My latest Post.

This view,this beauty
A tear unbidden
Creeps into my eye.

My stay is short
But I shall return to this place
If only my life is long enough.

Such beauty
Gazing upon it
I hope my years are many.

Bokusui Wakayama.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Vacation in Takayama.

   I became aware of Takayama via several of my "Facebook Friends" (four who live & work in Furukawa { just up the road from Takayama}and one that lives & works in Takayama) through their posts and photos. So, when my wife and family started talking about locations to go for a vacation, I didn't hesitate to put-up my hand and say; "Lets go to Takayama".
   (For once I got my way) So, once all the arrangements were made - dates, time-off work, accommodation e.t.c. - we (yours-truly + better-half, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and family dog) set off. As my sister-in-law is a good driver, I was happy to hand-over the reins to her allowing me to take in  the beautiful scenery during our 4-hour drive.  
Map Location
Like the Gujo Hachiman Castle  for example, that, although we were some kilometers from the complex, is  a very-imposing site. Also, as the Sakura were still in bloom in this area, we were reminded of one of the best times of year to be in Japan. 
Map Location.
   Our accommodation for our two-nights, was the "Takayama WanWan Paradise Hotel". The hotel caters for guests who like to go on vacation with their pet dog. Set in amongst the bush, in the mountain area bordering Gifu and Nagano Prefecutres, the grounds have several tracks & pen so as to exercise your dog. It also has one of the best Onsen I have ever experienced (let me tell you, there is nothing more relaxing, after a day on the road or visiting tourist sights, than to soak in an Onsen).
Chilling-Out In The Onsen.
   After checking in and checking-out the facilities, I decided to take a walk around the grounds with Camera in hand - Hotel & Entrance + Hotel Grounds + Onsen . After a Traditional Japanese Dinner, it was time to head back to our room for a well-deserved sleep. The following morning, after another session in the Onsen, it was back to the restaurant for Breakfast. Just the tonic for a day doing touristy things. When on vacation I prefer not to cram too much into my day. Two-to-Three venues are enough for me. That way I can stroll at a leisurely pace and appreciate the experience (it is also a good excuse to return). 
   First stop of the day was the Hida Great Limestone Cave. As you wound your way through the illuminated complex, you emerged at the top before descending and returning to a picturesque garden, and onto the souvenir shops for the traditional Omiyage.   Videos - Hida Great Limestone Cave - Gardens & Entrance.   
Map Location.
   From here we headed for downtown Takayama and, before we made any plans, we had a bite-to-eat. As you can see on the map and link, there is plenty to experience in Takayama. Our problem was; what.
Takayama Tourist Attractions.
    As we left the cafe, my attention was drawn to a Pagoda across the road. Being a fan of Temples I decided to check the complex out. Built in 746 by Emperor Shomu, Hida Kokubunji Temple is the oldest Temple in Takayama. But it was the 1,200-year old Ginkgo Bilboa Tree in the courtyard that fascinated me, and my family. 
Ginkgo Bilboa Tree,
Hida Kokubunji Temple.
This tree was 800-years old when my country, Aotearoa, was first inhabited.
Video - Hida Kokubunji Temple.
   Takayama Jinya was our next destination. We were very privileged when one of the staff gave us a personal tour of the building. If it wasn't for this kind person, we would have wandered-around not knowing much of what we were looking at. 
Entrance to Takayama Jinya.
The complex was made up of dozens of rooms, each serving it's own purpose. And, inside the courtyard, was a well maintained garden (unfortunately we weren't allowed to wander through the garden). Videos - Takayama Jinja + Takayama Jinya - Gardens. 
Next, and the highlight of the day, was a stroll down Sanmachi (Furui-Machi-nami), where the Edo Period houses have been faithfully restored and preserved for all to appreciate. It's like stepping back in time to an era where they didn't have the modern conveniences we have today. 

Sake Shop.
But, it was this building, with it's distinctive Sugidama (balls of Cedar Sprigs bound together to form a bushy globe) hanging above the entrance so as to announce to all and sundry that fresh Sake is available inside. That was my cue to taste the local fare. As a result of the 30-minutes we spent tasting some very-nice Sake, we decided to call-it-a-day and head back to our hotel, with purchases in hand (we did have plans of one more destination but, as it was a 40-minute drive away, we postponed until the following day). Video - Sanmachi and Sake Tasting.
   As the girls were keen to sit-and-relax in a cafe, I headed-off to meet my "Facebook Friend", Akila Tanaka. Akila-san is employed by the Takayama Municipal Office as their "Overseas Promotions Officer". I have shared many of Akila's posts - Visit Hida Takayama (Official), Japan.  
Map Location.
   This is Shirakawago (Village) (our plans were to visit here the previous day but........) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is no good time of year to visit this village. As I always say; "Anytime is a good time of year to visit Japan" and this is no exception.
In the image above, taken during rice-growing season (August - September), the town looks very picturesque. But, in Winter, Shirakawa looks just as inviting (albeit very cold). The best time of day to visit Shirakawa, I would suggest early morning. That way you will avoid the hoards of tourist buses. Don't be in a rush to experience this quaint delight. And, if possible, take the path up to the Shiroyama Viewpoint (where the images were taken) for an overall look of the area. If you are travelling here from Takayama, take Route-158 &156 (like we did) and you will be treated to some of that great Japanese scenery along the way. Video - Shirakawago + The Village from top floor of house + Rice Fields + Walking in the Rain
   Sadly it was time to hit-the-motorway and return home. I am so grateful to Akila, Hisa and friends for telling me about Hida-Takayama. It was an experience that will take some beating, which is why it has been placed on our "Must Return" list. For me, I am looking at returning with my mountain-bike so I can check-out other scenic spots in the area. Maybe spend a week here. I hope you can place Hida-Takayama on your list of places to visit when you come to Japan. You won't be disappointed.
   Takayama City Videos.

Hida-Takayama - a Tourist Destination.

   Access to Takayama, like nearly all cities and towns throughout Japan, is very easy, and that is regardless of your mode ( you might find this article on Japan's Infrastructure interesting). If you are entering Japan by air, the Central Japan International Airport outside Nagoya City would be your best & closest bet (although, in saying that, the International Airports at Tokyo and Osaka are also a stones-throw away). There is also an International airport at Toyama if you are flying-in from some Asian Countries.
J.R.Limited Express.
The image on the left is the J.R.Limited Express that operates on the Takayama Main Line between the cities of Nagoya and Toyama. Both of these cities are on the Japan Rail Network giving you good access from wherever in Japan you are coming from. 
 If you are planning on driving to Takayama, then the Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway would be your quickest way but, if you want to see/experience some great Japanese Scenery (and have the time), then come via one of the many National Highway Roads that access the area. And, last-but-not-least, buses. Like the rail network, the bus-service to/from Takayama is second-to-none with regular services linking the area with Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, Nagoya, as-well-as Kanazawa, Toyama and Matsumoto. This guide will give you a better indication as to how to get here - "Getting to Takayama".
   You have worked-out how to get here, now your next step is to find somewhere to stay. Takayama has quite a selection of hotels to choose from, all providing high-quality service and located throughout the inner city and surrounding area. I shall let the folks at "Takayama Guide" impress you with what is available. 
If you are looking for accommodation in the traditional category, then I would recommend a Ryokan. To find what is available, and at what cost, Takayama Ryokan Association will be of assistance. If you want something a little downbeat from the Ryokan, the Minshuku is your best bet - roughly equivalent to the English Bed-and- Breakfast. Hida-Takayama Minshuku Association will be of assistance. 
If you are on a budget, there is a huge range of hostels available, including a Youth Hostel. This is a good 'site to help with selecting a hostel - Hostels in Hida-Takayama. If a member of your touring-party is the family dog, then you can't go past the Takayama Wan-Wan Paradise Hotel. Set in amongst the forest and located on the mountains that border Gifu and Nagano Prefectures, this is the perfect hotel (you don't have to have a dog to stay here). The restaurant, serving traditional Japanese fare, are top quality. The Onsen I would class as the best I have experienced in my time living in Japan.
Takayama WanWan Paradise Hotel.

   Now doesn't the above image look delicious? Traditional Japanese Cuisine is very healthy and tasty (that's coming from someone who has been eating it for the past 8-years) and Hida-Takayama has many restaurants for you to experience. I won't post any names but leave it up to you to discover where to eat. But let me say this, in Japan food quality is second-to-none in the world. There are also a few Western Restaurants & cafes for that something that reminds you of back home.
Now the all-important paragraph - what to do in Takayama. This 'site will give you access to the Takayama Practicle Guide Map (English) and, as you can see, there is not a shortage of sights to see/experience. 
 Something I have never come-across, until I visited Takayama, is this system of "Tourist Guides". These people, identifiable by these yellow & black armbands, stroll throughout the "Old Streets" and are more-than-happy to help you with any inquiries you may have. Although this service is free, it would be courteous of you to pay their costs (on a recent visit to Takayama, a guide gave us a very-personal tour of Takayama-jinya). The streets are also very well signposted and maps are available everywhere you go, and in many different languages. My tip is don't try to cram too much into your day. Take it casually and experience what you are visiting without rushing it. 
If you are an early-bird, then head off down to the Morning Market (6am-to-noon), in the area around Takayama-jinya. This is one of the largest markets of it's kind in Japan and has been in operation for over 300-years. Then, after you have purchased some fresh fruit or a souvenir (or two), pop-around the corner to the Sanmachi Village. These old houses, dating back to the Edo Period, have been faithfully restored to their (almost) original state. Don't be in a hurry. There are so many wee gems of shops to discover and you never know what you will find.
Fukyuan Cafe.
Map Location.
   By now your stomach is sending you a message - "I'm hungry". The Fukyuan Cafe is located off a side-street, that itself is off a side-street that is off the main street (check the map for location) and is a quaint wee establishment that sells, apart from great coffee, small trinkets e.t.c. It has an English menu and specializes in Japanese sweets. While here, take the time to plan the remainder of your day. If you want to experience more of the historical aspect of Hida-Takayama, I would recommend the Takayama Local History Museum, or the Higashiyama Temple Area or Takayama-jinya.
If you are a fellow "outdoorholic", like myself, and you have packed your hiking, mountain-biking or skiing gear for your vacation, all I can say is - "Welcome to Paradise". Hida-Takayama is nestled-amongst the Hida Mountains, which themselves are encompassed by the Japanese Alps. Whatever your fancy - a stroll amongst nature, off-the-beaten-track, hair-raising - there is sure to be something here to satisfy your addiction. If you want to do you own thing, then surf-through Diddlefinger Maps-Japan. Using "Google Maps", this 'site uses English for place-names, in place of Kanji (in most cases). But, if you want something more organized/planned, let me recommend two - 
The Goshikigahara Hermit Road,  situated in the foothills of magnificent Mt Norikura (Map Location), provides the hiker with three options to explore the "luxurious nature which has not been explored for a long time". For a small fee, you will be provided with a guide and will include bus-fare in the park as-well-as guide book. The tour is limited to two persons with a maximum of ten.  
 Could you imagine yourself taking a guided bike-ride through the magnificent scenery of Hida-Furukawa (image on right)? Well, with the guys at Hida Satoyama Cycling, you can do just that. This is one of the best ways to discover the scenic Japanese countryside. Hida-Furukawa is just a 15-minute train-ride from Takayama and, with scenery like this, you won't want to leave. This is the "real" Japan.
Check-out more of the area at Satoyama Experience. 
   Now if this image on the right turns you on, and you are keen to check-out the local slopes, Takayama is the place. This website - Skiing and Snowboarding. - should be of use. 
   I have covered many activities for you to see/experience in Hida-Takayama. Unfortunately I have had to omit mentioning many (maybe that will give you an idea of what is available) but, if you surf-through some of the websites attached, I am sure you will find something that will satisfy your tastes. 

   I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge those who have allowed me to use their websites and images in this blog. 


Hida-Takayama - History.

Flag of Takayama.
    Throughout this blog, plus the following blogs attached to this title, I refer to the area as Hida-Takayama and Takayama. To allay any confusion, they are both the same place. Many of the towns & cities in this area use the term Hida  as part of their name, which dates back before the modern Prefecture System was established in Japan. Prior to that the country was divided-up into Tens of Kuni (countries).
Ryomen Sukuna.
Where better to start this series about Hida-Takayama, than with it's history. And what a history it is. There is evidence that the area was settled as far back as the Jomon Period,  from about 300 BC-to-538 AD, where the culture of Takayama was  characterized by the unique patterns on their Earthenware. According to the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan, edited in 720 AD) a head of the powerful regional clan, Ryomen Sukuna, was defeated by the army of the Imperial Court in 377 AD. The image on the left is a wooden statue of him, created by Enku, a Buddhist Monk at the Zenko-ji Temple ( We visited this complex back in 2003 during a tour of the area).
Three storied Pagoda
Hida Kokubun-ji Temple.
   Lets come forward to the Nara Period (710 AD-to-794 AD). Because the inhabitants of Takayama were best known for their architectural and carpentry skills, the then central government made a law where 10-men in every 50 households were assigned to work in the capitol city to build Palaces, Gates and Temples ( approximately 100 men went to the capitol every year).
   In the image on the right, is the Three Storied Pagoda that stands in the grounds of Hida Kokubun-ji Temple. The original temple was constructed in 746 Ad by Emperor Shomu (710 AD-to756 AD). Shomu, a devout Buddhist, is credited with establishing the system of Provincial Temples back in 741 AD.
   From 794 AD-to-1573 (the Heian Period to Sengoku Period) Japan, as a nation, went through many changes. In Hida, during the Heian period, the area was governed by the Heike Clan  (Taira was a heredity clan name bestowed by the emperors to certain ex-members of the imperial family when they became subjects) but soon after, during the Kamakura Period (1185-to-1333) the political center was moved to the Kokufucho Area of Northern-Takayama. During the Muromachi Period (1337-to-1573) Lord Taga Tokugen constructed Tenjinyama, Tagayama Castle.
Map Location.
In the Iesyou Era ( 1504-to-1520) Takayama Geki constructed another castle on Mt Tenjin and, from this time, people started calling the area Takayama. Also during this time, Japan's History was going through a time of social upheaval, political intrigue and (nearly) constant military conflict. The era also became known as the "Warring States period". 
Kanamori Nagachika
Let me now introduce you to Kanamori Nagachika, Lord of Hida, who, along with his clan, ruled over the region for 107-years and over six generations, from 1586-to-1692. Nagachike started to build Takayama Castle in 1588 and took almost 16-years to complete. It was considered to be one of the best five castles in Japan. He also devoted his time in the construction of the castle town; the elevated ground surrounding the castle was assigned for Samurai houses while the lower area was for ordinary townsfolk.
Tokugawa Ieyasu
   From 1692-to-1868, during the period when Takayama was under direct control of the Edo Shogunate, the castle, by order of the Shogunate, was destroyed. Today, Shiroyama Park houses the ruins of Takayama Castle and is designated a "Historical Site" and "National Monument".
Meiji Promulgation.

      In this final paragraph covering Hida-Takayama's history, we cover the period from the Meiji Period, or what is sometimes referred to as the Meiji Restoration, (1868-to-1912) to the present day. In 1875 the modern municipality system was introduced throughout Japan and Takayama-cho was formed making it the town with the largest population in Gifu Prefecture. A new modern municipality was introduced when Takayama's population reached 15,385 in 1889. Over the years Takayama City has merged with some 14 towns (-cho) and villages (-mura) throughout the area, the latest being in 2005. 
   Hida-Takayama, like many other cities and towns throughout Japan, has gone to great lengths to preserve and protect their historic past. With regards to the local architecture, there are many sites within the area I could mention ( I mentioned Hida-Kokubun-ji Temple earlier ) but, because there are so many, I can only include one more. 
Map Location.
    Takayama-jinya ( Prefectural and District Governors office), was constructed as a mansion for Lord Kanamori (ruler of the Hida-Takayama Han) however, after the Bakafu Government sought to bring Hida under it's direct control in 1629, it was rebuilt by Ina Tadaatsu to serve as offices for the local deputy administrator. After 1777 it became the local government office. In 1929 it was designated an historical landmark. To learn more of Takayama Architecture, check-out this page from Takayama Guide.
   Festivals is another area Hida-Takayama has gone to great lengths to preserve. If you check-out this "Event Calendar" you will notice that a month doesn't pass without a festival or event taking place. 
Matsuri Float.
The biggest event on the Takayama calendar would be the "Takayama Festivals". Regarded as one of the three most beautiful events in Japan, the festival is held every year on April 14th & 15th (Spring Takayama Festival) and October 9th & 10th (Autumn Takayama Festival). The origins of the festivals are unknown but this link may go someway to  explaining the Background of the Takayama Matsuri or Festival. 
Sake Festival.
   I'm going to squeeze-in one more festival. One I am sure you will be interested in (well I would be) and, the beauty of this festival, it takes-place on most days of the year. It's the festival quite simply known as, the Sake Brewery. I don't think there is much more I can say about this festival than KANPAI.
   In my next blog on Hida-Takayama, I will write about what is available for the visitor to see & experience. And let me warn you, there is plenty. The image below is just a taste.
(Hida Folk Village).
   I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the many websites and images I have used in composing this blog.