples you can find. You’ll also discover Takayama-jo, the city’s ruined castle.
The Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine
In the evening, head out to a traditional Japanese restaurant such as Kyoya, a family-owned restaurant in which you’re seated on tatami mats around your own barbecue grill. This is a great place to try local dishes such as hida chuka (a dish unique to Takayama that features Chinese noodles) and hoba-miso (food grilled on a magnolia leaf with fermented soybean paste - nicer than it sounds!) - and to experience the restaurant’s famously mouthwatering beef. Having eaten your fill, enjoy the ambience of Takayama illuminated at night with a night-time saunter before making your way back to your accommodation.
The colorful floats on parade during Takayama Matsuri
You’re in for a rather different experience if you visit Takayama during the Takayama Matsuri, the festivals held over two days in spring and autumn. Originally created to celebrate the beginning and end of the agricultural growing season, the festivals are enormously popular in Japan and the city takes on a completely different atmosphere during them. Expect to see people’s homes decorated and countless street performers by day, giving way to a spectacular lantern-lit procession by night. It’s worth making the trip to Takayama especially for this, so plan to be there around the middle of April or October to enjoy the city at its liveliest.