Takayama: One of the Best Preserved Old Towns in Japan

On the day of our departure from Shirakawa-go, my friends and I bade farewell to Saeko San, the owner of Yokichi where we stayed overnight. It was raining hard that morning so the old lady gave us umbrellas on our way out. She’s really a sweet and accommodating host! I would definitely stay with them the next time I go to Shirakawa-go. I wonder when that will be?

Our bus going to Takayama is scheduled to arrive at 9 in the morning. We went to the bus terminal 30 minutes earlier and as usual the bus arrived on time. The night prior, we have all decided to explore the town of Takayama before we catch the train going to Nagoya. And then from Nagoya, we will then take the bullet train going to Tokyo whilst Swan will go towards the direction of Kyoto.

Obligatory tourist pose at Takayama Old Town

Takayama Old Town

Takayama is an old provincial capital nestled within the mountainous Central Japan. It is historically known as Hida and even today it is still widely called Hida Takayama. The exact same place where we could find the famous Hida Beef.

The old town of Takayama is located almost in the middle of nowhere. It was incredible to see the town still treasures its ancient traditions. Walking in its old streets was so fascinating! Here, we saw old Machiya townhouses still operational, old homes and shops still in the business and Sake breweries still making the finest Sake.

different varieties of Sake in Takayama

I found out that Sake is one of Takayama’s local specialties and some of its breweries have been in the business for centuries. Today, tourists are allowed to enter these breweries and purchase small samples of Sake. The breweries normally have Sugidama (balls made of cedar branches) hanging over their entrances and of course huge Sake barrels.

Takayama Bridge

Throughout the old town, there are several antique stores, souvenir shops and restaurants. It is really a perfect place to wander around and to take photos.

One of the few bizarre things I found while walking was the Sarubobo. I suspected they were modelled after Shinobi or ninjas but I later found out that Sarubobo means Baby Monkey. Long time ago, Okasan (mothers) and Obasan (grandmothers) in Japan made these dolls for their youngsters hoping for happiness and good health. Since the Edo Period, it was believed that these dolls were effective charms against evil and bad fortune. I should have known this before we went home!

Miyagawa Morning Market

Before we head back to JR Takayama Station, we decided to check out the Miyagawa Morning Market, one of the morning markets in Takayama. It is located along the Miyagawa River in the old town and is about 10 minute walk from the train station. Most stands sell local crafts, snacks and farm products. It was the first market I have visited that I don’t recognise almost all products. SRSLY! There were so many stuff I can’t name!

barrel of miso

Most of us are accustomed to seeing dried fruits, but in Takayama and other parts of Gifu Prefecture, red dried chili peppers are prevalent. Anybody knows why they sell dried chili peppers?

dried chili peppers in straw rope

I was not surprised to see local variants of Kitkat in the morning market. Honestly, Kitkats are everywhere in Japan and each city has its own exclusive flavour. My absolute favourite is Matcha flavour Kitkat :

Local variants of Kitkat
cute stuff toys at a local gift shop along Miyagawa River

Towards the end of the morning market, we saw this little food stall selling what looked like pastillas. We did not know what it was at that time. We were all absorbed watching his knife skills as he cut the pieces so fast. It was real entertainment! Later I found out that thing is called Genkotsu Ame, a popular local sweet in the Takayama area.

Local sweets for Omiyage

After 2 hours of continuously walking, my friends and I went back to the station. It was around 1 in the afternoon, just in time for the train going to Nagoya.

So, how much time should a traveller allot for visiting Takayama? A couple of hours is clearly not enough to fully appreciate the town, and besides there’s really so much to see aside from their old-town scenery. I promised myself that the next time I go visit the Takayama area, I won’t pass on the opportunity of an overnight stay and the quest for the best Hida Beef restaurant.

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