Are you thinking of going to Takayama? We're not surprised. This city can be toured on foot and is perfect for spending a day in Japan that is somewhat out of the ordinary. Located in the Japanese Alps, it is also an ideal starting point for exploring Shirakawa-go.
You probably came to Japan through one of its big cities, such as Tokyo or Kyoto. By the time you get to Takayama you'll probably already be a little tired of taking your shoes off to enter temples. If that's the case we have good news: one of the most pleasant activities in Takayama is to walk around the streets of its old town. Three of its most famous streets
Ichinomachi, Ninomachi Street and Sannomachi Street still have the traditional dark wooden buildings of the Edo period. In many of them you will find not only shops, but also museums and art galleries. Enter any of the ones that are open to the public to learn first-hand what life was like in mediaeval Japan.
Takayama is full of bridges. Some of them are painted in traditional striking red and others are of plain wood. One of the best known belongs to the former group, the Nakabashi Bridge. Hire a rickshaw to get a different perspective.
Hida Kokubun-ji temple was built in the 8th century, making it one of the oldest temples in the city. To find it you only have to look up: it has a huge spire that makes it easily visible from anywhere in Takayama. Like many other temples, it has its own pagoda, in this case three storeys high.
You're right, the shoguns, former rulers of the Edo period, no longer exist, but in Takayama the government office of one of them has been preserved: Takayama Jin'ya. The shogun took a special interest in the city because from here he could control the harvesting of the area's abundant forestry resources.
The old town is famous not only for its traditional architecture, but also for its sake factories. You can visit some of them. You'll spot them because there are large branches of cedar over the entrances. Before buying this liquor made from rice, ask for a tasting.
Especially if you are lucky enough to travel to Takayama in October, on the 9th and 10th, when the Hachiman Matsuri, or autumn festival, is held. The festival is to give thanks for the good harvest of the current year and is notable for its parade of floats. Each one is lit by a hundred paper lanterns. UNESCO has declared this festival as part of Japan's Intangible Cultural Heritage.
This is the main temple of the Sannō Matsuri, a spring festival held on 14 and 15 April. Its purpose is to ask for a good rice harvest and it's notable for two processions, one of which is held each day: the first involving floats and the other puppets.
If you're not lucky enough to travel to Takayama on the dates concerned, go to the city's exhibition centre, the Yatai Kaikan, where you can see the puppets and also an impressive collection of masks.
The saying doesn't go like this, but it's true that getting up early in Takayama brings with it certain privileges, such as strolling through the markets that open every day in the square of the city's shrine and on the eastern bank of the Miyagawa river. Here you can buy crafts, flowers and food, among other things.
As already mentioned, Takayama town centre is relatively easy to explore on foot. But its surroundings are also worthwhile and there are footpaths with indications. Some are only three kilometres long, making them suitable for any traveller. Try some of them, and contemplate those forest resources that were of such interest to the rulers of the Edo period.
There are several that you will find in different areas of the city, but they are especially abundant in the area surrounding the folklore museum. Given that the cherry is one of the most common trees in Japan, you can request a sakura (cherry blossom) bath.
That said, in the event that you're lucky enough to travel to Takayama in the spring, don't miss the cherry blossoms. Gaze at them from the Nakabashi Bridge or have a picnic in Miyagawa Ryokuchi park with the delicious Japanese food you bought at the market.
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