Takayama is a small town in Japan, south of Tokyo and northwest of Kyoto. It’s not often seen on a ten day itinerary to Japan because it’s small and when you are in a rush, there are many other beautiful places to see. But if you have a little longer in the country, Takayama is a quaint small town with lots to offer and a serenity about it that makes it very attractive for travellers who need a break from the rush of larger Japanese cities.
How to Get There.
You can easily catch the train to Japan from whatever major city you happen to be in. The Japanese rail system is famously comprehensive, efficient and easy to use and if you happen to be using a Japan Rail Pass to get around, it’s a simple matter to get a train that stops at Takayama. You can also get a train that runs from Takayama to Tokyo with a change in Nagoya.
Where to Stay
The town of Takayama is small and easily walkable and so it’s a simple matter to walk from the train station to wherever you’re staying. Most hostels are small and family run and they will offer to pick you up at the station if you let them know when you arrive. Because Takayama is small, any of the accommodation choices are traditional inns, with futons on the floor and breakfast included with your stay. These serene, simple places are remarkably comfortable and comforting and travellers should make a point of trying them during their stay.
What to see.
Takayama is small, without many of the attractions of bigger cities. Here there aren’t any amusement parks or flashing neon areas. The centre of town is just off the train station and it is a series of handsome streets with unique and relatively cheap restaurants and souvenir stores. The people here speak some English, and are very happy to try to talk to you or help you with purchases. They are also friendly to visitors, curious and full of questions about your stay and how much you are liking Japan.
The primary reason that people visit Takayama is to see the Hida village located on the outskirts of the town. This is a preserved village from the Edo period that was once occupied by a group of people who were famous for their silk work. Though the area is easily accessible now, it was once cut off from the rest of Japan, especially during the winter when the mountainous area was completely isolated. The site consists of the houses where these hardy people once lived, meticulously preserved, along with examples of the tools they used as well as examples of their work.
Another curiosity in this area are the twisted wooden sculptures that dot the laneways between the preserved houses. These are twisted and weird in the very best way, vaguely reminiscent of the limbs of animals or monsters. As they are displayed in a very natural way, they resemble animal bones that have been bleached by the sun and it’s fascinating to see something that looks so natural and not at the same time.
The Hida village is especially beautiful in autumn. Because it is a mountainous area, it is mostly untouched and the changing leaves gives the natural surroundings bursts of colour and movement. Be aware though that it can get quite cold so high up and you’ll need to rug up if you aren’t used to that kind of weather. Getting to the Hida village from the town is easy. A bus departs at short intervals from the bus station next to the train station and there are machines to dispense tickets that are relatively easy to use and are in English. There is also a help desk between the two stations where they have an English speaking counter.
Highlights of the trip.
Although the Hida village was beautiful, the highlight of my trip was probably the traditional Japanese breakfast cooked for me by the owner of the Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. The woman barely spoke English but she made ten small dishes for me, all of them foreign to my western palate. They were served on a low table, behind a screen for privacy and reflected the gracious and patient approach to life that I travelled to Japan to see, the unique mentality that created tea ceremonies that lasted for hours and the honour of the samurai and Bushido, the way of the warrior. It was glimpses like this one of a Japan that was traditional and serene and strangely elevated that I remember most about my time in that amazing country and this one meal was like a symbol of that feeling.
Takayama is a small, gracious town that is easily accessible and well worth seeing if you want to get a little off the beaten path of tourism in Japan. The natural beauty of the area, and the way of life there, are representative of the things that I loved the most about Japan. They are also the things I miss the most, now that I am no longer there.