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This Backpack and Snorkel Travel Guide (Takayama Purple Guide) provides information about the best things to do in Takayama and ensures that you will be Making Memorable Moments on a relaxing vacation in Takayama.
This Takayama Purple Guide features a self-guided walking tour of Takayama that allows you to explore its beautiful historic downtown area.
Takayama was a castle town during the Tokugawa period (1603–1867) and the town of Takayama was established in 1889.
Today, Takayama is known as a "little Kyoto" for its gridiron street plan and beautiful and well preserved historic wooden buildings.
The Takayama Festival is held in spring and autumn and is considered one of Japan's best festivals.
The best way to start a walking tour of Takayama’s historic district (also Old Township or Furui-machi-nami) is to visit one of the two morning markets. We went to the Miyagawa Market 宮川朝市 along the Miyagawa River between Akiba Shrine and Yoshijima Heritage House 吉島家住宅. The other morning market, the Jinya-mae Market 陣屋前朝市, can be found in front of the Takayama Jinya 高山陣屋. Both open at 7am (8am in winter) and close at noon.
You will see many small stands where vendors and farmers sell vegetables, fruits, flowers, local crafts, souvenirs and snacks.
Takayama (“tall mountain”) has about 88,500 inhabitants and an area of 841 square miles (2,177.61 square km) which makes it the city occupying the largest geographic by area in Japan. It is located in the heart of the Japan Alps and the highest point in the city lies at an elevation of 10,470ft (3,190m).
The climate that you can expect when you visit Takayama is shown here:
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Once you are done with the Morning Market, please go ahead and visit the sites that I outline in the tour. I encourage you to stroll through the three streets that I marked in green in the map above which run parallel to the river on its east side (Sanno-Machi, Nino-Machi and Ichino-Machi) as they are all lined with beautifully preserved historic buildings, many of the converted into stores, museums, restaurants and Sake breweries that will transport you back into the Edo age.
Important tip: The stores are typically only open from 9am to 5pm, so plan your walking tour accordingly.
Minshuku Kuwataniya is an easy 10min walk from the JR train station (map). It is a small privately owned guest house which does not have a 24h reception. We arrived after 10pm and everything was dark on the outside and the inside. The owner, in a traditional Japanese gown, came after we rang the doorbell and waited in the entrance room for about 1 min. We had to take our shoes off and stored them in an unlocked cabinet near the entrance door with our room number on it. The owner, who does not speak English, cleaned the wheels of our suitcases before we entered.
We had room 205, which is a Japanese room that is not much bigger than the two beds with firm mattresses that are in it. The entrance door is only 6ft tall but the room has a normal height ceiling. Our room also has a separate bathroom that does not have one of the typical high tech toilet seats that you see in hotels all over Japan. There is also a small entrance room with as small fridge, a small wardrobe and the bedroom has a small closet that you can use to store some clothes. The bathroom comes with a multi-use bottle of shampoo, liquid soap and, I guess, as bottle of hand sanitizer. Two complimentary toothbrushes with tooth paste were provided and there was no hair dryer. Hair dryers are installed in the onsens and at a public sink on the first floor. Be careful, the hot water is extremely hot! There is a notice on the bathroom door saying that bath times are from 7-9am and 4-10pm which was real inconvenient as we are early risers.
The bedroom has a flat screen TV but no English channels, a quiet and efficient A/C, a safe and a thermal bottle with hot water, 2 tea bags and 2 paper thin cookies. The floor is hardwood with Japanese mats throughout the guesthouse whereas the bathroom is all plastic floor, ceiling and wall panels. The hotel was supposed to have free wifi which was not working in our room. I was only able to connect in the entrance on the 1st floor.
I had booked this hotel online through hotels.com and, interestingly, there was absolutely no paperwork and the owner did not even check our IDs.
Check-out time is 10am; breakfast was not included in our room rate which was below US$100 per night. There are plenty of restaurants a few blocks away from the guest house.
Long story short: If you like a Japanese experience in a private guest house then this may be for you.
The Kusakabe family were successful money lenders in the late Edo and early Meiji eras. Their original merchant house that stood here burned down in 1875 and the house that you see today was rebuilt four years later in characteristics late Edo-era style, which means: a two-story design made from Japanese Cypress (Hinoki), exposed heavy beams and pillars, a gently slanting roof, slender window lattice work and a dark brown soot paint.
The building houses the Folk Museum since 1966. Admission is 500 Yen per adult.
The Yoshijima family mad a fortune by engaging in money lending and the production of sake. The house was constructed in 1907 with a floor plan similar to that of Kusakabe house. A major difference is, however, that the house also functioned as a sake brewery. There used to be store houses in the back where the sake was stored. Admission is 500 Yen per adult.
This is the oldest Shinto shrine in Takayama and the starting point for the Takayama Autumn Festival float parade. It is believed that the shrine was built in the early found hundreds. The shrine burned down several times and the structure you see today dates back to the 19th century.
This jewel with no admission fee is located in Takayama's beautiful historic district between many souvenir stores and restaurants. The exhibits explain how Takayama developed from a historic castle town to the town that you see nowadays.
Like other museums, it displays many historic artefacts including paintings, maps, ceramics, clothes, armors, swords, and information on the floats used for the autumn festival parade. Explanations are given in Japanese and English. I still can't believe that they don't charge admission for this.
Long story short: We consider this a must-see for anyone interested in Takayama's history.
Please click on the images below to kearn more about the other destinations we visited in Japan.
Harada Sake Brewery is one on many sake breweries in Takayama’s historic district. Many of these breweries exist for centuries and they sell high quality sake. It is said that the cold climate, clean mountain water and master brewers are essential to high quality sake, all of which are plentiful in Takayama.
Harada is consistently rated one of the best breweries, but I think you can’t really go wrong with any brewery in this area of town. Harada offers tasting of various types of sake (you buy a cup and can taste various sakes) and sake containing products incl. sake flavored cake (no preservatives = eat within very few days).
You can easily recognize sake breweries by the traditional sake barrels (sakadaru) on the outside or by cedar branch balls (sugidama) that hang over the entrances.
This beautiful building served as a local governor’s office from 1692 to 1969. There used to be more than 60 similar buildings in Japan, however, this building is the only one left today.
This was the last stop on our walking tour.
The next highlight of Takayama is Hida Folk Village.
A short 10min bus ride from the main train station where we arrived the previous day lies Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village), which is the main attraction in Takayama together with Takayama’s historic district.
Discounted combination tickets (admission and roundtrip bus fare) can be purchased in the bus terminal right next to the train station.
We recommend spending at least 90 min to tour the houses that were brought here from various locations in the Gifu province; shorter walking tours that can be done are outlined on the ticket, but we recommend to rather spend more time here.
You will need to take your shoes off to enter most houses. Some of the buildings are almost empty, while some have historic artifacts displayed. Explanations on the many signs are given in Japanese and English. The setting of the Hide Folk Village is in a beautiful mountainous wooded area with a lake as the center point.
Long story short: If you are interested in how people lived in historic times, then you should visit this site. We consider this a must-see site in Takayama.
There are other things to see and do that we did not have time for. I mention them here for you and hope that you will have time to visit them and tell me how you enjoyed them.
This temple is directly across the street from the hotel where we stayed. It is a Shingon-sect Buddhist temple that was built in 757. Hida Kokubun-ji Temple is one of the few surviving temples established by Emperor Shōmu during the Nara period and a designated National Historic Site.
The structure burned down many times and what you see today dates from 1820.
Takayama holds an annual spring festival (April 14-15) and autumn festival (October 9-10) every year during which beautifully decorated floats are hauled through the streets. These festivals are rated among the best in all of Japan. At Takayama Yatai Kaikan, four of the eleven autumn festival floats are on display. The displayed floats are changed three times per year.
The Higashiyama Walking Course is a nice walking route starting in Takayama's temple town (Teramachi) (map) and finishing at Shiroyama Park (map), the former site of Takayama Castle. On the 3.5km long path you will pass several temples, shrines and cemeteries. There are signs that show which way to go and signs that provide explanations of why see. Sometimes, the signs are not very obvious and you may miss them.
Shiroyama Park is the site where Takayama Castle used to stand. The park was established in 1873 and is the end point of the Higashiyama Walking Course (see above).
This is a teddy bear museum with more than 1,000 of these cuddly creatures on display. You guessed it, this attraction is good for children and young-at-heart adults.
The Museum, which was opened in 1997, sits on a hill where you have wonderful views of the Japanese
Alps and Takayama city. It features mostly glass art works and some European Art Nouveau and
Art Deco style furniture. The icing on the cake is the Lalique fountain from the 1929 Paris Exposition.