Food & Art: A Cultural Tour of Japan
Peel back the layers of Japan’s cultural identity to uncover ancient traditions, spiritual heritage and the enduring influence of Japanese imagination.
Hidden away in the lush peaks and valleys of the Japanese Alps, Takayama is a quaint and traditional rural town. Dating back to the 16th century, Takayama has retained the architecture of its Edo-period roots and a trip here will make you feel like you’ve travelled back in time.
Navigate the narrow streets and alleys of the town, flanked by rows of picturesque teahouses, inns and sake breweries; all featuring long, sloping roofs (to deflect snow) and charming details such as latticed windows.
There’s much to see in Takayama, including morning markets on the Miyagawa River, where you can buy local crafts. Pay a visit to some of the many temples and shrines, then relax in the communal onsen baths of a traditional ryokan (guesthouse).
One of Takayama’s most popular products is sake and there are micro-breweries dotted all over town, easy to spot by the sugidama balls of cedar branches in the entranceways of buildings (one of our Japan itineraries includes a sake tasting session here).
The town is also famous for Takayama Matsuri, one of Japan’s best festivals, which takes place every spring (April) and autumn (October). During the festival, there are displays of festival floats (yatai), some of which are decorated with mechanical dolls (karakuri).
Takayama is also a gateway to further exploration of the Gifu Prefecture and a great base from which to visit nearby villages such as Shirakawago and Furukawa, or to traverse Hida’s rice fields via a guided cycling tour through the stunning scenery.
According to Japanese legend, the three sister mountain ranges of Hida (where Takayama is located), Kiso and Akaishi are home to mountain spirits. Today, the serene landscapes certainly offer an otherworldly feeling of escape and an ethereal return to nature.
The well-preserved history and abundant mountain surroundings of Takayama are a world away from Japan’s mega-cities, making a trip to this quiet hillside town a literal breath of mountain-fresh air.
As home to one of Japan’s top three festivals, you ideally want your trip to Takayama to coincide with Takayama Matsuri, which takes place twice a year in April and October. However, be sure to book in advance as this is also when the usually quiet mountain town is most popular.
Takayama is featured in our Highlights of Japan Tour as well as our Food & Art: A Cultural Tour of Japan. The Highlights itinerary features a 22-kilometre guided cycling tour of the Hida countryside, while the Cultural tour includes a sake tasting session at one of the town’s micro-breweries; you’ll learn about different sakes, food pairings and take part in a blind tasting contest!
A trip to historic Takayama is best complimented by a stay at a traditional Japanese ryokan (guesthouse). Wayfairer work with Tanabe Ryokan, which is run by local hosts Mr and Mrs Tanabe and located in the old town area, close to Takayama Station. Immerse yourself in Japanese culture by sleeping on futons rolled out onto tatami floor mats, then recline in the rejuvenating waters of the ryokan’s communal onsen baths.