Takayama. Journey to Little Kyoto

Takayama

Takayama is a beautiful city in Japan, surrounded on all sides by mountains and located in the Gifu Prefecture on Honshu Island. In ancient times, Takayama served as a rest station on the main road, and later became a castle town with a rich history. Its atmosphere, which is somewhat reminiscent of Kyoto, also adds to the charm of the city. And its small population (only 65 thousand people) is pleasantly different from the inhabitants of large cities. Although Takayama is in the center of Japan, it’s not on a busy road, so parts of it seem untouched by the ravages of time.

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General Information

Takayama is famous for its carpenters. It earned its reputation as a city of craftsmen back in the periods when the imperial court was in Nara and Kyoto. Since the harvests in the Hida mountain region were insufficient to pay taxes to the treasury, the town sent its skilled artisans (hida no takumi) to help build the temples and palaces of the imperial capital. The skills inherited by modern craftsmen enable them to work successfully with yew wood, and the city’s old wooden houses remain in fine condition, retaining their traditional style. During the Middle Ages a local lord borrowed the geometric layout of the capital and Takayama was known as “Little Kyoto.

Takayama is a good place to explore family-style hotels. Here they are especially welcoming. You can also get around on foot, although a bicycle rental at the train station will make exploring the surrounding countryside easier.

What to see

Start the day at Asaichi Open Morning Market, operating on the east bank of the Miya River just north of the Yasugawa Street Bridge. Breathe the clean mountain air and admire the view of fruits and vegetables from farms in the Hida Mountains, flowers and nuts delivered from the hillsides.

A little away from the river and to the south you will find the delightful old houses and workshops of Kami-Sannomati and Furuimatinami streets. The quality of local handicrafts: wood carvings, lacquerware, and pottery is known throughout Japan. Furuimatinami is quieter, with more houses. The houses are long, two-story, built of unpainted dark wood, with latticed facades and low porches-balconies. Here and there, the palette is varied by flowers and bushes in pots, mini gardens in boxes (hako-niva). Some of the old houses have been converted into museums and eclectic galleries.

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Immediately east of the market by the river stand two merchant houses: Yoshijima-ke and Kusakabe Mingeikan. The latter has been converted into a magnificent folk art museum displaying local costumes, carved woodwork, and lacquer objects (sunkeinuri) that seem to glow from within, not so much to hide as to emphasize the structure of the wood.

Takayama’s most important temple is the 16th-century Kokubunji. Next to the three-tiered pagoda grows a ginkgo tree said to be more than 1,200 years old. To the southeast of the city is Shiroyama Park, with slopes overgrown with wildflowers. Overall, the park has a pleasant natural view and offers a beautiful panorama of the city and the Japanese Alps behind it.

Hida Minzoku-mura (daily 8.30-17.00) is a magnificent open-air museum with authentic old farmhouses and buildings removed from the area, most of them saved from flooding after the construction of the Mihoro dam. Attractively nestled in the hills 800 meters southwest of Takayama station, the houses, many three- and four-story, with thatched, pointed roofs, are oddly reminiscent of a village in the European Alps. The houses contain old farm implements and cooking utensils. Some operate workshops where you can watch the work of highly quoted local artisans displaying their art in lacquerware, woodcarving, weaving and dyeing fabrics.

Even “more authentic” local architecture, especially the village houses known as gasho-zu-kuri (“folded hands in prayer”) with their steeply pitched thatched roofs, can be found in the villages of Shirakawa-go northwest of Takayama. In 1995, this well-preserved group of connected villages and valleys surrounded by mountains and forests was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Refrain from a weekend trip there, as the place is deservedly popular.

About 60 km south of Shirakawa-go is the beautiful town of Gujo-Hachiman. The town stands surrounded by hills at the confluence of the Nagara and Yoshino rivers. It grew up on the site of an intermediate station on the important trade route to the Sea of Japan. The crystal-clear waters of the pebble-bottomed rivers are teeming with ayu and satsuki masu (a unique species of trout) fish. The town is a cluster of dark-tinted wooden houses and stores, white plastered buildings, wooden bridges, cobblestone walls, and narrow cobblestone streets. There are museums, galleries, and eye-catching stores selling local products like tsumugi cloth. The place is famous for the Gujo Odori dance performed during the month of August’s O-Bon Remembrance Festival. The castle on top of a steep hill is the best place to view the city, which is shaped like a fish.

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Takayama in Japan – why come here?

temples in Japan

Hello dear readers, seekers of knowledge and truth!

Today we want to tell you about a wonderful town that has not yet touched the hand of mass tourism and all-consuming civilization. This is Takayama in Japan.

In the material below you will learn what kind of town it is, where it is located and how to get to it on your own. We will tell you about the amazing places and events of the town, which will take you into an atmosphere of Japanese identity and seclusion.

Well, welcome to our virtual journey with us!

About

Takayama is a small town in the Land of the Rising Sun that’s quiet and low-rise and full of history. It’s easy to find on the map, because it’s located almost in the center of Japan’s archipelago, in the Hida region of Gifu Prefecture on Honshu Island. Takayama is about equally distant from Kyoto, Nagoya, and Tokyo.

On an area just under 2.2 thousand square kilometers, there are only 90,000 inhabitants. Due to the fact that the city is located away from the main transport and trade routes of the country, there are no crowds of gaping tourists, and the mood of the city is quiet and measured.

Takayama

At the same time, the city’s panorama is more than picturesque: Takayama seems to be embraced by the towering mountain peaks over 3,000 meters high, and the Miyagawa River flows through the city. The architecture continues the harmony of nature and is enhanced by the neat San-machi neighborhood, with its 17th- and 19th-century Edo-era houses.

There are also distilleries where sake is still made and merchants’ houses with delicate bars on the windows. And the atmosphere of an old castle is all over the city.

Takayama has another meaning, because that’s what the traditional hairstyles of sumo wrestlers were called.

Takayama was called “Little Kyoto” for a reason. In the Middle Ages, the city manager was impressed by the layout of Kyoto, the capital at the time, and decided to borrow it and apply it to the streets of his native city.

But that’s not even what Takayama is famous for. During that same Edo period, the city’s carpenters became so proficient that the shogun took notice of their work and patronized them. To this day, Takayama is still famous as a city of craftsmen.

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The weather in this part of the island is rather unruly, with wide temperature variations during the winter at night and during the day. In the past, the thermometer has seen temperatures go as low as -15 at night, which is cold even for Japan.

people in Takayama

Winters are snowy and summers are humid, so even the summer days are cool. The locals are used to this climate and have thoughtfully stocked up on futons, warm blankets, which they sometimes use in the summer, too.

A visit to Takayama is perfect for families, romantics, and those looking for harmony and solitude. Although there aren’t many tourists, local hotels offer a wide range of rooms at reasonable prices for Japan. You can take a leisurely stroll through the city streets or rent a bike from one of the local bike rental shops.

The city even has its own symbolic plants, including the yew tree and the rhododendron flower.

Places

Despite its rather modest size, Takayama prepares many attractions for its guests. Start with the Old Town.

This was where the commercial hub of the Edo period was located. Now reminiscent of this are the low houses, lined up in a row, where museums with guided tours and exhibitions of merchant’s household items. Here are also located authentic Japanese cuisine cafes and stores, as well as centuries-old institutions, where the national drink brewed – sake.

Japanese street

Higashiyama Street in Japan

Higashiyama Street stretching for 3.5 kilometers is worth continuing your hike. There are a dozen different temples, the same stores and restaurants, the ruins of the city castle, and cozy park Shiroyama. The park hills are strewn with wildflowers, and from there you can admire the view of the city and the almost alpine meadows of Japan.

In the streets of Furuimanami and Kami-Sannomachi, workshops of three or four stories are scattered everywhere, where even today wood carvers and potters are working. And in the house of merchant Kusakabe Mingekan, a folk art museum was organized. There are outfits, wood carvings, and artfully lacquered items on display.

Kusakabe Mingekan merchant's house

Another curious museum is the Hida Mindzoku-mura. It shows visitors the entire dwellings of the farmers who were brought here to save them from flooding. The museum is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The famous morning markets of Asaichi, Jinyamae, and Miyagawa deserve special attention. They existed here as far back as two centuries ago. Nowadays you can buy fruits, vegetables, nuts, flower arrangements, and objects made by local artists from the market vendors.

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Here are a few more places to visit:

  • Shirakawa-go Village – Under the watchful eye of UNESCO, the village has preserved distinctive peasant houses with steep thatched roofs.
  • Yoshijima Family Building – At the beginning of the last century there was a home brewery where sake was made.
  • Eight-hundred-meter-long Hida Cave.
  • Okura and Utsue waterfalls – they say there are 48 of them.
  • Prince Kamori’s mansion, home of the local government building.
  • The center of ethnography is the village of Hida.

Hida Cave

  • The countryside of Oku Hida, where the hot springs come from.

However, the impression of the city will not be complete without visiting at least one of its beautiful temples.

Main Temples

The main temple is called Kokubun-ji. It belongs to the Shingon trend of Buddhism and was built by order of the ruler Semu in the Nara period, i.e. in the 8th century. This means that more than twelve centuries have passed since its foundation.

Japan Temple

It is said that the gink-ko tree, which stands almost forty meters tall, has been preserved from the same era. The temple is especially beautiful when autumn comes, in November, when the bright yellowed crown envelops the facade of the temple.

The main hall of the shrine dates back to the Muromachi period (XIV-XVI centuries) and is among the oldest structures in the city. Two three-story pagodas can also be seen in the temple ensemble. In reality, they originally consisted of seven stories, but in the Land of the Rising Sun, as elsewhere, there were frequent fires where wooden buildings burned, so only three stories remain of the former height, which have been restored.

Another important shrine of the city is Unryu-ji, built in the first half of the 8th century. It belongs to the 33 shrines of the Kannon pilgrim way.

Unryu-ji Temple

The peculiarity of this shrine is that the main gate of Sero was inherited from the city’s castle, so it is considered an important cultural monument. The first tier of the shrine opens with a cozy garden complex, from where one can see the panorama of the entire city.

Another unique temple is the Hida Shoja. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that eighteen deities ruling the territory of Hida can be worshipped here at once.

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Hida Shoja Temple

It is believed that prayers in this temple have a special and miraculous power as the praying person is blessed by all the gods at once.

Every year in early May, usually on the 4th or 5th of May, the ritual of Oyakoshi-shimai, that is, “dancing lions,” is held at Hida Shoja.

Festivals and celebrations

Twice a year, Takayama has a major Matsuri festival attended not only by the townspeople but also by hundreds of special guests who come to Takayama for the occasion. The autumn festival is called Hachiman and takes place on October 9-10, while the spring festival is called Sanno and takes place on April 14-15.

During the festival, residents and guests dress up in fancy dress and arm themselves with specially equipped portable temple houses and platforms decorated with lanterns and patterns. People parade through the old streets of the city to the sound of flutes and drumming. It is believed that on this holiday the spirits come alive and move into these temple houses to be able to walk through the city.

man taking pictures

The main action of the festival takes place at the Hieh-dhinja Temple, where special platforms are also set up. The festival continues with a performance of the traditional Karakuri puppet theater.

Useful Information

There are several ways to get to Takayama:

  • By plane from Tokyo, which is 220 kilometers away. Toyama Airfield is about half a hundred kilometers from Takayama. The flight takes just under an hour.
  • By train from Tokyo station Shinjuku. Travel time is about five hours.
  • By car on the Central Motorway. Taking into account the traffic jams and toll sections, you can get from the capital in 4.5 hours.

Conclusion

So, today we got acquainted with a town that not many people know about – Takayama. It’s quite modest in size, and that’s its beauty. Museums, dozens of temple buildings, waterfalls, parks, low streets with merchants’ houses, little masterpieces of local artists – all this inevitably evokes the spirit of an old city overflowing with history.

Thank you very much for your attention, dear readers! We are grateful to you for your active support of the blog – share links with your friends in social networks – it motivates us even more to publish new interesting articles!

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