Takayama Things to Do

  • Gassho style houses overlooking Nikko mountain
    Gassho style houses overlooking Nikko...
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Best Rated Things to Do in Takayama

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    Takayama's Sanmachi Suji

    by tigerjapan Written Jan 17, 2005

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    Sanmachi Suji are three narrow streets in the center of Takayama's "old town". The streets are lined with traditional buildings, stores, sake breweries and private homes. Some of the buildings house museums on folk art, local history and more. There are also some elegant former merchant houses open to the public. You can sample locally produced sake and stock up on souvenirs.
    A nice alternative to exploring the beautiful area on foot is renting a rickshaw, costing about 3000 Yen for two persons.

    Knickers & Anne Off For A Ride
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    Old Private Houses

    by tigerjapan Written Jan 28, 2005

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    This area of Old Private Houses is known as; Furui-Machi-nami. The Old Priavate Houses are a part of Sanmachi Area.

    In the middle of Sanmachi you will find these beautifully crafted houses of the Edo era. The sake breweries and merchants' houses still stand in their rows and many of them are still used to serve the public. Look at the latticed bay windows of the merchants' houses and feel the rich atmosphere of this old castle town.

    Sanmachi and the "Town Village" stand on the east side of the Miyagawa River.

    This district was designated an area of important traditional buildings by the Japanese Government.

    Sanmachi District
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    Hida Folk Village

    by tigerjapan Written Jan 28, 2005

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    Hida Folk Village (Hida-no-sato) is a model of a Hida folk village. It covers 99,000 square meters and includes National Cultural Treasures and 30 buildings recreating Hida’s historical look. Many of these buildings were transported here from other parts of the region.

    The museum's main attractions are a number of gassho-zukuri houses. The massive farmhouses with their steep, thatched roofs which look like praying hands ("gassho-zukuri") were moved here from the nearby Shirakawago valley.

    All exhibited buildings are carefully preserved and are open to the public to explore. Also, the buildings' indoor fireplaces are lit every morning, making this outstanding open air museum a treat not only for the eyes but also for the nose. The smoke from the fires acts to protect the wood from insects.

    In each building, everyday articles (which are now regarded as folk art) recalling the life and culture of mountain farming villages are displayed.

    The sloped and thatched-roof houses in this open are museum allow us to see what life in the mountains would have been like in the Edo period. This is one museum NOT to be missed for those interested in history and/or Japan.

    Hida-no-sato
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    Free Foot Spa

    by tigerjapan Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    At the Takayama Green Hotel complex they have a free foot bath that uses the hot onsen water that sprang from a spring when the hotel was being constructed. The water has medicinal benefits and is very relaxing after a day of sight-seeing.

    Also, in the doors to the rear of the foot onsen is the largest souvenir shop in Takayama. The hotel has a huge gift shop where you can pick up all sorts of things.

    Free Foot Bath with Onsen Water

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    Sake tasting

    by toonsarah Written Dec 31, 2013

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    Several of the old houses in Takayama are sake breweries, as some have been for centuries. You can easily recognise these by the large white barrels outside and the distinctive spheres hanging above the entrance. These are known as sugidama and are the traditional sign of a sake brewery. Originally they were hung up whenever a new lot of sake was brewed. Made with green, freshly picked needles of a type of cedar, Cryptomeria japonica, the ball would hang there until the needles turned brown, indicating that the sake had aged enough and was ready for drinking. Today these sugidama are no longer used to indicate the age of the sake but simply as a sign of a traditional sake brewery or a sake shop.

    Many such establishments in Takayama welcome visitors to taste the sake and we visited a couple with Andrew, both towards the southern end of Kami-Sannomachi. In the first we were able to taste a good range of different sakes. We paid 100¥ and were given a small pottery cup which we could afterwards keep as a souvenir. On one side of the room was a display of sake bottles on three shelves, and we were free to sample as much as we liked from any of them. The only stipulation was that each person who wanted to taste had to pay for their own little cup. Or as the signs above the shelves said,
    “Please sample after purchasing one-piece [the cup with the sansya logo] of 100 yen. Grass can be brought home”
    and,
    “The carrying out from this corner of sample alcohol should withhold. I refuse that a cup uses about. Please purchase one person one cup.”
    You can see these signs, which did make us smile, in my Lost in Translation on my Japan page.

    After we had sampled a number of the sakes here (and debated about the rival qualities of each) we moved on to a nearby establishment that operates rather differently. Here you pay for your sake by the glass, and it is served in the traditional Takayama style, with the glass inside a small wooden box. Actually, the really traditional way is to serve it directly in the box, but this is probably more practical! They also sell a lemon-flavoured drink a little like the Italian limoncello which was very popular with our group but which I found a little sweet for my taste. This particular sake brewery has a lovely courtyard at the rear where you can relax over your drinks, and there’s also a restaurant attached. One couple in our group came back here to eat the following evening and reported it very good.

    There’s a useful list of a number of Takayama sake breweries on the website below. Unfortunately I didn’t think to ask Andrew the names of the two we went to but I’m pretty sure from the descriptions here that the second one was Funasaka and the first either Hirata or Harada.

    Once we had drunk as much sake as seemed sensible for the middle of the afternoon (OK a little more than that!), Chris and I decided to investigate an interesting gallery which we had spotted on the other side of the road.

    Sugidama Sake barrels Sue, Phil & Chris tasting the sake Traditionally served In the courtyard of brewery two
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    SANNOMACHI DISTRICT - Traditional Takayama

    by Pixiekatten Updated Feb 9, 2007

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    This part of Takayama dates back to the as early as the 1600s to 1870 (Edo period). This was a time when the area was full of wealthy merchants. Today there's lots of coffeehouses, sake breweries, traditional shops, old homes and a few museums and galleries where you can see local craft and arts.

    Not to be missed:
    Takayama Jinya - a traditional building which used to be the government building.
    Sake Breweries - look for the sugidama hanging over their entrances. Sugidama is balls made of cedar branches.
    Fujii Art (or Folk) Gallery - exhibits household items and art objects.
    Hirata Kinenkan - a former merchant home now open to the public.
    Kusakabe Heritage House - one of the oldest homes in Takayama.

    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
    • Backpacking

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    "Youth Please"

    by tigerjapan Written Jan 28, 2005

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    In the Hida-no-sato (Hida Folk Village) open-air museum there is a "Fountain of Youth". If there is even the off chance that this could be real it's worth a look :-) !!

    Nicole & I took the extended path through the Folk Village and came across the "EMMEISUI" (fountain of youth). It was a lovely path to reach the small fountain and quite a nice little stroll. We of course asked for a little youth, being there and all it seemed like the right thing to do.

    Please refer to my Hida Folk Village tip for more details.

    Knickers at the
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    MORNING MARKETS

    by Pixiekatten Updated Feb 9, 2007

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    ASAICHI - morning markets.

    The markets open already at 6am and its a great experience strolling past the small booths together with the residents of Takayama. Whats on offer is mostly vegetables, flowers, clothes and local handicraft. Of course hundreds and hundreds of Sarubobo's are to be found in various sizes and colours. (For Sarubobo, see seperate tip..)

    Markets end around 10am. They're on 7 days a week (I think they're on Sundays too..). You will find them around Miyagawa area (river area).

    Morning market - Takayama I Morning market - Takayama II
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    Higashiyama Walking Course

    by Pixiekatten Updated Feb 15, 2007

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    The hiking trail starts in Teramachi temple district. Around here there's dozens of temples and shrines. It is then taking you past rural suburbs and through the hills of Shiroyama Park where you'll find the ruins of Takayama's castle. The trail is about 3,5km and you don't need a map, there's signs all the way leading you right.

    The walking course was a nice way to spend a few hours after the crowds in Sannomachi area. The view from Shiroyama Park is nice but not breathtaking. However it was from up there I discovered the golden roof of The Mahikari Main World Shrine and I had to extend the walk across whole of Takayama to get a closer look. (See seperate tip.)

    In the distance - Mahikari Main World Shrine.
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    • Hiking and Walking
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    Shishi-Kaikan: the Lion Dance Ceremony Exhibition

    by toonsarah Updated Dec 31, 2013

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    As the name suggests, the Lion Dance Ceremony Exhibition Hall has a collection of artefacts related to the famous lion dance performed at Japanese festivals. There are over 200 lion masks, as well as Edo-Period screens, ceramics, scrolls, coins, samurai armour, and swords. But although interesting, it was not these that had drawn us here, but the regular (every half hour) 15 minute demonstrations of the karakuri (automated dolls) which decorate many of the floats in Takayama's spring and autumn festivals.

    We arrived just as one of these demonstrations was starting and were hurried inside to take our seats so we didn’t miss anything. Several karakuri ningyo, to give them their full name, were put through their paces as a woman gave explanations, a small part of which she translated into English (but enough only to give us a fairly vague idea of what was happening and how).

    These karakuri ningyo are often described as the ancestors of Japanese robot technology. But their main purpose was not to show off technological possibilities but to conceal them and to create a sense of wonder and magic. The word karakuri means a "mechanical device to tease, trick, or take a person by surprise". The aim in creating them was that the doll should be as lifelike as possible and not look like the machine it was.

    There are several types of karakuri. Most of those demonstrated here are dashi karakuri, which is the name given to those used on festival floats to re-enact scenes from plays, usually myths and legends. But we also saw a typical zashiki karakuri – the type of karakuri developed for amusement at home, a luxury item in the Edo period in Japan. One of the most popular of these, and the type that we saw, was the tea-serving doll. Like most dashi karakuri it works by clockwork. When a cup is placed in its hands the robot moves forwards; when the cup is lifted it stops; and when the cup is again placed in its hands it turns and goes back where it started. You can imagine what a novelty that would have been in a rich Edo household – and indeed what a novelty it seemed to us! We also saw one that could write which went down especially well with the children in the audience, one of whom was given the finished paper.

    If I’ve got you intrigued by these devices, there’s an excellent website about them, karakuri.info, which is worth digging around in.

    Once we’d watched the demonstration we walked around the rest of the exhibits. There was no restriction on photography so as well as taking some photos of the karakuri and lion masks I was also able to make a short video of a couple of the former in action.

    Admission costs 600¥ and if you watch a demonstration as well as touring the exhibit cases you get good value for that.

    By this time though it was lunch time and we retraced our steps towards a restaurant we had spotted earlier.

    Tea-serving doll Dashi karakuri Dashi karakuri Dashi karakuri Lion mask
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    Sakurayama Hachimangu

    by toonsarah Written Dec 31, 2013

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    This Shinto shrine is in a lovely setting on the northern edge of the town, just beyond the Yatai Kaikan. It is the focal point for Takayama’s autumn festival. There are thousands of these Hachiman Shrines in Japan; they are dedicated to Hachiman, the kami (god or spirit) of war, who used to be popular among the leading military clans of the past. The origins of this particular shrine date back to the time of the Emperor Nintoku (313-399) who sent Prince Takefurukuma-no-mikoto to subjugate the monster Sukuna, a beast with two heads, four arms and four legs. Before undertaking this task the warrior enshrined his father, the Emperor Ohjin, as the deity of this shrine and prayed for the success of his mission.

    The shrine was enlarged in 1683 and established as the official protective shrine of the town. It has a pair of stone Komainu or “lion dogs” guarding the entrance to the inner shrine (photo four, and also seen in photo three in my next tip), a large purification trough with dragons head fountains (photo three), a pool with large carp and a number of smaller buildings dotted around the grounds either side of the shrine. Among these (on the left as you face the main shrine) is an auxiliary shrine, an Inari Shrine (photo two), dedicated to the kami of the harvest and of industry. This shrine is guarded by a pair of foxes, regarded as the messengers of this god – see photo five.

    While we were here we were fortunate to witness a local family celebration.

    Sakurayama Hachimangu Inari Shrine Dragon fountain Lion dog Inari Shrine
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    Sakurayama Nikko Kan

    by toonsarah Written Dec 31, 2013

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    Next door to the impressive Yatai Kaikan museum, and included in the price of admission to it, is this smaller museum which holds a model of the World Heritage Toshogu Shrine in Nikko. It may seem odd (well, it did to me!) that one city should devote a museum to the wonders of another fairly distant city, but the reason became clear later when I read that this exhibit is both demonstration of, and tribute to, the wood-working skills of Takayama's craftsmen, who are famed throughout Japan for their carpentry. These 28 models of temple buildings contain 100,000 individual miniature pieces and took 33 sculptors 15 years to complete. What an achievement!

    As you stroll around and peer at the 1/10 scale models the light in the hall will dim and you get to see how Toshogu looks by night as well as by day. As we were to visit Nikko later in our trip we didn’t spend as long here as we might otherwise have done, but the detail on the carvings is exquisite and you could be here for an hour or more and still be marvelling at the workmanship.

    Once we had seen all we wanted to we left the rest of the group, who were going to the Hida Folk Museum (which I would have liked to have seen but not at the expense of seeing more of Takayama itself). Our next destination was a nearby shrine, Sakuramaya Hachimangu.

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    Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan

    by toonsarah Written Dec 31, 2013

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    Takayama is famous throughout Japan for its two annual festivals, in the spring and autumn, known as matsuri – the first celebrating the planting season, and the second the harvest. Unfortunately we missed the harvest matsuri by just a day (accounting in part for the large crowds milling around the old town on the day of our arrival) but at least we were able to get a good sense of what is involved by visiting this excellent museum.

    The focal point of both festivals is a parade of richly decorated floats known as yatai, 23 in total (12 for the spring festival, 11 for the autumn), some of which are 500 years old. Each is the responsibility, and pride, of one of the city’s communities. Originally they would have been carried on many shoulders, but today they have wheels. Nevertheless, manoeuvring these tall, unwieldy floats through Takayama’s narrow streets must be quite a challenge. On the first evening of the festival, they are illuminated with hundreds of paper lanterns and are hauled through the town by ropes, accompanied by wailing flutes and thundering drums. For the remainder of the festival they stand proudly at their allotted spot, attended by costumed locals. You can read a full description of the festivals of the Japan Guide website: festivale.

    For the rest of the year the yatai are kept hidden away, each in its own tall storehouse in the old town (we saw several of these while walking around – see next tip). But a few are exhibited here in the Yatai Kaikan, on a rotating basis. The museum consists mainly of a single large hall, big enough to take these impressive constructions. They are displayed with mannequins modelling the various historical costumes worn in the parades etc., and a walkway winds round the central area, ascending gently, so that by the time you are on the fourth side you are almost level with the top of the floats. Which ones you will see depends on the cycle of rotation but I believe the oldest one, which still has the old yokes (rather than wheels) and is no longer used, remains here all the time. All are beautifully carved, painted and lacquered. Many carry karakuri ningyo, mechanical dolls that can move and dance (for more about these see my tip about the demonstration we saw in the nearby Lion Dance Ceremony Exhibition Hall).

    A small room off this walkway is marked as a study room but is well worth checking out as it shows an interesting ten minute video on a loop that gives a good idea of how the floats look in action at the festivals. If ever I get to come back to Takayama I will try very hard to ensure my visit coincides with one of these.

    Photography is allowed without flash (and in any case flash wouldn't work as the exhibits are behind glass). There’s a small souvenir shop near the exit where I bought a little charm with one of the floats on it to wear on my travel bag. The 820¥ admission fee includes the museum next door, Sakurayama-Nikko-kan. But before we have a look at that, a little more about the Yatai storehouses.

    Main exhibit hall Float detail Karakuri Float detail - phoenix Historical costume
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    • Festivals
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    Morning market

    by toonsarah Updated Dec 31, 2013

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    There are two markets held every morning in Takayama and we went to one of these, that held on the banks of the Miyagawa in the old town. I have seen this reviewed on VT by one person at least as a “tourist trap” but I have to disagree. Yes, tourists come, but it was also clear to me that locals were here too, shopping for (mostly) fruit and vegetables and enjoying a gossip with friends whom they met along the way. I loved our time here! I always enjoy visiting a good colourful market anywhere I travel, as it is usually a great place to take photos and mix with the local people. This one was especially enjoyable because of the Japanese willingness to be photographed. I took so many photos of characterful faces, interesting food products and local crafts – several that I took here were among the best of the whole trip, I felt.

    Of course, being a market, it’s also good place to shop! I bought some delicious sesame crunch sweets at one stall which modestly advertised its wares as being nothing much to look at but worth tasting with a sign that read:
    ”Also the wife, the husband and confectionery which are NOT chosen by appearance.”
    [you can see a photo of this sign in my “Lost in Translation” tip on my Japan page]

    This is also a great place for snacking. Lots of the stalls sell little treats such as soy bean dumplings and sweets of all kinds. There’s a tea stall if you need warming up on what might be a chilly morning (remember, this is a mountain town) and the local Hida apples are huge and justifiably famous for their flavour.

    The morning market is a long-held tradition here, and there has been one on this spot for sixty years, although records show that the morning market was originally held close to the Takayama Betsuin Shourenji temple and started in the Edo Period. At its peak it is said to have had over 300 stalls but today it is usually between 50 and 70 – still plenty to keep you interested. It runs from 6.00 – 12.00 during spring, summer and autumn, with a 7.00 start in the winter, but there’s no particular need to get there early as they won’t run out of goods.

    As I said, I took loads of photos here, and if you’re interested you can see some more in my morning markets travelogue. After spending some time here we rejoined some of our group and Andrew proposed a visit to the nearby Takayama Yatai Kaikan, the museum dedicated to the Festival Floats.

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    Miyagawa morning market

    by cheesecake17 Written May 6, 2005

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    At 7am everyday in Takayama there are 2 open markets..One near the TAKAYAMA JINJA and the other along the Miyagawa River in the SANMACHI Suji..

    I went to the SANMACHI one, its was fun to walk around and look at the stands selling local farm products such as vegetables, lots of pickles and also local crafts..


    The Takayama Jinya morning market is held in front of Takayama Jinya, its about a 5-10 minute walk from the JR Takayama Station.

    The Miyagawa morning market
    is held along Miyagawa River in the Sanmachi Suji area, also a 5-10 minute walk from the JR Takayama Station.

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