It was close to lunch when we hailed a taxi at the Takayama Station to take us to Futurishizuka Hakuun, our Ryokan. Not exactly at the center of town but Takayama is small enough to go around on foot anyway. A leisurely walk to town took us about 15 minutes to Le Midi,
a French bistro recommended by the Ryokan, for an excellent Hida beef meal.
Lesser known internationally, the Hida region of Gifu Prefecture breeds top quality black cattle. As a mater of fact, it was given the highest prize by the same award giving body that made Kobe beef what it is today. And when in Takayama and the surrounding areas around the Hida region, a Hida beef meal should be high on your list.
But more than Hida beef, Takayama is visited for its famous historic townscape.
At the center of town, old wooden houses from the Edo period line both sides of the streets of Sanmachi imparting an atmosphere straight from the 19th century.
Most of these are still private homes while a few are now shops, inns, and restaurants.
Many museums, galleries, and even sake breweries likewise coexist with the old private houses in that quarter. The three narrow streets that form Sanmachi are “Nationally Recognized Important Historical Preservation Areas”.
Takayama was the center of Japan’s timber industry and was known for its expertise in carpentry. It is believed that carpenters from this town worked on palaces and temples in Kyoto and Nara hence the well-preserved quarter.
The striking black luster of the buildings were the result of rich merchants back then trying to hide the use of the best but prohibited wood by painting their houses with soot, which in my opinion gave the city its character in the end.
The old town is where the action is; just a short distance from each other is where most of the attractions are.
And for the remaining portion of the day, we walked around town not exactly aimless but with a loose agenda, and this was where our meanderings took us:
Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan
Ranked as one of Japan’s most beautiful festival, the Takayama Matsuri Festival always attracts a large number of spectators. Magnificent floats are pulled through the streets of Takayama’s old town during the festival held every spring and autumn.
The Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan or the Festival Floats Exhibition Hall displays on rotation four of the eleven floats used in the festival. Many of the floats that date back from the 17th century are of gilded wood intricately carved with detailed decorative metalwork. If not displayed in the hall, they are stored in tall storehouses called yatai-gura scattered quite noticeably around the town. And these elaborately crafted floats are excellent showcases of the special skills the Hida-Takayama craftsmen are known for.
Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine
Just across the exit of the exhibition hall is the shrine where the Matsuri Festival is held every year. It was built during the time of Emperor Nintoku and later made bigger than the original under Lord Kanamori. It was officially established to protect a part of Takayama,
Sakurayama Nikko Kan
The Nikko Toshogu is a Shinto shrine in Nikko Tochigi Prefecture dedicated to the first shogun of the Edo Shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Shogunate spent a fortune and took 15 years to reconstruct the Toshogu.
The entrance fee of the Matsuri Yatai Kaikan includes the Sakurayama Nikko Kan, a hall displaying the impressive one-tenth scale replica of the Nikko Toshogu.
The replica, after the war, was shown in the United States and in a few decades later, in Japan. Today, it has found its home at the Sakurayama Nikko Kan complete with a computerized lighting system programmed to alternate sunrise to sunset. It is a beautiful exhibit not to be missed.
Yoshijma Heritage House
Built by master carpenter Nishida Isaburo in 1907. The Yoshijima family was a prosperous merchant engaged in money lending and the production of sake in Takayama. And it once had a building where sake once brewed and plastered storehouses where sake was stored before being sold. Unfortunately, most of the structure has been torn down with only a small part remaining.
Well maintained, the house has posts and beams polished and smoothened through the years to a rich brown tone delivering a sense of sophistication to an already beautiful old house. Another a must see.
As we continue to explore the town, we decided on an early dinner of Tonkatsu.
Unlike the ordinary Tonkatsu we know, this deep-fried breaded pork fillet is placed on top of a magnolia leaf with the sweet sauce heating on a dish with fire underneath. Tender and juicy, this meal was the perfect way to end the exploration.
Back in our Ryokan, we reveled at our ante room, put our feet up, and sipped our green teas. We were in good spirits.
I wasn’t planning to, but the hot tub was calling out to me.
Nestled on a hill, Futurishizuka Hakuun is favored with a wonderful view of the city and mountain. It has in some rooms a private hot bath. And our tub has that view – beats having a massage any day.
As I lay down in the tub, I see steam all around, and I feel heat melting the weariness from all the walking done the past few days. Knowing that there will be more, I welcome this tonight. And maybe tomorrow too.
Yoshijima Heritage House
Hours: 9:00AM to 5:00PM (Mar – Nov); 9:00AM to 4:30PM (Dec – Feb)
Closed on Tues (Dec – Feb, when Tue falls on a national holiday, it is open and is closed the following day)
Festival Floats Exhibition Hall & Sakurayama Nikko Kan
Hours: 8:30AM to 5:00PM (Mar – Nov); 9:00AM to 4:30AM (Dec – Feb)