What To Do In Takayama

Immerse yourself in the breathtaking beauty of Takayama, a small city located in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture. Takayama boasts one of Japan’s most picturesque townscapes, rich history, and many famous festivals. Join us for a tour of the morning market, savor some delicious eats, and enjoy the Edo period structures and giant festival floats.

Takayama Yatai Kaikan floats for Takayama Festival

Takayama (飛騨高山), located in Gifu Prefecture, was the final destination of our 1-week trip in the Hokuriku area. Before arriving in Takayama, we had made stops in Kanazawa, Tateyama, and the majestic Kurobe Gorge. We were eager to visit Takayama for several reasons:

  • We couldn’t wait to relax in an onsen (hot springs), and eat Kaiseki Ryori and Hida beef.
  • Our family adores beautiful mountain scenery and historic Japanese towns; Takayama has retained its charm for over 400 years.
  • Takayama is a city steeped in Japanese culture and history, and it hosts one of the most famous festivals in Japan.

Since there is quite a bit to share, we’ll do this over 4 posts.

  1. Covers the northern part of the city
  2. Focuses on the city center area
  3. Share our experience with the hotel and the foods we enjoyed
  4. Talks about our side excursion to Shirakawago (白川郷).

Transportation to Takayama

From Toyama, we took the JR Hida line (JR飛騨線) to reach Takayama. The journey lasts either around 90 minutes or 2 hours depending on the departure time. The scenic route offers picturesque Japanese countryside and mountain greenery. The spacious and comfortable seats on the train make for a relaxing ride. If traveling from Nagoya, it’s about a 2.5-hour train journey to Takayama.

Things to do in Takayama

Takayama is relatively small compared to other tourist destinations in Japan. For example, in Kyoto and Kanazawa, visitors typically need to take the bus to visit various attractions. However, in Takayama, there’s no need for public transportation. Almost all popular points of interest are within a 15-minute walk from our hotel.

Ready to go sightseeing? We dropped our bags at the hotel and made our way over to Miyagawa Morning Market.

Miyagawa Morning Market (宮川朝市)

Miyagawa Morning Market is situated alongside the Miyagawa River near the town center. It’s the larger of the two morning markets in Takayama.

Both markets close at noon, so make sure to arrive by 10 AM to explore the offerings. Why the noon closure? Most of the produce booths are operated by local farmers, and they need to return to their farms in the afternoon. These markets cater not only to tourists but also to the local residents, which adds to the allure.

At the south entrance of the market, there are booths lining the left side of the river. Visitors can purchase local produce, seasonal fruits, vegetables, food, and flowers.

On the opposite side of the booths, there are stores selling local specialties, souvenirs, preserved vegetables, fabrics, artisan bowls, and ceramic wares. With so many options available, what did we end up buying? We decided to purchase miso with hoba leaves (朴葉味噌) because it’s not something commonly found in the Tokyo area.

Here’s the recipe if you’re interested and you can buy hoba leaves from nihon ichiban.

Kusakabe Heritage House (日下部民藝館)

Kusakabe Heritage House interior architecture and design

After browsing the Miyagawa Morning Market, we headed over to Kusakabe Mingeikan (Kusakabe Heritage House, 日下部民藝館) and Yoshijima-ke (Yoshijima Heritage House, 吉島家住宅). These two structures are located next to each other. These two historical buildings were both built during the Meiji period. They are important Japanese cultural assets as prime examples of Meiji-era architecture.

As both houses are fairly similar, browse one or the other. We decided to visit Kusakabe Heritage House. Here, the entrance fee is 1,000 yen for adults, 500 yen for high school students, and 300 yen for younger children (as of 2023).

The structure was constructed by the Kusakabe family, a highly successful merchant family that had provided financial support to the public office. Unfortunately, the original building burnt down in 1875, but the current structure has stood since 1879. The house was designed by master carpenter Jisuke Kawashiri to resemble Edo period structures. Inside the house, we could see the impressive giant pillars that supported the building.

Visitors can explore the various rooms in the heritage house and go upstairs, where antiques are displayed.

Between the main house and the warehouse in the back (which has more antiques on display), there’s a small courtyard where visitors can relax and enjoy tea as part of the experience.

Osenbei Factory – Yume Kojo Hida 夢工場飛騨

Just a few blocks from Kusakabe Heritage House is Yume Kojo Hida. It’s a senbei factory where visitors can make their own delicious and crispy senbei.

Have you tried the Japanese rice cracker called Osenbei (お煎餅)? It’s a grilled rice cracker dipped in soy sauce for a savory, umami flavor. It’s so delicious with green tea for an afternoon snack.

At the factory, visitors sit by rows of furnaces, grilling the senbei dough slowly on electric grills. Workers demonstrate the process and provide tips to avoid burning. Each senbei takes only 1-2 minutes to cook, so we have to work fast to prevent burning. Our children had a great time grilling and enjoying the senbei they made.

After eating our share of senbei, our family visited Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine and the nearby Takayama Festival Float Exhibition Hall.

Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine (櫻山八幡宮)

The history of Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine dates back to 400 AD, and it stands as a significant cultural and religious landmark in Takayama. Enlarged by Lord Kanamori (大名金森氏) in 1683, it is one of the most popular shrines in Takayama. It attracts over 1.5 million visitors each year. After passing through the first gate, a stone path and steps lead to the shrine.

Alongside the stone path, there are a few stores and restaurants. Luckily, it was very peaceful that day, with few visitors around. We took our time to admire the beautiful ancient architecture and the tranquility of the grounds.

Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan 高山祭屋台会館

Takayama Yatai Kaikan floats for Takayama Festival

Right next to the shrine is Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan, also known as the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall. The entrance fee is 900 yen for adults and 450 yen for children. Takayama is renowned for its spring and fall festivals, and it hosts one of the three great festivals in Japan. They are Takayama Matsuri alongside Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri and Chichibu Yomatsuri. One is held on April 14th and 15th, while the other takes place on October 9th and 10th, with the former being the more popular festival.

The museum has received special permission to display four of the autumn festival floats, rotated three times a year. Each float also has a name, and at Yatai Kaikan, there’s an English explanation of the background story for the particular float. The floats are impressive up close, with some of them as high as a 3-story building.

Takayama Yatai Kaikan floats for Takayama Festival

Takayama Festival Floats

The “Mikoshi” (神輿) float above is a portable shrine. It weighs about 2.5 tons and requires up to 80 people to carry. Since it’s challenging to find 80 people of the same height, a replacement float is used during the festival.

The float below is one of our favorites, called “Hotei-tai” (布袋台). It features dancing figurines, Hotei 布袋 (Laughing Buddha with the Big Belly – it’s one of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods), and Karako 唐子 (a boy who wears Chinese-style clothes).

It is operated by eight people and 36 strings. During the festival, the figurines come to life, jumping and dancing.

The following float is one of the most treasured due to its historical significance, as the hanging scroll was imported during the Ming Dynasty from China.

Takayama Yatai Kaikan floats for Takayama Festival

We also saw a few “Yatai Gura” (屋台蔵), where they store the floats when not used for festivals. In front of each storage unit, there is a picture of what the float stored inside looks like.

Higashiyama Walking Course 東山寺町・東山遊歩道

It’s time to head outdoors and go for a hike. Start by heading towards the southeastern part of the city to explore the Higashiyama Walking Course. The course takes visitors through several historical temples and shrines. You might wonder why they’re all clustered in this area. In 1588, as Lord Kanamori (大名金森氏) began constructing Takayama Castle (高山城) and the town center, the temples and shrines were relocated to the eastern hills.

In total, there are 16 temples here, varying in age from 500 to 1,300 years, showcasing the rich heritage of Takayama. We were blown away by it all!

After we finished walking the course, it got late in the afternoon, so we headed back to the hotel to soak in the onsen (hot springs) and get ready for our delicious dinner.

Are you ready for Part 2 of Takayama (飛騨高山)? We’ll be exploring more shrines, the famous Sanmachi Suji District (known as Takayama Old Town), and Takayama Jinya! Let’s go!


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