Takayama Gifu is a city in the mountainous Hida region that is part of the Japan Alps National Park. It has retained a traditional look as few other Japanese cities have, especially its beautifully preserved old town. We were in Nagoya and so we got the chance to visit Takayama for a couple of days and were really able to see old Japan.
From Nagoya, we got on a direct train that takes about two and a half hours to get to Takayama. It wasn't a Shinkansen, but it was a smooth and easy ride that is typical of Japanese trains. It arrived at the Takayama Station about 10 minutes on foot from historic district of San-machi Suji.
Takayama is known as the Little Kyoto of the Mountains since it was built and modeled after Kyoto around the end of the 16th century. The high altitude and separation from other areas of Japan kept the area fairly isolated though, allowing Takayama to develop its own culture over a roughly 300-year period.
We found the streets in San-machi Suji to be narrow and very clean with tiny canals on both sides that used to be used for fire prevention, washing clothes and dumping snow in the winter. Behind the canals on both sides of the street are one and two story shops and homes made of the dark local wood. It’s beautiful old Japan. San-machi Suji also has beautiful old merchant’s mansions that have Takayama’s famous wooden lattices that show the elegant influence of Kyoto.
There’s a lot to see and do in Takayama itself, but a little out of town by bus or a fairly long walk, is the Hida no Sato or the Hida Folk Village. It’s an open air museum that has more than 30 old thatched and shingled farmhouses and buildings from other parts of the region that show how farmers and artisans used to live in the Hida Mountains. The buildings are 100-500 years old, filled with furniture and really give an idea of what it was like to live in them in the old days.
What made this trip was our stay in the Nagase Ryokan, a traditional inn that has been going for about 250 years. It’s a renovated merchant’s house and is filled with antiques. Each room has views of perfect little miniature gardens with waterfalls and streams. Also, there's Kyoto-style cuisine that’s served on beautiful lacquerware and ceramics that are brought to your room for breakfast and dinner each day.
All in all, Takayama is a wonderful place to visit and it gave us a good view of old Japan. Highly recommended!