Situated in the middle of the Japanese Alps, Hida-Takayama is the perfect town to experience a more quiet and rural lifestyle. Local outdoor farmers markets are held every day, which is quite rare in Japan, and the place have been famous for years for its wood quality and carpenters’ skills. Apart from holding twice a year one of Japan’s most famous festival, Takayama offers historical buildings and an ancient district. And the region appears in the anime movie Your Name.
Hida-Takayama (“Hida” to distinguish Gifu’s Takayama from the other Takayama’s) is not only a quiet and traditional countryside city, with long streets, red Japanese bridges and less than 100 000 inhabitants. In the middle of the Japanese Alps, the city is known in the whole country for the Takayama Matsuri, one of the biggest fleat festival, held twice a year (mid-April and early October). And Takayama offering some wonderful sights, anytime in the year, definitely is worth a visit.
The festival is known to be one of the three more beautiful of Japan, along Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri and the Chichibu Yomatsuri. Of course, the place is also one of the 100 landscapes of Heisei Era, that we challenged ourselves to discover.
What surprised us in Takayama, apart from the charming ancient district, are the daily farmers’ markets. A common sight in Europe, but in Japan, the two outdoor markets held in Takayama are the first we ever encountered (on a regular basis, and with mainly local farmers). Along the Miyagaya river and in front of the Takayama Jinya, the two markets are filled with vegetables, fruits, pickles or honey – and local craftsmanship items- everything coming from Hida region.
The two morning markets (朝市, Asaichi) are held every morning, from 6:30/7am to noon.
At the time of Edo Period, Takayama was under the direct authority of the Tokugawa shoguns, as they wanted to keep a close eye on the many resources of Hida region, including the wood. Takayama’s inhabitant have always been famous for being skilled carpenters. They were part of the building of Kyoto’s and Nara’s mains temples and palaces.
The Takayama Jinya is the standing proof of the Edo Period history. The buildings complex was an administrative center under the Tokugawa shogunate. Among the 60 similar structures, roughly, used at the time, Takayama’s is the last one. And was one of the four main important, once again because of Hida valuable resources.
The buildings are an interesting visit to understand the multiple rules and hierarchies once in use among the Japanese society, with different accesses and furniture regarding one’s rank. Another proof of Takayama’s major role at the time is the adjacent former rice storehouse, Japan’s biggest and oldest one.
As in any big Japanese city, many temples and shrines are to be seen in Takayama. The two main ones are the departures of the seasonal Takayama festival, holding respectively the spring matsuri and the the fall one.
The Hie Shrine (or Hie Jinja), departure of the spring festival, has also recently attracted more and more tourists, as its main torii is said to have inspired the one featured in the very successful anime movie Your Name. The same is happening not far from Takayama, in Hida-Furukawa, whose tiny train-station has been featured in the movie.
How to get there?
Takayama is in the middle of the Japanese Alps, but not too difficult to reach. The easiest is to reach Nagoya first (about 2h from Tokyo with Tokaido Shinkansen) and then use the JR Hida line (2 more hours). The entire journey being included in JR Pass, or else about 14000 yens one way. Another worth considering option would be to visit Kanazawa first (thanks to the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo) and then go South to Hida region.
Buses are also running. A more direct (but longer) journey would be to reach Matsumoto first and take a bus there (3000 yens). Or to take a direct bus from Tokyo Shinjuku (5h30, 6690 yens).
Takayama is a convenient base camp to explore the Hida mountains, Shirakawa-go or Gujo-Hachiman.