On Sunday, November 6th, I was lucky to participate in an English club tour of Takayama, a historical city known for its expert carpenters and quality wood, in Gifu prefecture. In hopes that more people learn about this historical area of Japan, here is an account of my journey.
It’s pouring rain on a Sunday in early November. When I look up at the sky, all I see is gray. The clouds are so abundant that it’s as if they suffocated the sun with a giant grey pillow. But when I look at the trees surrounding me, all I see are vibrant colors, shades of red, yellow and green so rich that it’s like I am looking at a painting. Not even drenching rain could ruin the beauty of the Utsue Forty-Eight waterfalls, a popular hiking area in Gifu prefecture.
On a one day tour of Takayama, a charming traditional Japanese castle city in Gifu prefecture, Utsue was our first stop. Although not technically in Takayama City, Utsue is well worth a side trip for a few hours of hiking in the early morning.
As the rain slowly let up, we climbed glistening rocks while listening to the rhythmic flow of the water. Every time I looked arround to admire the nature surrounding me, I had to remind myself that I was looking at real colors and trees – not fake plastic objects on a movie set.
About an hour later, it was time to move on, although we could have hiked up much further if the weather was nicer. By car, we made our way to Hida-Furukawa City, another well-preserved area of Gifu near Takayama with white-walled storehouses built on the edge of the Seto River. We stopped walking for a moment to admire the giant carp swimming just below our feet. These carp were so large that I felt one could easily chomp off my leg if I fell in the water.
As afternoon approached, we stopped for lunch at a traditional Japanese restaurant. I ate a delicious lunch set of tender Hida beef that I simmered myself in a pot with fresh vegetables (onion, mushrooms, carrots).
With full stomachs, we made our way to our last destination of the day – the heart of Takayama City. I visited Takayama last year for the first time and fell in love with the traditional atmosphere of the city. It is often called a “mini Kyoto” by some travelers, and rightfully so.
In Takayama, all the modern madness associated with Japan’s large cities is erased. Walking down pedestrian-only streets and weaving in and out of craft shops, I felt as if I was back in 19th century Japan. Couples – old and young – strolled down the streets holding hands while others rode in rickshaws (two-wheeled passenger carts). Street vendors sold nikuman (tender pork in a warm bun) and sake vendors offered samples of their alcohol. Many of these shops have been in business for centuries.
Instead of glowing neon signs and skyscrapers, Takayama’s streets are full of delicately preserved buildings and houses dating back to Japan’s Edo period (1600-1868).
After leisurely strolling around Takayama’s calm streets, our final stop was Takayama Jinya, which was the local government office of Takayama up until about 40 years ago. Here, you can view historical administrative offices, residential spaces, kitchens and toilets. Among many facts, we learned that tax was usually collected in the form of rice during Japan’s Edo period. According to the Hida Takayama Website, Takayama Jinya is the only remaining building of its kind in Japan.
For more information on Takayama, including travel directions, check out japan-guide.com’s thorough guide to Takayama.