Takayama is a small city in the Japanese Alps and taking the train into the mountains felt like coming home. As Seattlites, we are mountain and water people and climbing up the alps next to a rushing river…we knew we were going to a special place.
There’s little in Takayama and that was perfect for us. The town was small enough for the kids to tool around on their own…either watching the koi in the river that flows through the town center or purchasing green tea ice cream in the Sanmachi historical district.
We stayed at Hida Takayama Tomaru Guesthouse. The owner, Shingo, set up a bunk bed room as a family room. With six bunk beds in the room and only four of us, the space felt luxurious. Seriously. The guesthouse was small and quiet and we’d recommend it. Shingo and his wife have a lovely two year old son and it was nice to interact with a toddler. The location of the guesthouse was perfect…2 mins from the train station and walking distance to all attractions.
With five nights in Takayama, we actually did very little but wander and roam and rest. We wore our fleeces for the first time in the trip, which felt worth while since they likely won’t see light again until December in Germany.
- Kamikoche: I’m glad we experienced Kamikoche, a national park 90 minutes from Takayama. Now, let the record show that I am a hiking snob. I expect a challenging incline vs a pleasant path, and a good hike to me is one completed without seeing another soul. What’s cool about Japan is the love for the outdoors, particularly among the senior set. What’s not cool about Japan is most outdoor places will have hordes of seniors with walking sticks, backpacks and bear bells blocking the path in front of you. Now, granted, we were not in remote parts of Japan, so I’m sure there’s my kind of hiking heaven somewhere. Kamikoche was a very nice long walk in a beautiful setting (and at least this national park was open!).
- Higashiyama Temple Walk: I believe there are 15 temples along the temple walk. The path is set up on a hill from the town and the views of the mountains beyond are quite lovely. I first did the temple walk as an early morning run and was the only person in sight…perfect. However I did not run there again as I felt some might be offended by my Japanese purchased size-large-but-still-too-tight-running-shorts in a place of worship. Later in the week, the family did an evening walk — it was lovely. Wish I had taken time to meditate there.
- Library: The Takayama library has a few shelves of English books. The kids hit pay dirt with a series of Peanuts cartoon books and I learned about the art of Furoshiki, Japanese present wrapping.
- Cycling Tour: We took a fun bike tour with Hida Satoyama Cycling through the neighboring town of Furukawa, learning about rice and buckwheat fields, fisheries and cattle along the way. I highly recommend this tour company. Our tour guide was originally from Tokyo, working himself to the bone, when he up and quit and moved to the country. He had recently purchased an old traditional home with the intent of restoring it. His enthusiasm and love for his adopted town and the architecture and environment in it was catching.
- Morning Markets: There are two small but sweet morning markets in Takayama…walking distance from each other. The kids enjoyed strolling through them in the morning on the way to visit the koi.
By now we’d been in Japan four weeks so I think you’d forgive us for eating tacos and hamburgers in Takayma. In fact the two highest rated restaurants on TripAdvisor for the town are Chapala and Center for Hamburger. Chapala was over rated but that didn’t stop us from going…twice. Center for Hamburger was the best burger I’d had in a long time and I don’t know why we didn’t go twice!
Once we met our American needs, we turned to the traditional food of Hida Takayama, beef. We had a delicious grilled beef dinner (my apologies to my mother and any other vegetarians). But the best meal was Kyle and my happy hour. The kids were wandering on their own, and Kyle and I had a sake tasting and then sampled simple and delicious Hida beef skewers from each street stand we encountered. As we sat perched by the river with our happy hour faire, Japanese tourists took pictures of us, exotic birds that we were.
We truly loved Takayama and if we were settling in longer in Japan, we’d plant our roots there.