“The journey itself is my home.” Matsuo Bashō
Takayama in Japan is another one of those places that has stuck in my memory; I fell in love with this gorgeous rural town the minute I arrived. It’s located in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture and is also known as Hida-Takayama.
I spent three weeks in Japan, travelling with my cousin Jenni, who’d been living and teaching English there. We spent most of our time in Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima, and by the time we arrived in Takayama we were both fairly exhausted. So this was the perfect place to slow down and chill out for a couple of nights, before heading back to the fast-paced Tokyo.
We stayed at the charming Rickshaw Inn, a very down-to-earth Japanese-style inn with friendly and helpful staff. They told us about things to do around town and directed us to a couple of great restaurants (including a Mexican joint, believe it or not, where we had an incredibly delicious meal).
We only had one full day to explore, so initially set off on a self-guided walking tour. But after a while, we decided to follow our own path and enjoyed getting lost in Takayama’s quaint environs.
At the morning market we purchased fresh apples from one of the many stalls, ate pastries from bakeries, and sampled a syrupy rice ball on a stick. We also noticed red and black dolls everywhere, apparently specific to Takayama, which are called sarubobo (monkey-child). Grandmothers make these traditional dolls for their grandchildren, but it’s also a charm that mothers give to their daughters – so they’ll have good luck in finding a husband and then enjoy a good marriage.
The Old Town (Sanmachi Suji) has such character and is beautifully preserved with traditional shops, sake breweries, museums, and other wonderful buildings. There were also rickshaw drivers everywhere, which reminded me of my childhood in Penang. We saw some great sculptures on a bridge, a couple of colourful characters that Jenni and I enjoyed meeting.
Our wanderings took us up into the mountains and here we came across dozens of temples, shrines, cemeteries, narrow little streets, and canals … it really was beautiful and at times very tranquil.
In the afternoon, we took a bus to the Hida Folk Village; spending an enjoyable few hours at this large open-air museum of traditional houses. These belonged to craftsmen and farmers in the Takayama area, and it was great to see how people lived in previous centuries. During the feudal ages, Takayama became prosperous because of its high-quality timber and highly-skilled carpenters.
We also saw some traditional handicrafts with an old woman weaving and an old guy making straw shoes. In most of the houses wood fires were burning (and smoking), which gave us an authentic experience but was also a bit overwhelming and hard to breathe if you stayed inside too long.
From the Hida Folk Village, and other parts of Takayama, there are beautiful views of the Japanese Alps. Takayama is really a wonderful place to visit and I’d highly recommend it.