Takayama, which can be translated as the “Tall Mountain”, is a wonderful city in Gifu prefecture. You can find Shirakawago UNESCO site in the same prefecture, a village with traditional Japanese houses, built in gassho-zukuri style (hands in prayer inspired roofs). Takayama, which is not far from Shirakawago, represents the ideal place to stop and visit the surroundings.
My Romanian friend and I have chosen the route Takayama-Shirakawago-Matsumoto for the first trip of spring holiday, which lasts 2 months in Japan (February and March). The new semester(for international students) and school year(for the Japanese) starts in April. Although we wanted to see the famous Snow Festival from Sapporo in February, even a few months in advance, we couldn’t find a place to stay. So since Shirakawago was also a must-see place from our list, and winter made it look like a fairytale village, we decided to go for it. And we have also studied about it during the second year of Japanese Studies at University, which made us even more eager to go. But since it is quite hidden in the mountains, and doesn’t have any hotels or hostels, but only inn-style lodgement in the traditional houses, which can be quite expensive, we decided to stay in Takayama. It takes about 1 hour by car/bus from Takayama to Shirakawago.
Takayama is not a very popular destination among foreign tourists. What surprised us even more, was that there were almost no people on the streets. The city was so quiet, with shops mostly closing at 9 PM. I couldn’t stop wondering whether everyone from that city moved to Tokyo. But it could have also been due to the cold weather, locals might not have felt like going out, as much as we did. Probably during spring, when there is an important festival held there, it becomes more animated. I wish I could see Takayama and Shirakawago again someday in spring.
The well-preserved old houses and temples brought the name “Little Kyoto” to Takayama. There is even a district of temples called Teramachi. Sanmachi Suji is a district where there are a lot of restaurants, sake breweries, and souvenir shops. There we had the best Gyudon(beef with onion, over rice) ever. The beef from Takayama, known as Hida-gyu, is very appreciated in Japan, ranking second in popularity after Kobe beef. And I could totally understand the reason for this because it was so delicious!
We stayed in Takayama for 3 days. And not only did we explore everything that was mentioned in the guide, but also got lost at one moment. We went to a park that was also in the guide, Shiroyama Koen, but it wasn’t mentioned that it is more like a forest on a mountain than a park. Actually, the name, Shiroyama, means “White Mountain” but when you add Koen which means “park” to it, we couldn’t think it is more than a park.There we could find the ruins of a feudal castle, but after seeing the ruins, the way back to the city was pretty tough as the track was all covered in ice. And there was no one else around, among the few tourists that were visiting Takayama at the time, it seemed that no one put that park on their list. I was afraid not to break a leg or so, on the way back. I was lucky to be together with my friend because, otherwise, I would have been more scared since there was also a board that said: “Beware of bears”. Hopefully, we made it to the city again and had a warm tea in order to feel better after many hours spent in the cold.
So Takayama represented a discovery for us. And I highly recommend it if you want to see a piece of traditional Japan, without as many tourists as in Kyoto. But my advice is to avoid Shiroyama Koen, especially if it is very cold and there are chances tracks will be covered in ice again. Of course, if you feel like hiking and are prepared for it (which was not our case….) then you should go! The landscape from the top is very beautiful and the ruins are interesting as well. Have a great trip!