Takayama

Takayama is a beautiful city due north of Nagoya. It’s name 高山 means “tall mountain,” and it is situated in the Gifu prefecture in mountains due west of Nagano prefecture, where the 1998 Winter Olympics took place.

My mother has traveled to Japan many times over the years, but had never seen Takayama, and it was highly recommended by relatives and friends who have. I’m glad we went!

Getting to Takayama is easy. A direct train north from Nagoya takes about 2.5 to 3 hours. There is no Shinkansen, but the Takayama Main Line is a beautiful rail trip winding along the Kiso River (木曽川) which is sometimes called the “Japan Rhine” because its scenic beauty sometimes recalls the Rhine River in Europe.

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Because of Takayama’s altitude, the temperatures there were much cooler than on the rest of our trip. Consequently, spring comes later: although the cherry blossom season was already peaking in Kyoto and Yokohama, the spring blossoms had not yet opened in Takayama. Indeed, it got cold enough that it snowed the morning we left Takayama. The one time I wore a coat the entire month of April was there. Plan and pack accordingly!

It’s a popular city for foreign travelers. I overheard many languages and saw more non-Japanese folks on the train to and from Takayama. I got to try out my German several times with various tourists I overheard speaking it on this leg of the trip.

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Takayama has many attractions to offer. There are hot springs, a shrine and temple walk, the ruins of an old castle, and many shops with food and local wares, particularly lacquer, pottery, and carved wood objects.

We stayed in a Ryokan in Takayama. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. You will typically have a single tatami-mat room. During the day, a table and mats or chairs are set up for tea and meals, and in the evening they are removed and replaced with futon for sleeping.

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Also, ryokan typically have bathing areas. These can be private ofuro, or they may be larger communal baths. Yukata robes are offered to guests, and it is common to take a bath before dinner, and don your yukata for dinner. I am told in Takayama, when the weather is warm, you may see people wearing their yukata outdoors, too. It was much too cold for that during our stay, however.
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When you reserve a ryokan, it is common to choose between a reservation with meals or without. Typically the former includes breakfast and dinner. That leaves you free to go sightseeing and eat lunch while exploring, then return to the ryokan, take your bath, and enjoy dinner.

When I was searching for a ryokan, I couldn’t find any online with openings for a party of five. So I ventured further and contacted ryokan that had no online reservations. The one I found, which I can highly recommend, was Sumiyoshi Ryokan, aka Antique Inn Sumiyoshi. The rates were reasonable, the food fantastic, and the accommodations very comfortable. It was a fair hike from the train station (about 1 km), so if you’re not up to the hike, particularly if you have heavy baggage, you might want to catch a taxi.

One area attraction I highly recommend is the Hida Minzoku Mura Folk Village (飛騨民俗村). This village is a collection of old buildings, some up to 500 years old. After WWII, old buildings that were undamaged were collected and moved here from the surrounding prefecture to preserve the history of life in older times. There are many buildings with exhibits on making silk, thatching roofs (some thatches are more than 3 feet thick), growing rice, grinding flour, and more. You can easily spend a few hours walking through the buildings and examining the artifacts and exhibits.

While there we saw a man doing woodcarving. He and other woodcarvers had amassed quite a collection of masks, statues, netsuke, and more out of yew. I wrote a bit about this on a previous blog entry.

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If you have time, I recommend a couple days in Takayama. You should definitely experience a ryokan in Japan as well!

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