For personal trips gentle to the soul, seek out the old-time charm of Hida Takayama
Takayama Travel Blog› entry 1 of 1 › view all entries
June 27th, 2007 – by: DaisyCrazyMarie
One morning in a ryokan guestroom in the Hida region of Gifu prefecture, I opened the windows and saw that powdery flakes of snow—the first signs of winter that year—had begun to fall upon the Miyagawa River, which stretches through the city of Hida Takayama. Inside, the ryokan staff, who just moments ago jolted me awake from my futon with a boisterous “Ohayo gozaimasu!” had prepared a perfect breakfast complete with bubbling hoba soy paste on crispy magnolia leaves, a local recipe. The charms of Takayama are always unexpected and low-key, and touring the area, from the enduring villages to a hidden temple, is best described as a treasure hunt.
Located just under four hours from Tokyo, the city of Takayama dates back to the Jomon period. Sheltered by the surrounding steep mountains, its geography gave rise to the distinctive culture still evident today. “Pretension” is a word unknown in this compact little town, best explored on foot so as to invite as many discoveries as possible. Keen travelers are well aware of the name Takayama, but most of them still pass by the city while on their way between Kyoto from Tokyo.
The best time to visit is during the spring and fall seasons, when the Takayama Festival, considered to be one of the most beautiful in Japan, enlivens the area with ornate floats crafted by local artisans.
I eventually became focused on the Yoshijima Heritage House, a stately sake brewery of overlapping cypress beams and posts with a cool, earthen floor. A veteran tour guide who had resided in Takayama all his life—save for the years during World War II—explained in loving detail about the ripples in the handmade glass windows and about the time a TV drama was shot there. After complimentary green tea and rice crackers, he suggested I go see the old private houses, just in time for the enchanting moments before nightfall, when the lampposts along the narrow streets gradually illuminate.
Situated on the east side of the Miyagawa River, Sanmachi is the village where the houses are arrayed in rows, offering glimpses into what life must have been like during the Edo period. The old homes, some of them sake breweries and others merchant houses and souvenir shops, are a photographer’s dream with their dark wood eaves and latticed bay windows flooded with orange light. Just a couple of blocks away is one of the locations of the Hida-style farmer’s market—an asa-ichi (morning market) that got its start in the Edo period. The people of Takayama proudly showcase their vegetables, flowers, spices, freshly baked rice crackers, souvenirs and even bottles of hot milk at the market, but the laidback vendors are impressively well-behaved—eager to help, never pushy.
Unlike most rural cities with an allegiance to the ways of the past, Takayama knows how to let its hair down by night.
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