Takayama is one of those towns that will leave a lasting memory long after your trip. It’s small and manageable, making it a really easy place to get around and explore. In fact, you can reach almost everything within 20 mins walk from Takayama Station. And then there is the mouth-watering hida beef that’s famous here in Takayama. For those thinking of adding Takayama to their Japan itinerary, here’s my quick guide to this wondrous little town.
HOW TO GET TO TAKAYAMA:
If you’re heading in from Tokyo like us and have a JR Pass on hand, then the most straightforward way is to catch the shinkansen to Nagoya and then catch the ‘Limited Express (Wide View) Hida’ train to Takayama. The journey is unfortunately a long one of maybe 5-6 hours including transit, however the stunning view on the train from Nagoya to Takayama is going to keep you very occupied and impressed for the second half of the journey. Because the train follows the river and winds through the mountains, you’ll see the most beautiful views on this journey, regardless of whether you sit on the left side or the right side of the train. If you’re tired, I recommend you sleep on the Tokyo>Nagoya train (But look out for Mt. Fuji!) and then stay awake for the Nagoya>Takayama train – they have ‘wide view’ windows for a reason on that train.
THINGS TO SEE & EAT
Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine: Opposite the festival floats hall (check that out if you’re into exhibitions, because it’s really famous!) is a beautiful shinto shrine and walking area up the mountains. Perfect for a morning stroll or jog.
Hoba Miso: One of the local specialties in Takayama is a dish called hoba miso which is hida beef with miso, served on a dried magnolia leave and broiled over a small stove. The dish is normally accompanied by local vegetables and a bowl of rice. Make sure to stir the beef when it arrives so that it doesn’t stick! We tried this dish (and also pork cutlets) at a small restaurant called Kotaro which only sits a handful of people. It was our first meal in Japan and it was just so lovely to enjoy it in such a homely atmosphere. Super recommend.
Maruaki: For those who want to try Takayama’s famous hida beef, one of the more well known places to visit is Maruaki. The restaurant is huge by the way, spanning over two floors and reminds me of your typical yum cha joint back home in Melbourne. I had to mention this because even in Tokyo, huge restaurants are not really a thing in Japan. They’re always small and seat only a dozen people. Anyway, Maruaki specialises in hida beef dishes and I would recommend going at lunch time because it’s more quiet then and they do lunch sets which are better value if you’re on a budget. We ordered the popular hida A5 Premium Cube Steak Set and also a bibimbap style dish to share. For beef lovers, the hida beef which you cook yourself on the stove will absolutely melt in your mouth like chu-toro.
Hida Kokunbunji temple: After your food coma at Maruaki, temple lovers can head around the corner to visit Hida Kokunbunji temple for a gander.
Furui Machinami in Sanmachi Suji District: One of the most popular places to visit in Takayama is the ‘old streets’ (‘Furui Machinami’) or ‘old town’ area. It’s about three streets worth of preserved buildings just to the east of Miyagawa River. The main street is lined with quaint shops, sake breweries and food. Definitely try Hida Kotte for ridiculously good hida beef sushi. Go early though as they do sell out in the afternoon. Also try hida beef buns, mochi and soft serve when you see them on the street too.
Chuka Soba (Takayama style ramen): One dish that’s popular in Takayama is their style of ramen which is very different to the usual ramen. Takayama ramen is done in more of a Chinese inspired way with a soy soup base and wavy wheat noodles. We had ‘Musagosoba’ on our list as a place to try this dish however unfortunately did not realise this and many other ramen shops were only open during the day or for lunch. We ended up roaming the streets and ended up at some random restaurant that also happened to serve Takayama ramen just so we could try the dish. It was only ok there, but I can imagine it to be even better at somewhere that specialises in it.
TAKAYAMA MORNING MARKET: For those looking for souvenirs from Takayama, the Morning Market by the river would be a good place to visit. It’s lined with souvenir stalls with one of the most popular souvenirs in the town being the ‘sarubobo’ doll as pictured above which are like good luck charms. Each coloured doll has a different meaning.
HOW LONG TO SPEND THERE:
One full day would be enough to catch the main sights however if you would like to take it easy, I’d recommend a little longer. It’s also the perfect base for exploring the greater Hida region, whether it be a day trip or overnight stay in Shirakawago, onsen hopping or visiting the mountain resorts in the nearby alps. So do make sure to factor any day trips in if you want to take them too.