Takayama, Japan

We were thrilled to begin our travel in Japan here, as it hasn’t yet been disrupted by modernism, and maintains that of an old quintessential Japanese mountain village. Rich in history, beautiful in nature, and famous for it’s Hida beef as well, we’ve listed a few things you must check out along the way.

Must visit

  • Morning Market. The morning market runs daily, from 9am through 12pm, down by the river. This is the town’s local farmer’s market, with fruit, flower, food and handicraft vendors lining the street. It bursts with energy from locals and visitors, all curious and interested in the goods and samples being offered. You can sample as much as you wish and/or get breakfast along the way. There are benches down the steps at the river side where you can take a break, or eat your breakfast, as you watch the many carp fish swim upstream.
  • Free foot bath in town. You’ll find this two blocks up on the right side of the street once you exit the Takayama train station. After a long trip, it’s a luxurious treat to soak your feet in a natural spring fed foot bath as you unwind. The best part is it’s free!
  • Day trip to Okuhida Hot Springs village within the Japanese Alps. It’s a 50 minute bus ride from Takayama but not covered by your JR Pass. Insider tip: The bus ride up is extremely scenic, so do stay awake to take it all in. If you go in the spring months, you’ll likely catch a glimpse or two of the Cherry Blossoms! up to a peak of Mt. Shakujo in the Japanese Alps. You will pass an active volcano on the way as you enjoy massively impressive views.
  • Shinhotaka Ropeway up to a peak of Mt. Shakujo in the Japanese Alps. You will pass an active volcano on the way as you enjoy massively impressive views. Insider tip: There is a free foot bath at the entrance of the rope way. It’s near the area where you can buy grilled meat on a stick (which is also worth it!) and a nice way to spend the time waiting for your bus back to Takayama before heading out.

Must notice

  • Kites in the shape of carp fish strung from either side of the river
  • Statues of raccoon dogs in front of many buildings
  • The Sarubobo doll
  • Ubobo dolls
  • Bells are on most ornaments- they are a symbol of good luck
  • Big belly statues along the bridge
  • Small shrines throughout the town
  • Preserved traditional architecture
  • Coffee comes in very small cups
  • Public trash cans are scarce and hard to find

Must sample

Sample as many unique things as you can at the morning market. Some of our favorite things were:

  • Hida beef sushimi at Hida Kotte Ushi. Found in the heart of the historic part of town, this is simply a storefront where foodies and locals alike come from far and wide to savor their Hida beef sushimi. Well worth the wait as the beef literally melts in your mouth.
  • Sesame mochi cakes with sweet black bean paste inside
  • Steam buns with beef
  • Rice cakes with frozen fruit inside (the orange is good but we’d recommend the kiwi)
  • Egg white treats. You’ll find these at a permanent shop across from the vendors at the morning market- they are squares that almost look like toasted marshmallows, but are made by beating egg whites with sugar, drizzling honey over top and then soaking them in sake. Very nice treat.
  • Sweet sesame crackers
  • Large sweet beans. These look like extraordinarily big black beans but are sweet.
  • Black soy bean tea
  • Ginger soaked in soy sauce

Must dine

  • Matsuri Sushi. Might possibly be the best sushi we’ve ever had (including some of the best in Japan).
  • Name unknown. (Address: Japan, 506-0846 Gifu Prefecture, Takayama, Kamisannomachi, 37) This cozy restaurant only sits about six tables, all in private booths, and the food is incredible. We’d recommend the combination dish for 1,580 yen, which gets you a bowl of gristle noodles with beef cartilidge for flavoring, and a side of Hida beef on top of a bet of salt rice. For an extra 200 yen, you can get your choice of a small (truly small – maybe 4 oz.) beer or wine.

*Note, there are many charming restaurants hidden within small side streets in town, most with picture menus. The food in Takayama was extraordinary and as long as the picture looks like something you want to eat, it will likely be good.

Must stay

If you have a group of four or more, we’d recommend you try staying at Water Lily. This is an authentic private Japanese home that we found on AirBnb. It’s simply decorated, and adorned only with a few small shrines and instruments. Like all traditional Japanese homes, you’ll also get the chance to sleep on a futon mattress on the floor (which we found to be quite comfortable!) It’s also nicely situated to everything in town.

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