Hida Takayama is an Edo Period castle town tucked away in the beautiful Japan Alps. It is located in northern Gifu Prefecture in an area known as the roof of Japan. One of the great things about Hida Takayama is that it can be tackled on foot or bicycle with most of the main sights located around the center of town, and within easy walking distance from the station.
It has a unique culture that takes influence from both Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo) along with its own unique customs and traditions. A great stop on the way to Hida Takayama is the onsen resort town of Gero Onsen.
Hida Takayama is famous for its world-class beef, Hida-gyu, which is rated one of the best in Japan, and its Japanese sake. The area is lucky to have all the elements necessary to produce top quality sake. It is usually the colder regions of Japan like Hida Takayama that produce the best sake, because the microorganisms used for brewing sake work best at low temperatures. The area also has pure crystal clear mountain water which produces top quality rice necessary to make good sake.
The old part of Hida Takayama is called Sanmachi and is a collection of three narrow lanes lined with Edo Period merchant houses. The houses are beautifully preserved, and a visit here is literally like taking a step back in time to the period of samurai in Japan. A lot of the houses have been turned into souvenir shops, museums, or galleries, but many of the traditional sake breweries still remain.
You can easily recognise them by the traditional sake barrels called sakadaru, which can be seen outside the shops, or by sugidama, special balls made of cedar branches, that hang over the entrances. Sugidama literally means cedar ball in Japanese. The sugidama also is an indication to how the sake is maturing as well. A green sugidama indicates that the sake has just been freshly pressed from the new rice harvest, while a brown sugidama indicates that the sake has matured and is ready to be consumed. The shops here are usually open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
There are many different sake breweries located along the Sanmachi Street. Most of the breweries in Hida Takayama have been producing sake for hundreds of years, so you know that it’s going to be good.
The sake breweries open their doors to visitors, where you are welcome to sample some of their products. A favourite of mine is Harada Sake Brewery on Sanmachi Street. Here you can pay 100 yen (USD$1.00) for an ochoko cup and sample around 12-14 of their sake from a fridge. It is a great deal and a lot of fun trying out all the different kinds and varieties. After you are done, you are allowed to keep the ochoko as a nice souvenir of your visit.
You can easily get to Hida Takayama from Nagoya in Central Japan on the JR Hida Limited Express. The journey takes around 140 minutes and costs 5,970 yen (the trip is covered by the Japan Rail Pass). A cheaper option if you don’t have a Japan Rail Pass is to take a highway bus from Nagoya Station to Takayama Station. It takes around 150 minutes and costs 2,900 yen one way, or 5,000 yen return.
Hida Takayama is must see destination in Japan and forms the new Golden Route with Shirakawa-go and Kanazawa. If you are after a traditional Japanese town with beautiful scenery and unique culture this town should be high-up on your list of places to visit in Japan.
We were in Takayama a week or so ago and echo everything said here. In fact we just had one of the small bottles of Harada sake we picked up there with dinner tonight. We are generally not big beef eaters, but the Hida beef dinner in Takayama, grilling our own pieces, ranks with one of the top meals in memory. We also very much enjoyed the farmers market and the outdoor folklife museum. Unfortunately, the tour we were on didn’t give us nearly enough time here. We could have gladly spent several more days. If we ever make it back to Japan we’ll do exactly that.
Thank you Cary! Yes, the food and sake in Takayama is top class and some of the best not only in Japan, but the world. The morning farmers markets are also a must see as well as Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village). I hope you can make it back to Japan some day and spend even more time in this beautiful part of the country.