Tucked away among the mountains in Central Honshu, the small city of Takayama was, until relatively recently, one of Japan’s best kept secrets. Nowadays, however, its well-preserved quarter full of Edo-era architecture and its wealth of shrines, temples, and other tourist attractions lure more and more visitors every year.
Renowned for its beautiful townscape, Takayama certainly does paint a pretty picture with the peaceful Miyagawa River coursing its way through town. Due to its remote location in the mountains, the city has developed its own rich culture, distinct from the rest of Japan. Among the best things to do in Takayama are exploring it’s famous two festivals, Sanno Matsuri and Yahata Matsuri.
While it is a destination in its own right, Takayama also makes for a fantastic stop on the way to the glorious northern Japan Alps and the enticing Hida region that lies nearby.
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10. Kusakabe Folk Museum
Located in an old merchant and moneychanger’s home, the Kusakabe Folk Museum is a striking building that exhibits some fantastic architecture and craftsmanship. Mostly made out of wood, the old house’s gorgeous interior is no less arresting, and its traditional layout dates to the 1890s.
The Kusakabe Folk Museum has a wonderful collection of local folk art for you to peruse; this showcases some intricate and delicate carpentry, pottery, and lacquerware. As Takayama is particularly well-known for its fantastic artisanship and distinctive folk culture, it is well worth visiting the museum if you have the chance.
9. Hida Takayama Museum of Art
Presenting itself as the ‘leading decorative museum in the world,’ for the last ten years, the Hida Takayama Museum of Art has been awarded three stars by Michelin. Remarkably, it is only one of six institutions in the country to receive such a rating, which indicates just how prestigious the award is.
Housed in a very sleek and modern looking Art Deco building, its galleries and exhibition rooms are just as refined and elegant to gaze upon as its beautiful collection of European Art Nouveau pieces. While some rooms display furniture and glassware, others are devoted to everyday objects and decorative artifacts. The undisputed highlight, however, has to be Rene Lalique’s gorgeous glass fountain, which is elegance personified.
8. Miyagawa Morning Market
Lying alongside the Miyagawa River that courses through town, this excellent morning market is a popular draw with both locals and tourists alike. Packed high with vegetables, fruits, flowers, and more, its many stalls and stands are lots of fun to wander around; some of them even have local delicacies and snacks for you to try out.
As lots of vendors sell souvenirs and hand-made items, the market is also a great place to pick up some of the fantastic arts and crafts for which Takayama is renowned. To make the most of Miyagawa Morning Market, you’ll have to get there early, as it only runs until midday.
7. Takayama Showa-kan Museum
Threatening to overwhelm you with its mesmerizing mess of items, objects, and artifacts, the Takayama Showa-kan Museum takes you on an unforgettable journey back to the 1950s and 60s Japan. Coming right after the atrocities that took place during the Second World War, this was a period of optimism and positivity, and this shines forth in every room of this fantastic museum.
Very lovingly and beautifully presented, it has lots of delightful movie posters, video games, and action figurines on show, as well as a 1950s car and working karaoke machine. Dripping with nostalgia, the Takayama Showa-kan Museum takes you back to a more care-free time with its brightly-colored trinkets and pop culture memorabilia.
6. Higashiyama Walking Course
Taking you past many of the city’s most impressive shrines and temples, the Higashiyama Walking Course both starts and ends at the Hida Takayama Museum of Art and is 3.5 kilometers in length.
The trail is so named because in the 1500s, a homesick warlord named Kanamori Nagachika decided to recreate the peaceful scenery and shrine-filled landscape of his hometown Kyoto’s Higashiyama area.
In this endeavor, he certainly succeeded. It really is a lovely trail to follow and should take two or three hours to complete depending on how quickly you go. Besides its atmospheric old temples, the path also meanders its way through lots of beautiful forests, hills, and countryside, as well as Shiroyama Park, where you can see the remnants of Takayama Castle.
5. Takayama Jinya
Once the administrative headquarters for the resource-rich Hida Province, Takayama Jinya and its sprawling grounds now offer a fascinating look at what life under the Tokugawa Shogunate used to be like. The only building of its kind remaining, Takayama Jinya exhibits some fantastic Edo period architecture, and its main building dates all the way back to 1819.
Inside its huge rice storehouse – the largest traditional one in the country – is an interesting museum for you to wander around. On display are lots of official documents as well as the belongings of the feudal lords themselves and amazing old maps of the town and the surrounding region. A National Historic Site since 1929, Takayama Jinya is well worth visiting if you want to learn more about Takayama and Hida’s rich history.
4. Shinhotaka Ropeway
If you’re looking to enjoy one of the best views imaginable, then you simply have to take a ride on the Shinhotaka Ropeway. Nestled away among the Northern Alps, this unique cable car system hoists you up over a thousand meters until you find yourself high on the side of Mount Hotaka – the third-highest mountain in the country.
From here, you can enjoy stupendous views out over the many mountains all around you, or continue hiking onwards and upwards to one of Hotaka’s lofty peaks.
While the scenery is stunning, the ride on the ropeway is no less memorable. Starting off at the height of 1117 meters, the cable car’s double-decker gondola shoots you up to 2156 meters in just under 15 minutes. Split into two rides on two different ropeways, it is an awe-inspiring way to travel, with the mountains and valleys sprawling away below you.
3. Takayama Festival
Renowned for its ornate floats, performing puppets, and colorful parade, the Takayama Festival is one of the most famous and popular festivals in the whole of Japan. Held every spring and autumn, the festival sees people parade through the old town on their way to either Hie shrine or Hachiman shrine to ask for a good harvest or give thanks for nature’s bounty.
Elaborately decorated, the floats showcase the city’s rich cultural heritage and famed craftsmanship, with some of them dating all the way back to the 17th century. At the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall, you can see four of these floats up close and personal, and these rotate throughout the year. Covered in intricate carvings and amazingly detailed metal-work, the centuries-old floats certainly make for a spectacular sight.
2. Sanmachi Suji
Lying at the heart of the city’s beautifully preserved old town, Sanmachi Suji is a quaint historic district that is packed full of traditional houses, shops, restaurants, and cafes. While there are only a couple of these streets for you to explore, wandering around among the atmospheric old buildings that date to the Edo Period is a marvelous experience.
With a number of museums on offer as well as a couple of sake breweries, there is a lot for you to see and do. In recent years, shops selling souvenirs and local arts and crafts have popped up. Although it is becoming increasingly touristy, Sanmachi Suji is still well worth checking out as the small district surely counts among the prettiest in the whole of Japan.
1. Hida Folk Village
For visitors interested in learning more about the city and region’s rich cultural heritage, no visit to Takayama can be complete without stopping by the Hida Folk Village. Set among some of the most idyllic countryside imaginable, with great views out over the Japan Alps, this marvelous open-air museum has over 30 traditional houses for you to explore.
Exhibiting a range of different architectural styles, the impressive houses are around 100 to 500 years old and filled with utensils and artifacts from each one’s particular epoch.
As such, you can learn all about how people in Central Honshu once lived. At the nearby Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Center, you can even try your hand at making some of the region’s famed handicrafts. A fun day out for all the family, the peaceful and picturesque Hida Folk Village will delight you with its rural charm and laidback pace of life.
Best Time to Visit Takayama
Like much of Japan, Takayama sees the most visitors in April and the autumn months. This is either when its cherry blossoms are blooming or its trees create a stunning sea of golden colours. Two of Japan’s most important traditional festivals, the Takayama Matsuri, also take place each season.
Much quieter, cheaper and less crowded than April, May is a great month to visit, just before the summer rains start. As temperatures are warm and everything is green, conditions are perfect for visiting the outdoor Hida Folk Village museum.
As June and July are so hot, humid and wet, relatively few people visit. Although August and September still average 21 to 25°C (70 to 75°F) and see loads of rain, plenty of people come during the Obon holidays. This is also a great time to hike about the Alps though some trails can get crowded.
October to December are also among the most popular months to visit Takayama thanks to its eye-catching autumnal foliage. After hiking about its mountains, you can relax in some of the soothing hot spring inns surrounding the city. In wintertime, brilliant skiing can be had with the landscape looking amazing all coated in snow.