Takayama, also called Hida-Takayama, has a really unique and cozy atmosphere that we did not experience anywhere else in Japan. Narrow cobblestoned streets lined with charming old wooden houses and a nice and calm river that runs through the city, Ryokans, hillside shrines and temples, Onsens, and several museums makes Takayama a real must-visit place when heading to Japan.
We spent four days in Takayama at the beginning of August, and recommend that you spend two or three days here if you have the time as there is plenty to see and do in the city itself and also in its nearby area with the mountain village Shirakawa-go as the highlight.
What To See And Do In Takayama
The Old Town of Takayama
Go for a stroll down the narrow streets of the old part of Takayama, and breathe in the traditional charm of the old ancient wooden houses which makes you feel like you are back in the Edo/ Samurai-period. Step into one of the many cozy cafes, restaurants, and shops that are now located in these old houses. Most shops open at 09:00 in the morning and closes at 17:00 in the afternoon.
Sanmachi Suji Area
Sanmachi Suji is Takayama’s famous sake breweries/ restaurant/ cafe area. This is the most photogenic part of Takayama packed with ancient wooden houses. Most of these houses date back to the Edo Period (1600-1868), a time when Takayama was a rich and wealthy merchant city.
From Takayama train station, walk down (east) one of the main streets Kokubunji-dori or Hirokoji-dori and cross the beautiful and calm Miyagawa River (about a 10 min walk). On the other side of the river, these streets change the name to Yasugawa-dori and Sanmachi-dori, respectively, and you are right in the center of Sanmachi Suji.
The Sanmachi Suji area is where you will find several of Takayama`s old sake breweries. You will easily spot them as they have sugidama (decorated balls made of cedar branches) in front of their entrances. Sake is one of Takayama’s specialties, and at some breweries, you can buy small samples of sakes to bring back home. The perfect gift to bring back to your loved ones!
If you get tired of walking, you can always jump on a rickshaw and let someone else do the heavy walking for you. A half an hour guided rickshaw tour for two people cost about 5000 Yen = 45 us$.
Several of the old houses are open to visitors, giving you a glimpse of the Edo Period and how it was inside a typical merchant home. We really enjoyed visiting these three houses:
A beautiful building that used to held Takayama’s government during the Edo Period, and is the only remaining office building of the Tokugawa shogunate. It was originally the administrative center of the Kanamori clan and dates back to 1816. The house also has an impressively large storehouse built around 1600 and was the biggest traditional rice storehouse in Japan, a garden, and a torture and interrogation room!
- Opening hours: 08:45 – 17:00 (till 16:30 Nov – Feb, 18:00 during August)
- Ticket price: 400 Yen = 4 us$, children free
- Free English guided tours available
- Located near the Nakabashi Bridge
Yoshijima Heritage House
This historic building has been in all the respected architectural publications. So if you are into design, you should definitely enter this house. The building has no ornaments and decor, but that’s what is special about this house, as you can admire the simplicity of the spare lines, roof, and skylight. An extra bonus is that you get a cup of delicious Shiitake tea included in the price! Yay! 🙂 In addition to being a home, the building was also a sake brewery.
- Opening hours: 09:00 – 17:00 (March – November, and 16:30 Wed-Sun December – February)
- Ticket price: 500 Yen = 5 us$ adult, 300 Yen = 2,7 us$ for children
This house used to be a merchant home of a candle maker. Here you can see various household items and historical documents from the Edo Period.
- Opening hours: 09:00 – 17:00
- Ticket price: 300 Yen = 2,7 us$
Takayama has an impressive number of museums for its size. Some of the best in our opinion are:
Takayama Showa-kan Museum
This is a fantastic and fun museum! We loved it! The moment you step through the door you feel like stepping right into the 1950s.
The end of the Showa era is what this museum is all about (1955 – 1965), which was a period of great optimism in Japan after the second world war. We loved walking around this corky and kitschy museum among Nikon and Sony gadgets, movie posters, Godzilla action figures, cartoon characters, plastic food, and all the weird Japanese gadgets and specialties from the 50s.
You can even visit an intact old classroom and cinema.
The highlight for us was the Pachinko machines that still work and that you can play. A hidden gem and a real blast from the past! ♥
Hida Minzoku Kokokan
Also called Hida Folk Archaeological Museum is located in one of the oldest and most intact buildings along Sanmachi-dori Street. The building used to be the home of a former samurai and has specialties like hidden secret passageways as well as a cool old well in the garden. The house and its garden have not been changed since the Edo/Samurai period.
Fuji Folk Museum
Located in a beautiful old building with a lovely gate along Sanmachi-dori Street. It is a rather small museum where you can see various household items from old merchant`s houses, ceramics, and folk craft objects from the Muromachi and Edo period.
This mechanical doll museum is located at the Hachiman Shrine. Here you will see hundreds of Shishi (lion dance) masks, as well as instruments and drums that are used during the festival dances. The highlight of this museum is the puppet show (shown two times each hour) where you can see the mechanical dolls Karakuri ningyo in real action.
- Opening hours: 09:00 – 16:30
- Ticket price: 600 Yen = 5,4 u$
Kusakabe Folk Crafts Museum
This building, located next to the Yoshijima Heritage House and dating back to 1890, is one of Takayama’s oldest merchant homes that are open to the public. The Kusakabe family that used to live here was successful money lenders. Here you will see a collection of folk art, as well as the impressive craftsmanship of the traditional carpenters Takayama was famous for.
- Opening hours: 09:00 – 16:30 (Mar-Nov, until 16:00 Wed-Mon Dec-Feb)
- Ticket price: 500 Yen = 4,5 us$ adult, 300 Yen = 2,7 us$ children
Takayama Museum of History and Art
Best of all, this museum is free! It has a beautiful location in the middle of a lovely garden. Walk around and admire 14 different themed exhibition rooms and get a glimpse of the local Takayama history, literature, culture, and arts.
- Opening hours: 09:00 – 19:00
- Ticket price: FREE!
Hida Takayama Museum of Art
This is located a bit outside of Takayama city itself, but you can hop on the London Bus shuttle (contact the Tourist Information Office by the Takayama train station to arrange the transport). This museum is huge!! It has artifacts like art glassware, furniture and different sort of art nouveau. It also has a nice cafe and an incredible glass fountain.
- Opening hours: 09:00 – 17:00
- Ticket price: 1300 Yen = 12 us$ adult, 800 Yen = 7 us$ children
Takayama Walking Path – Temples and shrines
To the east of downtown Takayama is a nice hillside temple town called Teramachi and Shiroyama-koen (park) area. Through this area is a lovely walking path going through Takayama’s temple town Teramachi which contains over a dozen shrines and temples scattered on the hillside, before it goes through the green and lush Shiroyama park and ends up on the top of the hillside where the ruins of the Takayama-jo castle is located.
The path is 3,5 km long and is well marked with signs so it is easy to find the route. The walk takes about 2-3 hours in total. The path starts and ends at the Takayama Museum of History and Art (15 minutes walk from Takayama Train Station).
The Japanese Alps
If you want to see more of the Japanese Alps that surrounds Takayama, you can take a bus from Takayama Bus Station that takes you up to a point near the summit of Mount Norikuradake. The mountain is a 3028-meter high volcano located east of Takayama. The road up to Norikura Bus Terminal (2700 meters) is closed for private cars, only buses and taxis can drive up there.
From Norikura Bus Terminal you can walk for 30 minutes along a service road to a mountain hut, and further (about one hour) on a hiking trail up to Kengamine Peak which is the highest top of Mount Norikuradake. The hike is awesome! It is especially popular during autumn (mid-September till October) as this is the first part of Japan to get autumn colors. It is also popular for skiers.
- How to get there: Take the bus from Hirayu Onsen via the Honokidaira parking lot up to Norikura Bus Terminal. From mid-May to October buses depart every 1-2 hours from Hirayu Onsen. The bus ride takes one hour and cost 1420 Yen = 13 us$ one way and 2300 Yen = 21 us$round trip. You can also take a taxi up the mountain. The taxi trip also takes one hour and cost about 8000 Yen = 72 us$ one way.
To get to Hirayu Onsen from Takayama, take the Nohi Bus from Takayama Bus Station. The bus ride takes one hour and cost 1570 Yen = 14 us$.
The Shin-Hotaka Ropeway that takes you up to the mountain is really cool and gives you a spectacular view of the northern part of the Japanese Alps!
The ropeway trip cost 2900 Yen = 26 us$ per adult. You can also go hiking from the top of the ropeway. The landscape is magnificent and the best of all is that you can take onsen (one outdoor and one indoor, men and women separated). The total trip from Takayama does, however, take about 6 hours (the bus ride is about one hour each way), and you can buy a packet for 6990 Yen = 63 us$ including the bus, Onsen Hirayu, and everything.
We took the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route which is spectacular! So if you have the time, you should definitely do it.
The famous Takayama Festival is held in the old town twice a year – at spring (14th – 15th of April) and autumn (9th to 10th of October). We did, unfortunately, miss it as we visited Takayama in August, but the festival is supposed to be amazing and one of the best that Japan has to offer.
The spring festival is also called Sanno Festival as it takes part in the Hie Shrine or Sanno-sama Shrine (located at the southern part of the old town of Takayama). The autumn festival`s name is Hachiman as it is held in the Hachiman Shrine (in the northern part of the old town).
During the two days festivals, a dozen big floats (yatai) decorated with bright colors and gold are on display in the streets of Takayama. The floats have beautiful decorated mechanical dolls (karakuri ningyo) that are moving and dancing. Karakuri doll shows are also held during the festivals.
If the weather is bad the floats stay in the storage but the storages are open to the public.
Also, a portable shrine (mikoshi) made of gold is carried through the streets starting and ending at the shrine that represents the festival. The shrine that is carried through the streets holds the Shinto gods (called kami) and is only carried out on the streets once a year during the festival.
The highlight of the festival is on the evening of the first day when the floats are carried through the streets of the old town of Takayama in all their glory for a couple of hours. The festivals are extremely popular, both among the locals and foreign and Japanese tourists, so it gets crowded especially when the festival dates fall on a national holiday or weekend.
Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall
If you, like us, are not in Takayama during the actual festivals, you can still have a glimpse of four of the colorful yatai (floats). Only four of the dozen floats are on display at the exhibition hall Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan, although they rotate on which of the floats they put on display.
Some of the floats are really old dating back to the 17th century and are stunning in their many colors and gold decorations.
Close to the hall is also the Sakurayama Nikkō Kan, an exhibit of replicas of Nikkō’s famous Toshogu Shrine.
- Opening hours: 8:30 to 17:00 (March – November), 9:00 to 16:30 (December – February)
- Ticket price: 900 Yen = 8 us$
Matsui no Mori Museum
Matsui no Mori is a museum dedicated to the Takayama Festival. Eleven small replicas of the festival floats, about a third of the actual size of the real floats, are on display in the entrance hallway. In the main exhibition room are several replicas put on display that are of the same size as the real ones. You can also see Karakuri dolls and drums that are used during the festival.
- Location: South of downtown Takayama, a 15-minute bus ride from Takayama Station
- Opening hours: 09:00 – 17:00
- Ticket price: 1000 Yen = 9 us$
Hida Folk Village
A short ride out of downtown Takayama is the charming Hida Folk Village, an open-air museum containing a dozen traditional Japanese houses. The buildings were originally located elsewhere in the region but have been rebuilt here in 1971 as a little village.
There is a number of gassho-zukuri farmhouses located here, moved from the Shirakawago village. Although I really recommend that you do a day-trip to see the real Shirakawago.
We loved Hida Folk Village, walking around the beautiful little village among the greenish forest and duck pond felt so refreshing. On a good-weather-day, you can even see the Japanese Alps from here!
Next to Hida Folk Village is the Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Center where you can join workshops and make local handicrafts like beaded key chains, sarubobo dolls, or ceramic cups.
Have you not heard of a sarubobo you say?! Eh, me neither until we visited Takayama. A sarubobo is a bright red faceless doll and is a specialty of Takayama. It is an amulet that was traditionally made by mothers and grandmothers and given to their daughters and granddaughters to ensure a happy marriage and healthy children. Of course, I had to buy some just in case they actually work. 🙂
The workshops take from 15 minutes and up to one hour. The ticket price for a workshop depends on what you make, but it cost from 600 Yen to 1600 Yen to join in, and you don`t have to make a reservation, just show up at the center. The center has opening hours from 10:00 till 16:00 (closed every Thursday).
- Location: Hire a bicycle and bike there (like we did), walk (30 min) or take the bus (10 min) from Takayama bus station. You can buy a combined return fare for 930 Yen = 8,4 us$ where admission to the park is included.
- Opening hours: 08:30 – 17:00
- Ticket price: 700 Yen = 6,3 us$ for adults, 200 Yen = 1,8 us$ for children
Teddy Bear Eco Village Museum
On your way to the Hida Folk Village is the sweetest and most fluffy museum we have ever been to! It is basically a museum with more than 1000 teddy bears from all over the world.
- Opening hours: 10:00 – 16:00
- Ticket price: 600 Yen = 5,4 us$ for adults, 400 Yen = 3,6 us$ for children
Start the day by joining the locals at the Asa-ichi (morning markets) that are arranged daily.
There are two markets in Takayama: Jinya-mae Morning Market (located in 1-5 Hachiken-machi street) and Miya-gawa Morning Market (located on the east side of Miya-gawa river). The Miya-gawa is the biggest.
Here you can buy different farmers products like vegetables, fruits, berries, honey, eggs and so on, as well as local arts and crafts.
- Opening hours: 07:00 – noon (Nov-Mar), 06:00 – noon (Apr-Oct)
Takayama is such a lovely and charming little city packed with things to see and do including plenty of museums. We ended up staying in Takayama for four nights at an amazing Ryokan and were lucky to take part in the annual firework festival to drive away ill fortunes. It takes place in Takayama every August. The fireworks are set off in handheld bamboo cylinders from a temporary platform on the Miyagawa Riverbank. It was a spectacular show and a great way to end our Takayama stay!
Have you been to Takayama? Or do you plan to go? What of these things would you like to see? Please, leave a comment in the comment area below! And if you enjoy this article and find it useful, please share on social media. Thank you! 🙂
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