25 Things To Do Around Takayama & Where To Stay
Located deep within the mountains of Central Japan, Takayama is famous for the excellent preservation its Edo Period (1603-1868) historical center, known as the ‘Sannomachi’. Once under the direct control of the shogunate, Takayama was an important and prosperous merchant town known for the skill of its carpenters and other artisans. Today, the old town is beautifully preserved with much of the Edo streetscape and building facades intact attracting visitors from all over the world. On this page you will find the following information:
Over recent years, Takayama has become firmly established as a popular destination for international travelers wanting to enjoy a traditional Edo Period town. The beautifullly preserved buidlings of the old town house restaurants, craft stores, museums, galleries, breweries, guesthouses and homes creating a thriving atmosphere and a fantastic food scene. Most famously, the region is known for its sought-after ‘Hida Beef’ – considered some of the best in Japan – along with distinctive Takayama ramen; while outside the city, the World Heritage-listed villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama and the beautiful alpine valley of Kamikkochi are all within easy reach.
As such, this page contains tips and suggestions of places to visit and things to do immediately in and around Takayama, along with the many great attractions and activities on offer as you move deeper into the heart of Japan. Let’s begin with the obvious question…
WHERE IS TAKAYAMA?
Takayama is a small but popular destination for both Japanese and international travellers. Located in Gifu Prefecture, Takayama lies around 300km/5-hours to the north-west of Tokyo and 90-110km/2-hours to the south/south-east of Toyama and Kanazawa (depending on your chosen route). Sometimes referred to as ‘Hida-Takayama’, the town is famous for its excellent preservation of its Edo Period old town, craft stores, sake breweries and fantastic food scene. A relatively common town name across Japan, when planning your trip to Takayama be sure to check you that you are booking your transport and accommodation to the correct town – as shown above. For information on how to get there, see our ‘How To Get To Takayama’ page.
25 THINGS TO DO AROUND TAKAYAMA
When people talk about the beauty of Takayama and encourage you to visit, they are speaking of the city’s beautiful historic centre – one of Japan’s best remaining examples of an Edo Period (1603-1868) town. Through that time, Takayama was renowned for the skill of its carpenters, timber craftsmanship and other artisans. As such the city was placed under the direct control of the shogun, under a policy known as ‘shihaisho’ or ‘tenryo’. Translating to ‘emperor’s land’, Takayama was effectively owned by the shogun who made use of its master craftsmen in constructing temples and official buildings throughout Japan.
Today, that mastery can still be seen in the charming streetscape of Takayama’s old town. Known as the Sannomachi, the historic centre of the city is lined with beautiful buildings housing restaurants, craft and food stores, breweries, museums, accommodaiton and many residential homes. The city is equally well-known for its thriving food scene including its famous Hida beef and Takayama ramen, while outside of the city, visitors can access some of Japan’s most rewarding destinations including the World Heritage-listed villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, the beautiful alpine valley of Kamikochi or more historic destinations such as Matsumoto Castle and post towns of the Nakasendo. We hope the following information inspires you visit Takayama, starting with:
1 / EXPLORE THE TAKAYAMA OLD TOWN / all year round
The old township of Takayama is an area of the city that has been preserved since the time when it flourished as a castle town in the Edo period (1603 – 1868). The area called Sannomachi is especially well-preserved and its ancient buildings now serve as shops, restaurants, museums, and places to stay.
2 / TAKAYAMA JINYA / all year round
Takayama Jinya once served as the government headquarters for the Hida Region under the Tokugawa Shogunate. Use of the Jinya buildings began in the 1600’s, but the current building standing today was reconstructed in 1816.The last building of its kind, Takayama Jinya is now a museum open to the public year-round.
3 / TAKAYAMA MORNING MARKETS / all year round
There are two morning markets in Takayama that make up one of the largest morning markets in Japan. One is located along the Miyagawa riverside with 60 shops and stalls, and the other is located in front of Takayama Jinya and was started more than 300 years ago. You can find fruits, vegetables, sweets, and crafts at the markets. Both markets are open from 7 a.m. to noon during the warmer months and 8 a.m. to noon in the colder months, all year round and are located a 10-minute walk from Takayama Station.
4 / THE LOCAL FOOD / all year round
You can’t visit Takayama without trying the local specialties, and let’s face it, you need to eat, so why not? Hida beef is the variety of wagyu from the Takayama area known for being delectably tender and high-quality. Takayama offers Hida beef in many different forms and none of them disappoint. If you are looking for a sit-down meal many restaurants offer Hida beef hamburgers, or if you’re looking for something to eat on the run, many street stalls sell croquettes made from Hida beef.
Takayama ramen is also quite famous. The ramen in Takayama is distinguished by its thinner, curly noodles and chicken-based broth. For dessert try sweet Gohei-mochi, which are flattened rice cakes grilled on skewers and flavored with sweetened soy sauce. No matter what you’re after in terms of food, it is worth noting that the popularity of the town means increasing visitor numbers are quickly outstripping the number of restaurants available. Expect long queues and wait times at the most popular eateries with many now requiring reservations at all times of day. If you have you’re eye on a particular restaurant, make sure to book ahead of time to avoid missing-out!
5 / TAKAYAMA FESTIVALS / April & October
The Takayama Festival is the collective name for the Sanno Festival held in spring on April 14 and 15 and the Hachiman Festival held in autumn on October 9 and 10. The Takayama Festival is said to be one of Japan’s three most beautiful festivals in addition to Kyoto’s Gion Festival and the Chichibu Yomatsuri in Saitama. The festival features elaborate floats, marionettes, Shishimai lion dancers, and hundreds of costumed people parading in the streets.
6 / MATSURI-NO-MORI / all year round
If you can’t make it for either festival, ‘Matsuri-no-Mori’ is a museum dedicated to the famous Takayama Festival. Open all year round, the museum houses miniature versions of the floats used in the festival along with some life-sized versions in the main exhibition space along with giant taiko drums said to be the largest in the world. The museum is open between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily.
7 / HIDA-NO-SATO (HIDA FOLK VILLAGE) / all year round
Hida-no-Sato is an open-air museum featuring more than 30 buildings built in the Edo period and relocated from their original location in Shirakawa-go. The buildings once served a variety of purposes, such as logging huts, storehouses, and farmhouses. They are all open to the public displaying items and tools used in the Edo period giving visitors an idea of what life was like more than 100 years ago in Japan in the Takayama region. This is a great option if you are visiting Takayama but don’t have the time to visit the World Heritage-listed Shirakawa-go – see below for further details.
8 / HIDA-FURUKAWA / all year round
A 15-minute train ride to the north of Takayama, the town of Hida-Furukawa is like a smaller, less busy version of the bustling Takayama and actually amalgamated to make it a part of Hida City in 2004. The stillness of the town offers a calm peacefulness that cannot be found in other busier and more well-known tourist destinations. The Seto canal winds through the town, and you can stop to feed the hungry carp swimming in it. There are also many shops offering traditional crafts, delicious restaurants, and two sake breweries as well as liquor shops offering local brews from neighboring areas.
9 / SHIRAKAWA-GO / all year round
This World Heritage site, designated as such in 1995, is about one hour from Takayama. It is a village of buildings, some are more than 250 years old, built in the ‘gassho-style’, which means their thatched roofs look like the hands Buddhist priests pressed together in prayer. They were built in this way to withstand the heavy snows of the region. You can make a reservation to spend the night in one of the old farmhouses or just take a tour. There is also an observation deck above the town which offers an amazingly picturesque view of the town and its mountainous backdrop. During the winter, the town is illuminated on several weekend dates throughout January and February providing a fairytale-like photo opportunity to capture this unique treasure.
10 / GOKAYAMA / all year round
Another World Heritage site for its gassho-style buildings, Gokayama is more remote and hosts fewer tourists than Shirakawa-go. Being more remote, it also requires more effort to reach. The two best-maintained villages in the area are Ainokura, which is the largest, and Suganuma. Many of the farmhouses remain private residences, though some are now used as museums, restaurants, or traveler accommodations. Ainokura features a Japanese washi paper museum where you can try your hand at making it yourself, and Gokayama has a saltpeter museum. These two industries once sustained the region.
11 / GUJO HACHIMAN / all year round
About an hour away from Takayama is the town of Gujo Hachiman. It was established in the 16th century around Hachiman Castle. Though the castle standing atop the hillside now was rebuilt in 1933, it still offers magnificent views of the town below. Most of the sites in the area are all within walking distance of the town center, much of which has been designated an “Important Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings. The town is also famous for its pristine waters and the series of canals and rivers that wind throughout it.
12 / GERO ONSEN / all year round
Gero Onsen became famous in the Edo period for its hot springs and remains one of Japan’s most famous hot spring towns today. You can enjoy soaking in the hot springs, or onsen as they are called in Japanese, in three main bathhouses or any of the many Japanese-style inns throughout the town. There are also many footbaths scattered throughout where you can just soak your feet and take a brief rest. There is a village of gassho-style buildings just above the town making it a great option if you are unable to get to Shirakawa-go.
13 / SHINHOTAKA ROPEWAY / all year round
A series of two ropeways with double-decker cable cars will take you more than 2000m into the clouds to enjoy a magnificent 360-degree panoramic view of the Japanese Alps. The ropeway is open daily but can be closed down in particularly bad weather. In the winter months, more than 3m of snow accumulates at the top of the mountain creating a staggering snow corridor. In the fall, the gondola hours are slightly longer as the changing colors of the leaves create a fantastic tapestry across the mountain range. There are also nature trails and hot spring baths to enjoy at the ropeway stations.
14 / KAMIKOCHI / April to November
Kamikochi is nestled in the Japan Alps between Takayama and Matsumoto and home to the only active volcano in the northern Alps, Mt. Yakedake. The hiking trails and hotels and inns in the area are only open from mid-April to mid-November and the entire area is situated within the Chubu Sangaku National Park, which means it is subject to regulations intended for its protection and conservation.
15 / OKUHIDA ONSEN-KYO inc. HIRAYU ONSEN / all year round
There are five onsen towns in the Okuhida area and of them, Hirayu is the oldest and largest. It is said to have been discovered in the mid-16th century. There are two main public hot spring baths in the town as well as the onsen found in each of the local inns. If you are not staying overnight, most of the inns open their onsen baths to the public for a small fee of anywhere from 500 to 2000 yen. The town offers easy access to Kamikochi, Shinhotaka, or Matsumoto if you are traveling from Takayama.
16 / SHIRAHONE ONSEN / all year round
Shirahone Onsen, located in Matsumoto City on the eastern side of Mount Norikura, literally translates to ‘white bone hot spring’. It has been named such for its milky white waters. Its color comes from the high calcium and magnesium content in the water combining with the oxygen in the air, and the water itself is said to have a variety of medicinal and restorative properties. This hot spring has more than 400 years of history, and legend has it that if you bathe in the waters of Shirahone onsen for three days you will not catch a cold for three years.
17 / MATSUMOTO CASTLE / all year round
Known as the “Crow Castle” for its black exterior, Matsumoto Castle is one of Japan’s three premier historic castles. The keep, built in the 16th century, still maintains its original wooden structure making it the oldest remaining castle in Japan. The castle is a gorgeous sight to behold in any season, but in spring when the cherry blossoms are blooming it is particularly stunning. The area surrounding the castle is also great for exploring. Nawate-dori is a 200m stretch of land that runs between the south moat of the castle and the Metoba River. It has been nicknamed “Frog Street” for the thousands of (inanimate) frogs of all shapes and sizes that can be found there.
18 / TATEYAMA-KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE / April to November
This is a great activity if you are visiting Takayama during spring or early summer as the snow walls of the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route can only be seen April through June. The region receives some of the heaviest snowfall in the world, and a path is carved through the 20m high snow walls creating one of the most unique and worthwhile destinations in Japan.
19 / KANAZAWA / all year round
Kanazawa is the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture and situated along the Japan Sea coast approximately two hours northwest of Takayama. Kanazawa is perhaps most famous for Kenrokuen Garden, which is one of Japan’s three great gardens, and it is said to have been created by the feudal lords that ruled the domain in the 1600’s. Having escaped the bombings of World War II, there are still many areas of the city that remain relatively untouched since ancient times including the former samurai district of Nagamachi and the Nishi-Chaya geisha district – a city full of fantastic attractions both historic and modern.
20 / TOYAMA / all year round
Sitting to the north of Takayama, the coastal city of Toyama can be reached using the Limited Express Hida service. Located nearby Toyama Bay, the region is known throughout Japan for its fantastic seafood. One of the great pleasures of visiting the city is trying its famous seafood, best experienced at the seafood markets on the coast or at one of the many seafood restaurants dotted throughout the city. Toyama is a modern and youthful city without the crowds of nearby Kanazawa making it an attractive and convenient option for many travellers.
21 / WALK THE HISTORIC NAKASENDO TRAIL / best: April to November
During the Edo Period (1603-1868), the ‘Nakasendo’ was an important route connecting Tokyo – then called ‘Edo’ – and Kyoto. Along the route, numerous ‘postal towns’ developed to provide services such as accommodation, food, transport and protection to travellers and merchants who were of course taxed. Many of the towns accummulated great wealth as a result and today, several remain beautifully preserved – best enjoyed on-foot as you walk the historic trail.
When traveling from Takayama towards Nagano, the first post town you will come upon is Magome. The path to the next post town, Tsumago, remains intact to this day and many travelers both domestic and international enjoy slipping back in time for the duration of the 2 – 3 hour hike and experiencing what it was like hundreds of years ago to make this journey. Further north is Narai, unique because the town is not only well-preserved, most of the buildings are still inhabited by locals.
22 / KISO-ONTAKE MOUNTAIN RANGE & KISO VALLEY / all year round
The Kiso Ontake Mountain Range is one of several dramatic and beautiful alpine areas covering Central Japan. Dominated by the imposing volcanic peak of Mount Ontake – Japan’s second highest volcano behind Fuji – the region is known for its pristine nature, lush landscapes and emerald water of its rivers and gorges. The geography of the mountain range including its rugged and high peaks, dense forests and deep gorge made the region somewhat inaccessible until modern times, and in doing so, allowed a strong and independent culture to develop; and though modern infrastructure has now opened Kiso Ontake to the wider world, it retains much of its historic character and maintains many traditions.
Blessed with rare natural beauty the Kiso Ontake Mountain Range includes the stunning Kiso Valley and the most famous section of the Nakasendo, including the beautiful postal towns of Narai, Magome and Tsumago, which can still be walked today. Somewhat undiscovered by international visitors, exploring Kiso Ontake and the Kiso Valley takes you deep into the heart of Central Japan.
23 / SKI RESORTS OF CENTRAL JAPAN / December to April
Sitting in the heart of Central Japan, visitors to Takayama can enjoy some of Asia’s best skiing and snowboarding at any of the region’s fantastic resorts! Our ‘Japan Ski Resorts’ page has everything you need to know to plan, book and get the most out of your winter to getaway or juump straight to our ’30 Best Ski Resorts in Japan’ page for tips and suggestions of the resort that suits you best!
24 / ADVENTURE TRAVEL IN CENTRAL JAPAN! / all year round
Boasting the majority of Japan’s tallest mountains and the most ski resorts in the country, along with pristine forests, rivers, lakes and multiple national parks, Central Japan is without question a true adventure travel hot-spot. From world-class skiing and snowboarding to outstanding hiking and mountaineering, rafting, wildlife experiences and more, Japan has loads to offer when it comes to adventure travel including experiences that straddle and blur the line between adventure, culture and spirituality in uniquely Japanese ways. For more information, see our ‘Japan Adventure Travel’ page.
25 / JIGOKUDANI MONKEY PARK / all year round
Take advantage of one of the tours we offer traveling from Takayama to Nagano and go and see the world-famous snow monkeys at the Jigokudani Monkey Park. This park was established as a refuge for the Japanese macaques within their natural environment in the 1960’s, and the troop living here is the only know troop to bathe in the hot onsen waters to warm themselves in winter. The monkeys visit the park year-round, so you never have to worry about not getting to see them up close.
WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING TAKAYAMA
Most people heading to Takayama are drawn to the city by its beautifully preserved buildings, traditional craft scene and great food. As such, many travellers also want to stay in the old town and enjoy a traditional guesthouse. Takayama offers some great accommodation in and around the old town however don’t feel it’s your only option when staying there. It is a small city and the old town can be reached on-foot from most popular hotels while outside of the city, there are some great alternative accommodation options. Let’s start with the options inside the city:
TAKAYAMA CITY AREA
The ‘Sannomachi’ or ‘old town’ is located on the eastern-side of Miyagawa River, approximately 15-minutes walk from Takayama Station. Within the old town, visitors have the option of some excellent ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses) and smaller hotels. Prices can be high and the most popular guesthouses tend to book-out well in advance so it pays to plan ahead if that’s what you’re after. But don’t feel it’s your only option! The greatest concentration of accommodation in Takayama is found on between the station and Miyagawa River. There are multiple large hotels in the area with Western-style rooms and amenities along with good mid-range and budget options. It is worth noting that the largest hotels are often used by tour groups so if that is something you want to avoid, go for a smaller hotel or guesthouse. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Takayama City Area’ hotel page.
OKUHIDA ONSEN AREA
Sitting to the east of Takayama, Okuhida Onsen is a popular hot spring region in the beautiful forests and mountains of Japan’s North Alps. The five towns making-up Okuhida boast numerous guesthouses, hotels, and public hot springs. Prices vary greatly from budget to very expensive, with something to suit all tastes. Staying in Okuhida is all about enjoying a traditional ‘ryokan’ (guesthouse) and indulgence of Japanese service. Most people doing so choose to include both dinner and breakfast in their accommodation package as outside dining options are very limited at night. It is also important to note that Okuhida is located some distance from Takayama – around 60-minutes drive depending on the exact location of your guesthouse – and well into the mountains toward Kamikochi – making it a great option for visitors wanting to combine Takayama and Kamikochi over a two-day visit. Bus services run from Takayama Station on Hirayu Onsen or alternatively, driving yourself is a great option especially if you choose to stay in an area away from the central town of Hirayu Onsen. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Okuhida Onsen Area’ hotel page.
HIRAYU ONSEN AREA
As one of the five hot spring towns making-up Okuhida Onsen, Hirayu Onsen is the most convenient for travelers using public transport. The area is serviced by the Hiraya Onsen Bus Terminal, where all Nohi bus services stop enroute between Takayama – taking around 60-minutes to reach Hirayu Onsen – and Kamikochi – taking another 20-minutes on from Hirayu Onsen. As such, Hirayu Onsen is fantastic option for travelers wanting to enjoy hot springs high-up in Japan’s North Alps rather than spend the night in Takayama. There is an excellent range of accommodation options in the area catering to all budgets including some very reasonably priced hotels – an attractive alternative to the steep prices for accommodation in Kamikochi. Hirayu Onsen also has a number of decent restaurants providing the option for dining-out at night – but make sure to check the opening days and times of your chosen restaurant in advance, noting that local restaurants tend to close quite early. Of course, most hotels also offer dinner and breakfast should you want them. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Hirayu Onsen Area’ hotel page.
SHIRAKAWA-GO & GOKAYAMA AREA
Located 60-minutes from Takayama, Ogimachi is the largest of the three villages that make-up the World Heritage-listed ‘Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama’. Referred to collectively as Shirakawa-go, the villages of Ogimachi, Suganuma and Ainokura are home to a distinct and beautiful style of thatch-roofed farmhouses and attracts thousands of visitors on a daily basis. Many if not most people who make the journey to Shirakawa-go will do so in combination with a visit to Takayama, and given the frequency of bus services between the two destinations, staying in one of the villages is an option for those not wanting to spend the night in Takayama. Accommodation in the villages is limited and as such, tends to be expensive and book-out well in advance. So make sure to plan ahead and check that the location of your chosen guesthouse works for your travel itinerary. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Shirakawa-go & Gokayama Area, hotel page.
HOW TO GET TO TAKAYAMA
Lying deep in Central Japan, Takayama takes time to reach but given the efficiency of the Japanese transport network, that journey is usually simple. The Limited Express Hida service runs from Central Japan’s largest city of Nagoya, to Takayama and onto Toyama in the north. Bus services also connect Takayama to Toyama and Kanazawa to the north and the popular alpine valley of Kamokochi and onto Matsumoto to the west. For information on how to reach the city, see our ‘How To Get To Takayama’ page.
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