The city of Takayama in Gifu Prefecture, also known as Hida-Takayama, is most famous for its major festivals, onsens, lacquerware, pottery, and carpentry, and its gorgeous mountainous landscape. It is also often visited by history buffs for the ancient relics that remain in the area and by hiking buffs for its access to the Japanese Alps. These 25 suggestions are plenty to get you started in planning your itinerary:
1. Takayama Old Township
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
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
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. Matsuri no Mori
Matsuri no Mori means ‘Festival Forest’ in Japanese, and it is the name of the museum dedicated to the famous Takayama Festival held for two days in both spring and autumn.
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.
5. Takayama Festival
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. Local Takayama Speciality Foods
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.
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.
8. Hida-no-Sato (Hida Folk Village)
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 Site Shirakawa-go.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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 Onsenkyo / Hirayu Onsen
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
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
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. Jigokudani Monkey Park
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.
19. Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route
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.
This area 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. See more about the snow walls here. Booking a tour to see the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route with us is a convenient way to continue your travels via Nagano.
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.
21. Walk the Nakasendo Trail
Just across the Kiso Mountain range lies the ancient Nakasendo trail, which was part of the road connecting Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo period, and a series of post towns that were essential to trade and travel during that time. 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 Post Town, unique because the town is not only well-preserved, most of the buildings are still inhabited by locals.
This link offers some great suggestions on how to best enjoy the Nakasendo Post Town Trail, or inquire about one of our great tours and let us help you get the most out of your time in the area.
22. Kiso Valley
If you are traveling in winter and want to experience some of Nagano’s famous powder snow while you’re here, traveling from Takayama can be tricky as there are not many direct routes of travel available. You can avoid that problem when you book a private tour with us from Takayama to play in the snow in the Kiso Valley. You can try riding horses or snowmobiles, or simply build snowmen and frolic in the snow.
We’ll show you the Shirakawa Ice Pillars, which are amazing 50m walls of ice, and the next day we’ll visit Narai Post Town where you can make your own chopsticks. Take a tour of a miso factory and end the journey with a visit to stunning Matsumoto Castle. As the tour is private, you can customize it to see the sites that interest you most. It is probably the most convenient and worthwhile means of getting from Takayama to Matsumoto or Nagano.
23. Kiso Ontake Mountain Range
Nature lovers and fans of the outdoors cannot get enough of the area around Mt. Ontake, the second-highest active volcano in Japan. Not only for the fact that there is so much to see and do but also for its pristine conditions, a result of the influence of the Ontake religion’s respect for nature. Hiking, biking, canoeing, horseback riding.
The area surrounding Mt. Ontake offers it all. Lake Shizenko was formed as the result of a river being dammed during an earthquake in 1984. Now, you can take canoe tours around the lake navigating around the remaining withered skeletal trees. The Shirakawa Ice Pillars are also located in the area, and are an awe-inspiring site. The Kaida Plateau is home to the famous Kiso horses. In the winter, you can also enjoy snowshoeing and snowmobiling.
24. Kiso Ontake Mountain Range – Mountain worship
In addition to being a place of great beauty, Mt. Ontake is also a religious center for a branch of the Shinto religion: the Ontake faith. The Shinto religion is centered on the worship of nature and mountains are considered particularly divine for their proximity to the heavens.
There are torii gates, shrines, and ritual sites scattered throughout the mountain. Perhaps most remarkable is the enormous number of stone deity monuments, said to number more than 20,000 strewn throughout the mountain.
Kiyotaki Falls has been used for centuries as a place to purify oneself before climbing the sacred mountain and is still used today for such rituals. A short distance away, Shintaki Falls is used in the same way for Shinto holy men. The Ontake ropeway takes you up to the 7th climbing station and offers magnificent panoramic views of the surrounding area and mountains making it easy to understand why the mountain holds such significance to a religion that worships nature.
25. Snow Monkey Resorts Tours
Snow Monkey Resorts Tours can assist with all of your travel needs in Takayama and Nagano. As the No. 1 tour operator based in Nagano, we offer group tours, private tours, and chartered tours that can be customized to your needs. If any of the above activities piques your interest, please feel free to inquire with us at email@example.com and let us help you make the most of your time in Takayama!