With its exquisitely-preserved old quarter, characterful tea houses and merchant’s mansions, a visit to the atmospheric mountain town of Takayama is a chance to step back in time to Edo-era Japan.
Enclosed by mountains in the lower reaches of the Japanese Alps, Takayama has a real sense of isolation. With a history dating as far back as the Jomon period, it is this inaccessibility that has allowed the area to retain much of its traditional heritage and old-world charm.
Take a stroll along the quaint streets of the Sanmachi Suji historic district and you’ll find rows of authentic wooden merchant houses dating back to the Edo period, along with sake breweries, craft shops and museums. The area is particularly known for its ‘gassho-zukuri’ houses, characterised by their steeply-sloping roofs that are thought to resemble a pair of praying hands.
Get a deeper insight into the local history at the nearby Hida Folk Village, an open-air museum featuring more than thirty authentic Edo-period farmhouses and buildings carefully preserved in their original state. Venture inside to watch demonstrations of traditional local crafts such as woodcarving and lacquer-work.
There are several temples and shrines of note in Takayama, the oldest being the Hida Kokubunji Temple, a dark three-storied Buddhist pagoda built by Emperor Shomu beside a 1,200-year-old gingko tree. Those looking to see an outstanding example of Muromachi-period architecture should also pay a visit to the Shoren-ji Temple. Shiroyama Park, home to a 16th-century castle, is equally alluring with hundreds of blooming cherry trees in the spring.
Visitors can time their visit with the much-loved Takayama Festival, an event dating back to the mid-17th century. The parade, held in both spring and autumn, draws people from all over Japan with its wonderfully decorated floats and marionettes.