Japan - Getting to know Takayama
‘Takayama’ means ‘tall mountain’, and this charming old city is so named for its location high in the Japanese Alps - an area encompassing several mountain ranges in north-west Honshu. This puts Takayama firmly on the must-visit lists of hill-walkers, but it’s also a huge treat for those who love to feast their eyes on mountain scenery and traditional wooden architecture.
Ancient Japan has been preserved more effectively in Takayama than anywhere else, largely because of the area’s masterful historic carpentry. The city was officially formed in the 1930s, from a cluster of neighbouring towns, but the local heritage of expert wooden architecture is visible in many of the city’s buildings, some of which date back to the 1400s.
Takayama is compact and easy to explore. There are several ancient shrines to visit, along with museums and galleries displaying smaller examples of local craftsmanship.
What to do in Takayama
- Visit the oldest structure in Takayama, Hida Kokubunji Temple, a dark pagoda tower beside a 1,200 year old gingko tree.
- Various private homes are considered historic cultural artifacts, and a number of old houses are open to the public - at the Historic Government House, fans of samurai cinema will be half-expecting to find Beat Takeshi slurping soup on a tatami mat in the corner, thumb on the hilt of his shikomi-zue.
- In scenic Shiroyama Park you can see the ruins of a 16th century castle built by one of Japan’s most powerful samurai, who was also lord of Takayama’s other castle, Matsukura, the ruins of which are now filled with hundreds of cherry trees.
- The old sake breweries are a particular favourite (goodness knows why) amongst the Selective Asia team - known as ‘nihonshu’ within Japan, where the word ‘sake’ refers to any alcoholic drink, the famous tipple is a Takayama specialty, and some breweries offer tasting sessions.
A short distance from the city lies Hida Folk Village, an open air museum featuring thirty authentic Edo period buildings, relocated and carefully preserved. Inside them, you can see the tools of everyday historic Japanese life, and learn traditional local handicrafts at one of the village’s regular workshops.
Hot and humid in summer and often very cold in winter, Takayama’s climate is most comfortable in spring and autumn, although the city is magical when covered in snow - all those pointed dark wooden roofs poking out from the blanket of white. Visitors in spring and autumn, however, will have the chance to enjoy one of Japan’s most beautiful festivals.
For accommodation, Takayama specialises in onsen resorts and the traditional ryokan, or guest houses - there’s a good range of hotels as well, but we do like these low-capacity inns, which typically feature their own bathhouse.
select another destination
At least 450 years old and is still going strong, these twice-yearly parades are put on to welcome spring and autumn. Many of the magnificent decorated floats and marionettes are hundreds of years old, and the festival attracts people from all over Japan with its artistry and attention to detail.