The quaint city of Takayama lies high up in the Hida mountain range in the center of Japan, between the two major urban areas of Tokyo and Osaka. The relative isolation of Takayama has long been a staple of the region’s history and as a result, it retains a quality unlike anywhere else in Japan. Yet despite this, the city can be reached within a few hours from both Tokyo and Kyoto.
The city has a completely different climate than the rest of mainland Japan. It is one of the most consistent places in the country for snow. At the same time, it can reach temperatures as high as 35°C in the summer. With plenty of traditional attractions within the city center, and arguably some of the best day trips available in the country, Takayama Japan should be a much sought-after destination.
Takayama, located in the Chubu region, is possibly the best place in Japan for learning about the nation’s Jōmon period. This was when a hunter-gatherer lifestyle existed, famed today for its impact on early pottery. Many people from the general area are believed to have moved to Kyoto to help build the Imperial Palace and as such, the region developed a reputation for excellent carpenters.
However, the city as it looks today developed following the Battle of Sekigahara, just like so many other cities. Kanamori Nagachika ruled in the Hida mountains during the 1600s. He built the castle and its surrounding area and expanded his territory greatly. In 2005, Takayama was further expanded to incorporate many smaller towns. In doing so, it became the largest city in Japan with a staggering land area of almost 2,200km².
Despite this incredible statistic, it is still often referred to as Hida Takayama. This is to differentiate it from the many other ‘Taka-yamas’ in Japan as its name simply means ‘tall mountain’. This location in the Hida mountains means it is perfectly placed for exploring the principal attractions of the Japanese Alps. It is still easily reached from almost anywhere on Honshu but Nagoya is probably the best access route.
What to do?
Kamikochi and all the other attractions of the Hida mountains are just a bus ride away, as are the romantic regions of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama. With triangular-shaped appearances that are designed to hold out against the frightening levels of snowfall in the region, they also manage to hold the snow perfectly formed against their roofs. This gives the villages a ‘Who-Ville-like’ appearance, resembling Dr. Seuss’ fictional town from The Grinch. It is a great day trip or overnight stay from Takayama.
There is also plenty to see and do within the central district of Takayama City itself. You won’t have to explore much of its 2,200km² to have a good time. Just 10 minutes away from the station lies the expansive Old Town, with its wonderfully preserved shops and restaurants. It is also now home to several interesting museums. Nearby is the tourist-friendly Higashiyama Walking Course which encompasses several shrines, temples, and the old castle ruins.
How To Visit Takayama
Hida Takayama is not the type of place that you should stop by briefly on a one-day tour. Instead, you should use it as a central location from which you can soak up all that the Hida mountains contain. Time your visit during the bi-annual Takayama Matsuri (held over two days in both Spring and Autumn) for some spectacular displays and parades, but don’t worry because any time of year to visit Takayama promises to be truly incredible.
Here are some of the best-guided tours of Takayama:
- Takayama guided walking tour – from $89 per person
- Takayama hiking tour from Gifu – from $89 per person
- Higashiyama walking tour – from $119 per person
- Takayama food and sake tasting tour – from $129 per person
- Kamikochi hiking day tour from Takayama – from $169 per person
While Takayama City may be enormous in terms of its size, the real city center is a quaint reminder of a forgotten Japan. This area does not contain a huge number of activities but the area as a whole does. Anyone wishing to visit the stunning Japanese Alps shouldn’t miss out on its de-facto capital Takayama.