A COMPLETE GUIDE TO TAKAYAMA IN JAPAN
Konichiwa! Oh how I love Japan, the country of equal parts tradition and modernism. One city I've always wanted to visit is Takayama but unfortunately I didn't get to visit on my trip a couple of years ago. But that's ok because guest writer Chalsie Mew from Wayfare Hub has written a complete travel guide to Takayama for us all - amazing! Take it away Chalsie... In the middle of Japan, surrounded by the Japanese Alps, sits a somewhat small, quaint town of Takayama. Part of the charm of Takayama, is the heritage it’s managed to maintain over the years. In the heart of the town, an array of narrow alleys with old wooden buildings still stand tall. It’s surprising considering the damage years of earthquakes and devastating fires can have on a country. But here stands Takayama, with all its old charm and glory.
If you’re looking to get out of the busy cities of Japan and off the guidebook track, Takayama is the perfect little town to do that. It’s a town you can slow down, take it all in and experience a different side of Japan.So here’s a quick guide to Takayama, Japan to help you make the most of your time there.
HOW TO GET THERE It’s worth organising a Japan Rail Pass before you arrive. I’d highly recommend purchasing one, especially if you’re planning on getting out of Tokyo, even for a day.
They’ll put you back AU$360 for a 7-day consecutive pass – ouch, I know! But if you catch two trains you’ve made your money back, which is simply a return ticket. You can also use them to get around Tokyo using the JR lines but make sure you’re aware of the dates your pass is active.
To get to Takayama from Tokyo, you need to activate your pass and book a seat through the JR help centres, which are at all the major stations. They’ll do all the work for you and if you’re lucky they’ll get you a seat on the right side of the train to see Mt. Fuji as you pass. The trip from Tokyo will take you a little over five hours, so make sure you leave early and bring snacks.
WHERE TO STAY
Budget/Mid-range: K’s House I’d say the best hostels in the world are in Japan – although you pay a price for the quality. Expect to pay around AU$40 a night for a shared bathroom doom in Japan. I’ve found K’s House always beautifully clean, often host friendly and respectful fellow travellers (no snoring or tooth grinding!), offer breakfast for an affordable price, and have a comfortable communal space. Whether you’re backpacking, looking for an affordable single room or travelling as a couple, you’ll find what you’re looking for at K’s House.
Treat yo’ self: Ryoken Asunaro A ryoken is a traditional Japanese Inn. And Ryoken Asunaro is the real deal! This place is more than a hotel – it’s an entire experience, and it starts the moment you arrive! After leaving your shoes at the door, you’re greeted by the beautiful husband and wife team and warm tea before being given a tour of the place and your room. The service is immaculate, they make you feel totally at home and part of the community.
Asunaro offers a traditional rooms and modern ones. You can also experience a traditional Japanese breakfast (additional fee) and single sex bathhouses (aka, an onsen)! Note, if you book a traditional room, you won’t get a bathroom in your room, making the onsen not optional. This can be a little intimidating to some, but totally worth the authentic Japanese experience.
WHAT TO DO
Old Town Takayama has bet all odds and somehow preserved its beautiful buildings which date back to the Edo Period (1600-1868), a time when the city was bustling with busy merchants. Not often do you get to see old Japanese houses still standing. After years of earthquakes and horrific fires, it’s no surprise that most towns are modern. So when you do capture a glimpse at what traditional Japan looks like, it’s pretty spectacular. Old Town is the perfect spot to just wander around, get a little lost and take a step back in time.
Morning Markets Every morning along the Miyagawa river crowds gather for some market fun. You’ll find food, drinks, flowers, quaint shops and some pretty interesting rural clothing. It’s a great spot to watch the locals, families, old friends, shopkeepers come together and a perfect way to start the day.
Sake Brewery There are quite a few old sake breweries in Old Town. You can spot them by large balls of cedar branches (known as sugidama) hanging over unassuming doorways. Some offer tasting paddles, which is a fantastic way to see what good quality sake should taste like – you’d be surprised how tasty it can be!
Try: Hirase Sake Brewery, it's the oldest sake brewery in Takayama (82 Kami-no-ichi machi, Takayama) and Kawashiri Sake Brewery, which makes two to four year old fermented sake (68 Kamininomachi, Takayama).
THE OUTDOORS This wouldn’t be a Mister Weekender article without telling you to get out of the city and get into nature! A two hour bus ride from Takayama train station will take you through tiny onsen and ski villages to the Shinhataka Ropeway. Here you jump on two cable cars (one that’s double decker!) to a scenic lookout 2,200 meters above sea level for a breathless panoramic view of the Northern Alps and hiking tracks. On your way back to Takayama, I’d recommend stopping at one of the onsen towns to warm up in a traditional outdoor bathhouse – the colder the weather, the better!
Hida Folk Village This open air museum showcases a whole village of traditional houses from the Edo Period (1603-1867). You can actually explore the inside of these houses, which have been meticulously preserved, to see how these people really lived back thousands of years ago. The indoor fireplaces are even lit every morning to give you a real feel for the village vibe.
Higashiyama walk This forest sits just behind Takayama, and is a perfect way to spend a few hours in the calm of nature. There are many different tracks you can hike that will lead you around temples, shrines, ruins of the old Takayama castle and rural towns. There’s not a lot of information in English, so best to read a bit about what you’ll find before you head out. Pack a picnic and watch out for bears...
WHERE TO EAT
Heianraku My top pick – and apparently all of TripAdvisor’s too! This tiny restaurant is owned by an absolutely beautiful husband and wife team – meeting them was one of my highlights of my entire trip in Japan. But even if you’re not up for a chat, the food is incredible, homemade Japanese/Chinese mix. Don’t miss the best gyoza you’ll ever experience!!
Center4 Hamburgers I know, I know, shame on you for eating burgers when you’re in Japan! It’s ok, we’ll forgive you. Honestly, after a week of eating nothing but rice and ramen, you’ll feel like a change – and this is the place you get it. Not only are the burgers damn good, they have a pretty stellar craft beer list too.
Shunsai Bishu Kisaku This is the kind of place you order lots of little dishes and share amongst good friends and a pint. It’s dishes I didn’t see enough of during my time in Japan, but authentic and absolutely delicious. Hida Beef is grown in the area (the Gifu prefecture), I’ve heard it’s pretty damn good, although a little fatty. Definitely worth a try if beef is your thing.
Ice Cream All around Takayama you’ll find humorously large plastic ice-cream cones sitting outside of small shops to draw ice-cream lovers in. Whether it’s warm or cold out, you’ve got to try the Takayama ice-cream. They’ve got some really interesting flavours, get adventurous and give them all a try! You’re on holiday after all.