The simplest way of describing Takayama, Gifu to you would be to say that it is like the Kyoto experience (on a smaller scale), but in the middle of nowhere. This means you get a taste of Japanese history, historical buildings, temples, shrines…but without as many people.
You can get there by train from Nagoya or bus from Kansai International Airport. It is a bit annoying getting there from Tokyo if you do not have a car.
But since I do not have a license and live in Tokyo, I took a night bus from Shinjuku to Takayama (approx.5-6 hrs, about 5,500 yen one way) and found myself at Takayama Station at 4:30 am. I grabbed a tourist map at the station.
Tourist map (English and Japanese are both written):
This map is super handy because it has the location of every major point of interest for a tourist in a pretty easy to use format.
There are 2 walking courses that are suggested for you to take around the city. I took the Higashiyama course that goes up to the temple area around a small hill where there used to be a castle.
This was one of the graveyards along the temples ↓
On the top of a hill I found a field of wildflowers and irises ↓
This path was 2 hours long, but a really nice stroll through the less touristy parts of town. If you don’t mind forests and bugs then I would recommend it. There are signs all over town telling you where the path is.
The countryside is one of the major draws of the area, if you have time you should try out a cycling tour:
CYCLING TOUR: SATOYAMA EXPERIENCE
Tour rates start from 4,700 yen per person
The preserved architecture is the main draw of the town. And the main symbol of the area is the Sarubobo, a charm that is made from cloth. Depending on the color of the doll the affects differ.
Sarubobo are even available for purchase at the 7-11 ↓
The historical part just beyond the Jinya is the most bustling area of town. There are restaurants and stores selling handicrafts, gifts, and specialty goods.
There is even a store devoted to rabbit-paraphernalia! ↓
There is a list of attractions on the free tourist map, but here are some places I went to that I felt were worth the visit.
The Showakan – 500 yen
Interesting if you like Japanese nostalgia shops. A person just collected a bunch of WW 2 era and post-war items and put them together in a quirky little museum.
Hida Folk Village -700 yen
http://www.hidanosato-tpo.jp/english12.htm (English Site)
If you don’t want to dish out the money to take the bus all the way out to Shirakawa-go, then this is a nice alternative. They have traditional houses in a park area with exhibits on how to make different handicrafts.
Free public foot baths!
There are two in the town, but one is just a 5 minute walk from the station, in front of the Takayama Ouan Hotel
Specialties in this area are river fish, Hida beef (local beef), homemade miso, walnuts, dango, etc cetera.
This is some dango (Japanese dumpling) coated with walnut miso.
Making brands out of local products is super popular in Japan. Hida beef is given celebrity status in the area and is available in any food you can think of: skewered and grilled on sticks, used as a fish replacement in sushi, the meat in ramen, stewed and served on top of rice, and so on.
There is no shortage of beef restaurants in Takayama.
A local, traditional way of cooking the beef is with miso on top of a Hoda leaf. You will see the Hoda leaf in every souvenir shop in town.
Totally worth the 5 hr trip from Tokyo. It is a perfect escape from the city. There are mountains, rivers, gorges, old buildings, hot springs and good food.
I am not sure what else you could possibly ask for.