My wife and I enjoyed visiting Takayama, a city in the Hida region of Gifu Prefecture. Takayama has a considerable history, having been settled as far back as the Jōmon period (14,000 to 300BC). The city, as it exists today, took shape at the end of the 16th century. In Takayama’s old town there was still a sense of a Japan gone-by; walking its streets I could imagine how it must have looked like long ago, with kimono-clad Japanese doing business along its shops.
My impressions of Takayama are short; our time there added up to about a day and a night. It didn’t look like there was much to do, but Takayama struck us as a small town with deep character, and we would have loved to have had a day more there to slowly soak it all in.
We didn’t expect that we would spend so much time of our first afternoon looking around the Oyado Yamakyu Inn. Antiques line its walls, in the common hall a gramophone sits atop a shelf next to a wooden radio, while a laptop with internet access is cheekily kept inside a wood and glass public telephone booth. A grandfather clock ticks on in the waiting hall, and you can mime making a call using a wall-mounted crank telephone. The inn is a mini art gallery itself, with many Japanese paintings hanging on its walls.
But the Yamakyu Inn isn’t just beautiful to stay in, the staff are friendly and the rooms are comfortable. We’d neglected to call ahead of time, but we made a quick inquiry at the Tourist Information Center in front of the JR Takayama Station and the inn sent someone to come pick us up. We wouldn’t recommend you walk there, even though it can be managed in about 20 minutes or so, as the roads are small and the inn is on an uphill slope.
When you travel to Hida, you have to try Hida beef, one of the best varieties of beef in Japan. There are various restaurants serving Hida beef and you can even buy sticks of it in the old town, but being a burger-lover I had to have it at Center 4 Hamburgers. The small restaurant’s interior is like surfer dude meets quirky trinket collector meets American/Japanese diner, and the signature Hida beef burger is easily the best burger I’ve had in my life.
My favorite memory in Takayama comes from a shop in the streets of the old town. The moment we walked in, an obasan (grandmother) welcomed us with a wide smile and asked about the weather. My wife was attracted to the shop’s patch-worked bags, made up of pieces of cloth with distinctly Japanese textures. The kindly shopkeeper told us that he had handwoven each bag, and no two were exactly alike. For me, that moment encapsulated both the warmth we received from the people in Takayama, and the cultural richness to be found in this old city.
Note: I benefitted from reading fellow travellers’ experiences as I was planning this visit, and these posts are my way of paying it forward. However, I’ve realised that reading about what to do in a foreign land isn’t complete without knowing the people writing about it.
My wife and I don’t enjoy hurried visits, we’re travellers who prefer to take our time getting to know a place. We’re not big on shopping, and prefer cultural to party places. We love standing in nature, and would give up a day in the mall for a day in the mountains. If you’re planning for your own visit while reading my recommendations, I hope you’ll keep these caveats in mind.