Wakey wakey bright and cheery and off to Takayama (高山) city we go. It’s happy days as my jet lag is finally over and done with. Takayama’s nickname is “Little Kyoto of Hida” (飛騨の小京都). Takayama, located in the Gifu prefecture of Japan, is one of the 7 cities in the Japanese alps. Takayama’s historic district, Sanmachi suji, is a fine example of a well-preserved Edo period relic of wooden merchants’ cottages. The years between 1603 to 1868 are classified as the Edo period in Japan’s history.
From Kanazawa, take the shinkansen to Toyama and change to a Ltd. Express Hida (Wide View) train bound for Takayama. Onboard this 2hr 30 min journey, be delighted by the gently rolling vistas of rice paddy fields, shrines, snow-capped mountains, turquoise rivers, lush green forests. Minus the shrines and rice paddy fields, I was instantly transported back to our Canadian and Swiss road trips.
We had dorayaki as a snack during our train journey. A dorayaki is basically a sweet filling pancakes sandwich. The photo below shows a Dorayaki with the seasonal strawberry flavour filling that I had purchased during our brief stop at Toyama station. I adore the beautiful packaging.
Tip: Here’s the Toyama station map to help you to change trains bound for Takayama.
Tip: If this is your first visit to Japan, do visit my related article on Taking In Tokyo as a Japan first-timer for practical tips.
When we reached Takayama, it was about time we have lunch. Unfortunately, the Kotaro restaurant, my first choice restaurant, is not open for business that day. I heard that Kotaro is an affordable Japanese restaurant with great eats. Have you been to the Kotaro restaurant? We hope to visit this restaurant some day.
We walked on and to our dismay even or second and third choice restaurants were not open for lunch in the month of May. It’s time to change to plan B i.e. eating snacks for lunch.
Fortunately, I spotted a bunch of schoolkids who were also looking for a bite to eat, stopping by to purchase a local delicacy called Mitarashi Dango from a hole-in-the-wall stall. It pays to watch where the locals eat! It’s a sweet glutinous rice balls basted with a sticky soy sauce on a bamboo skewer. Each skewer of Mitarashi Dango costs 70 Yen. It’s interesting to try this at least once in your life.
I wasn’t too sure about eating here either but the schoolkids seemed to love eating here. It looked like a hotdog and burger joint.
At last, we found the Sanmachi Suji historic district. We certainly were not the first tourists at Takayama.
Can you spot the rickshaw resting at the end of the street?
Here’s a closeup photo of a rickshaw in case you missed the last one. You can hire a rickshaw if you are too tired to walk through Takayama.
You must eat at a hole-in-the-wall cafe called Kihachiro beef bun. You can buy a beef bun for 500 Yen each to takeaway. We were happily munching away at our beef buns after securing a shady and quiet spot to people watch. A shady and quiet spot is quite difficult to come by in this tourist hotspot. Be careful as the juicy beef filling is very hot as you bite into it. If you have the time, you may also wish to eat at the Kihachiro cafe. Hida beef is a famous delicacy in Takayama.
We followed some tourists for a spot of sake tasting. Sake is a Japanese rice wine. Sake is the perfect accompaniment to Japanese cuisine. As you enter the historic street, you can easily identify a sake brewery by looking out for the sugidama ball (also known as sakebayashi) hanging from the eaves of the roof. In the ancient days, a sake brewer would tie fresh cedar twigs together and clipped it neatly to form a spherical ball. The sake brewer would hang up these green-coloured sugidama ball to signify that he had started to prepare a fresh batch of sake, usually in the months of November or December. When the sugidama ball had turned brown in colour, the customers will know that the sake is now fit for consumption. Meet the ancient marketing tool, sugidama ball!
Can you spot the sugidama ball in the sake brewery?
There is also usually a stand with bottles of sake in glass bottles or ceramic jars and a pile of sake baskets to entice tourists outside a sake brewery. You may get the option of purchasing a sake cup before you visit the sake cabinet to start your sake tasting. There is a notice to remind tourists that this is not an all you can drink event. You will be able to take your pick from unfiltered sake (looks cloudy in appearance) to filtered clear sake. We took our sake cups home as travel memento.
We continued to explore Takayama’s streets passing by a clear river and another sake brewery. Takayama is a great place to spend the afternoon wandering aimlessly if you are an avid photographer.
Can you spot the spoilsports in this black and white photo of one of the backstreets of Takayama? Taxi and ….
If you are a little lost in Takayama, there is also help at hand in the form of signposts strategically placed in street corners. The signposts are usually in English, Chinese and Korean. Otherwise, if you have cleverly purchased a prepaid data Sim for your smartphone, Google map will be your greatest friend during your Japan travels.
We are happy to have found our top choice sake brewery, Hirase Sake Brewery. Hirase Sake Brewery is the oldest sake brewery in Takayama, in operation since 1623. It’s about 6 minute walk from the historic district. Unfortunately, you do not get a sake cup included in the price of the sake tasting. However, it’s definitely a hidden gem sake brewery as there was only 2-3 tourists at the sake brewery when we arrived. You can taste your sake in comfort as you can now sit down, rest and slowly savour each sip of sake. Hirase’s sake is sold even in New York but you will have a chance to taste its sake at its source.
This is the real deal! You can definitely taste the quality!
For further information on other sake breweries in Takayama, visit:
After sake tasting, for history buffs, enjoy free admission to the Takayama Museum of History and Art.
Tip: For toilet breaks, do look out for attractions with free admission. Takayama Museum of History and Art has clean and well-maintained toilet facilities. If you can help it, do not use the filthy toilets at Takayama train station.
Visit the Hidakokubun-ji Temple (飛騨国分寺) on your way back to the Takayama train station.
What a great way to end our trip to sleepy Takayama in May! Takayama comes alive during the biannual Takayama festival in spring (Sanno Matsuri Festival) and in the autumn (Hachiman Matsuri Festival). Wade through the crowds and witness a fine example of a Japanese festival.
I’ll end with my favourite photos of Takayama. Watch these Japanese kites (Japanese: Koinobori) swimming gracefully in the breeze. Spot Koinbori, carp streamers, from April to early May as a Children’s Day (or Boy’s Festivals) celebrations. The symbolic meaning of the Koinobori is that the decorator wishes that the young boys in the family will grow up healthy, courageous and strong just like the wild carps.
Hope you have enjoyed yourselves. I wish you many success in your travels to Takayama. Do tell me if you know of any other must eats and must sees in Takayama.
Continue to follow Dreampliflyer as I eat my way around Japan and the rest of the world. Till next time, do take care. Greetings from Takayama with love, Sayonara!
Must eats + drinks
- Harada sake brewery (If you fancy a sake in the historic district)
Signature drink: Sake
Address: 10 Kamisannomachi, Takayama 506-0846, Gifu Prefecture, Japan.
- Hirase sake brewery (Top choice)
Signature drink: Sake
Address:82 Kamiichinomachi, Takayama-shi, 506-0844, Gifu Prefecture, Japan.
- Beef bun and cafe Kihachiro Kamisannomachi
Signature dish: Beef Bun
Address: 35 Kamininomachi, Takayama 506-0845, Gifu Prefecture, Japan.
- Currency: Japanese Yen (JPY)
- Best Time to Visit: May or November to avoid the mad tourist crush!
- Getting around: Walk
- Getting here: Train from Kanazawa or Nagoya