Japan City Guides: Takayama, Gifu Prefecture
Takayama is an historic, easy-going town 2 hours, 10 minutes by train from Nagoya.
Takayama is set in the mountains of northern Gifu prefecture in an area known as Hida. Takayama is a lovely combination of historic streets, temples, rivers and museums that attracts an increasing number of tourists from Australia, Europe and the rest of Asia.
Takayama Matsuri held twice over two days in April (Sanno 14-15th) and October (Hachiman 9-10th) is one of Japan's most famous festivals, when ornately decorated floats (known as yatai) are paraded through the city streets in a procession of people in Edo Period costume accompanied by sacred flute and percussion music.
The Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan (Tel: 0577 32 5100) exhibits 4 of the 11 floats used in the October festival on a rotation basis. The floats are known for their detailed and colorful carvings, lacquer- and metalwork and amazing marionettes (karakuri). The Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall is located in the grounds of Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine. Admission is 820 yen for adults and the museum is open from 8.30am-5pm March to November and 9am-4.30pm December to February.
Nearby are the Shishi Kaikan aka the Karakuri Museum (Tel: 0577 32 0881) with exhibits of lion dance masks and karakuri puppets and the Sakurayama Nikko-kan (Tel: 0577 32 5100) with elaborate 1:10 scale models of the shogunate shrines in Nikko complete with computerized lighting effects.
Sogenji Temple is a family temple of Nagachika Takamori; Daioji Temple in December snow
Takayama Museum of History & Art exterior and an exhibit of inlaid lacquer bowls
Takayama Jinya (Tel: 0577 32 0643) dates from the early 19th century and is the sole surviving district office of the Tokugawa shogunate. The wooden buildings include a rice warehouse and a torture chamber. Takayama was under the direct control of the Tokugawa regime at the time due to the importance of its timber resources and trade.
Walking east across the vermillion Nakabashi Bridge is Furui Machi-nami an area of wooden buildings in the Sanmachi area of town.
Sanmachi and the adjoining streets of Ichinomachi, Ninomachi and Sannomachi are the heart of Takayama's old town, when the city prospered as a merchant center for its timber trade and the streets are full of traditional wooden houses, craft shops and sake breweries (recognizable by their cedar balls - sugidama - hanging from the roof).
This area includes the Fujii Folkcraft Museum (Fujii Bijutsu Mingei-Kan) (Tel: 0577 35 3778) a preserved merchant's store house with exhibits of Japanese furniture (tansu), lacquerware, and ceramics. Look out for the beautiful wooden gate and paper lantern outside.
The Takayama Museum of History & Art (Tel: 0577 32 1205) is housed in the old storehouses of a local merchant family and includes a lovely garden along with a modern museum interior with original maps, scrolls, paintings, documents and local handicrafts. Free admission.
Miyaji Heritage House (Tel: 0577 32 8208) is an historic private house and garden with free admission showing the life style of a rich, Edo period Takayama merchant family.
The Takayama Honmachi Museum (Tel: 0577 36 3124) exhibits original paintings by Yamashita Kiyoshi (1922-1971). The Matsumoto Heritage House (Tel: 0577 36 5600) is another free-to-enter old Takayama merchant residence.
Shorenji Temple is located in Shiroyama Park and is the oldest Jodo Shinshu Temple in Japan
Takayama due to its altitude is usually guaranteed winter snow and looks at its best with a covering of winter's white powder
The Takayama Museum of Local History (Takayamashi Kyodokan) (Tel: 0577 32 1205) has local wood carvings, and neat gardens.
The Hirata Folk Art Museum (Hirata Kinen-kan) (Tel: 0577 33 1354) is another preserved merchant's house with an eclectic display of the area's arts and crafts.
Heading north from the Sanmachi area are two fine examples of Edo Period domestic architecture: the Kusakabe Folk Art Museum (Kusakabe Mingeikan) (Tel: 0577 32 0072) a former money-lender's house now open to the public and the Yoshijima Heritage House (Yoshijima-ke) (Tel: 0577 32 0038) a former sake merchant's residence.
Further north again is the Inro Bijutsukan (Tel: 0577 32 8500) which exhibits over 300 examples of inro - small, elaborately carved boxes in wood, ivory or bone - that were hung from kimono in place of pockets and are now extremeley valued by collectors worldwide.
Other museums in or near Takayama include the Tea Ceremony Museum (Tel: 0577 37 1070), 17 minutes by bus from Takayama Station near to Museum Hida (Tel: 0577 37 6111), a showcase of Hida traditional furniture and crafts, the Hida Takayama Festival Forest (Tel: 0577 37 1000) with examples of modern festival floats. South of these museums are the Forest of Squirrels, Fields and Mountain Flower Garden, the Ryu Tetsuya Longing Museum, dedicated to the famous enka singer, the Hida Takayama Teddy Bear Eco Village (Tel: 0577 37 2525) with over 800 teddy bears exhibited in a historic Gassho-style house, The Hida Takayama Museum of Art European with European glass arts and art nouveau along with a three meter-high glass fountain, the Forest of Seven Lucky Gods (Tel: 0577 33 3317) and Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Center.
Takayama has two daily morning markets (asaichi): one along the banks of the Miyagawa River (the Miyagawa Morning Market) and the other just outside the Takayama Jinya (Jinya Morning Market). The many stalls sell the area's prized local vegetables, pickles (tsukemono) and fruits. Both markets start around 6 or 7am and are winding down by midday.
Directly east of Takayama Station walking along Yasugawa Street is the Higashiyama Teramachi tranquil area of temples and shrines nestled in the forested hills and the site of Takayama's old castle in Shiroyama Park. A 3.5km sign-posted walking course leads through the various temples, shrines and gardens and there are good views down over Takayama below.
The Hida Folk Village (Hida-no-sato) (Tel: 0557 34 4711) is a collection of traditional wooden farm houses and storehouses that have been reassembled around a central lake in pleasant wooded countryside. There are also intersting demonstrations of local art and craft production.
Just down the hill is the Hida Takayama Museum of Art (Tel: 0577 35 3535) complete with 1960s London bus, which tours Takayama picking up visitors and a glass water fountain from Paris.
Slightly farther west along route 158 is the huge World Shrine - HQ of Sukyo Mahikari, a new Japanese religion founded in Takayama in the 1960s. The vast building with a red snooker ball on top of its roof can easily be seen from the grounds of Hida-no-sato and the surrounding area.
Takayama's many historic temples and shrines include Takayama Betsuin Temple and Treasure House (Tel: 0577 32 0688), Sogenji Temple, Tenshoji Temple, Hokkeji Temple, Zennoji Temple, Soyuji Temple, Tounin Temple, Daioji Temple, Unryuji Temple, Eikyoin Temple, Kyushoji Temple and Higashiyama Hakusan Jinja. These temples and shrines are now part of the Higashiyama Walking Course, which is signposted in the area. These temples were gathered in the area by Nagachika Kanamori, the local clan chief who modeled the area on Kyoto's Higashiyama temple district.
Hida Kokubunji Temple (Tel: 0577 32 1395) is noted for its huge ginkgo tree and is a short walk from Takayama Station. Shorenji Temple (Tel: 0577 32 2052) is within the grounds of Shiroyama Park and is Japan's oldest Jodo Shinshu sect temple. Opposite Shorenji is the Dr. Fukurai Memorial Hall, dedicated to the parapsychologist and spiritualist.
Takayama Products & Souvenirs
Takayama has a long history of timber production and is well-known for its high quality wooden antiques as well as its delicious food. Other traditional Takayama crafts include Hida Shunkei lacquerware produced with with a translucent lacquer, pottery (Shibukusa ware, Koito ware and Yamada ware), wooden furniture and straw work.
There are a number of shops selling Takayama's signature goods scattered around the town. Good souvenirs included the local beer, sake and pickles.
The local beef (hidagyu), mountain vegetables (sansai), soba noodles, dango (sweet rice on a stick) and pickles are all considered delicacies and there are many fine restaurants and roadside stalls to sample the healthy fare on offer.
Takayama deserves at least an overnight stay if not longer if you wish to explore the other sites of interest within easy access of the town including: Shirakawa-go, Hida Furukawa, Gero Onsen, Kamikochi, Gujo Hachiman and Matsumoto.
Tourist Information in Takayama
Takayama Tourist Information Office (Tel: 0577 32 5328) is just outside JR Takayama Station and has good information available in brochures in a variety of languages as well as English-speaking staff.
Takayama Tourist Office is located just outside Takayama Station
Chubu International Airport is the nearest large international airport to Takayama. There are direct connecting trains on the Meitetsu Centrair service to Nagoya and Gifu.
From Nagoya Station, Takayama is 2 hours, 9 minutes by JR Takayama Line on the Hida Express. From Toyama there are also trains taking about 90 minutes. There are also direct trains to Osaka (4 hours, 11 minutes), though it is quicker, though more expensive, to take the Shinkansen to Nagoya and change.
There are long distance bus services from outside Takayama Station to Tokyo (Shinjuku; 5 hours, 30 minutes), Kyoto, Osaka (5 hours), Nagoya (2 hours, 45 minutes), Kanazawa (3 hours), Hida Furukawa (30 minutes), Gero Onsen, (90 minutes), Matsumoto (2 hours), Kamikochi, and Gujo Hachiman (1 hour, 15 minutes). Driving from downtown Nagoya follow National Highway 41 from Tsurumai all the way north via Minokamo City and Gero. Alternatively take the Chuo Expressway to Nakatsugawa and then exit at the sign to Gero Onsen.
Getting Around Takayama
Cheap bicycle hire is available from the Tourist Office, Takayama Green Hotel and other places around town. There is also a circular sightseeing bus which leaves from the bus station. Most places can be reached easily on foot.
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