TAKAYAMA FESTIVAL: AGE-OLD CELEBRATION OF WOODWORK ARTISTRY
Takayama is a city located in the mountainous region of Hida in Gifu prefecture. It is home to one of the most popular festivals in Japan – the Takayama Festival. The two-part festival, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, comprises of the Sanno Festival in spring and the Hachiman Festival in autumn. Both festivals feature a three-hour long parade of traditional yatai
floats through the Old Town, alongside folk performances and puppet shows. The floats, adorned with intricate wood carvings and mechanical Karakuri dolls that can move and dance, have been passed down for generations and are testament to the region’s repute for quality timbre and craftsmanship. The Takayama festivals were originally simple village ceremonies to pray and give thanks to the deities for a bountiful harvest. As the city developed as a centre for timbre production, the yatai floats became more elaborate and grandiose as a result of the support of the merchants and artisans who had flocked to the region. This is one festival in Japan you do not want to miss!
TAKAYAMA OLD TOWN: ARCHITECTURE OF THE EDO PERIOD
Apart from the Takayama Festival, Takayama City has much to offer visitors for the rest of the year. Its 300-year-old Old Town is one of the few places in Japan where you can see architecture dating back to the Edo Period (1600-1868) and has been earmarked as a traditional building preservation area by the authorities. In particular, the Sannomachi
Street in the southern part of the town makes for an atmospheric stroll with its handful of machiya cafes, restaurants and sake breweries, some of which have been in business for centuries. Also worth a visit is the past administrative office for the Hida area, the Takayama Jinya. It is the only remaining government office in Japan from the Edo period.
CULINARY FAVOURITES IN TAKAYAMA CITY
Historical significance aside, the Old Town is also where you can reward your taste buds with a range of local delicacies, such as
mitarashi dango, sticky balls of rice-flour dough dipped in soy sauce, and the hoba
miso, a regional specialty of miso, spring onions and shitake mushrooms roasted on hoba leaves over a charcoal brazier, best eaten with Hida beef. Because of conditions that facilitate quality rice cultivation – a cold winter climate and an access to pure mountain water – Takayama City also produces some of the best sake in the country. Be sure to indulge in a sake-sampling session at one of the traditional breweries in the Old Town for a nominal fee. Feeling peckish after a drink? You could join the queue at Hida Kotte Ushi for a delicious slab of A5-grade Hida beef
sushi – one of its kind in the whole of Japan.
MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET: A SNAPSHOT OF LOCAL LIFE
If you’re an early riser, do drop by the nearby bustling Miyagawa Morning Market to soak in the lively sights. Located right next to the picturesque Miyagawa River, the market has existed for centuries as a space for townsfolk to peddle goods such as rice, flowers and mulberry. These days, you can buy fresh vegetables, local delicacies and handmade crafts at the market. The local sellers are known to be friendly and generous with their food samples, so do strike up a conversation with them and try out some of Takayama’s favourite snacks on your visit.
OMOIDE TAIKEN KAN: CRAFTING MEMORIES TO BRING HOME
Souvenirs are aplenty at the Miyagawa Morning Market as well as in the Old Town, but if you are looking for a more personalised memento to bring home, a place to check out would be the Hida-takayama Omoide
Taiken Kan (loosely translated as ‘Memory Experience Facility’), where you can make your own souvenirs by hand. Situated opposite the Hida No Sato, a folk village museum showcasing age-old farmhouses in the mountains, the facility allows visitors to experience Japanese culture through hands-on activities. There, you could learn to make the
Sarubobo Doll, a lucky charm unique to the Hida region which mothers traditionally sewed for their daughters to bless them with a happy marriage and smooth delivery. In addition to souvenir-making, visitors can also partake in a variety of experiences at the facility, including learning to play Shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese musical instrument, experiencing
Kyudo (traditional archery) and preparing Hida culinary specialties.
SHIRAKAWAGO: THE FORGOTTEN VILLAGES
Set in a land-locked region surrounded by high mountains, Takayama was a relatively self-contained city back in the days, despite its flourishing trade. Yet, a stone’s throw away from the city nicknamed “Little Kyoto”, there existed an even more isolated community in the deep valleys along the Shogawa River – the villages of Shirakawago and Gokayama. From its architecture to agriculture, a way of life that is unlike that of the rest of Japan has persisted in the villages since the 11th century. If you’re travelling to Takayama, a day-trip to the idyllic village of Ogimachi in Shirakawago is definitely worth the detour. Viewed from the observatory deck overlooking the village, the cluster of 114 timber farmhouses in Ogimachi is instantly recognizable by their distinctive gassho (‘prayer hands’) construction style – steep thatched roofs that are shaped like hands in prayer to allow snow to slide off easily in winter. Since harsh climates in the valley made it tough to grow typical Japanese crops such as rice and buckwheat, the community relies instead on the cultivation of mulberry trees, production of gunpowder, and silkworm cultures for subsistence and trade. For a first-hand experience of life in the village, you could opt for an overnight stay at one of the many
minshukus in Ogimachi.
FROM TOP LEFT The legendary beef sushi from Hida Kotte Ushi
We bought six different flavours of taiyaki from the cheery lady over here and loved every one of them
FROM TOP Revel in the peace of Ogimachi village after the sun goes down and the day-trippers have gone
Catch your breath by the idyllic Miyagawa River after a hectic shopping spree