Our experience in Takayama was completely different to traveling through Tokyo and Nagoya; it was simply relaxing. The train ride itself through the Japanese hills was absolutely stunning with the tracks following a beautiful blue river that flowed between the hills with varying intensity along the winding path to Takayama. Our first experience staying in a hotel in Japan, we stayed at the Takayma Ouan and we were not disappointed. We were greeted by the doorman who rushed over to ensure he said hello before checking our bags in. We were far too early to head up to our room but the receptionist happily took our bags and did his very best to explain to us the rules of the hotel in English. Being a traditional tatami hotel there were to be no shoes whatsoever aside from in the lobby and we would be provided with yukatas (traditional dress) to wear when moving around the hotel. We hadn’t even seen our room yet and already we knew we would enjoy our time here in Takayama (and get a much more comfortable sleep than in Nagoya!).
On our first day we wandered around the town and checked out some of the local shops. There was a lot of authentic and traditional wares on display and we decided we would do most of our souvenir shopping here in Takayama. I had heard Takayama was famous for Hida Beef, which is the name given to beef from short haired black cattle in the Gifu Prefecture. I experienced Hida Beef first for lunch in the form of croquettes which were tasty, but I’m pretty sure were not the best way to experience the delicacy. I was adamant that I would try a more traditional preparation of the dish.
We wandered around the Higayashima Track which looped around the top part of the town whilst we waited for our room to be available. It was quite surreal to be wandering around comfortable in a tshirt while having to make our way through thick packed snow and ice. We stopped for a snack of green tea flavoured ice cream which was quite tasty but seemed highly priced at 600¥.
The afternoon was spent relaxing at the hotel and taking advantage of the private onsen on the 13th floor where we were able to lay back in the hot bath which was open air and overlooked the town from the top storey. This, we decided, very much feels like a Japanese holiday.
Everything in Takayama closes down fairly early and after wandering the streets for a while unsure of where we should eat we decided to venture in to a very small whisky bar which looked to have a couple of stools free at the bar. This was one of the best decisions we made the entire trip. I was able to sample Hida Beef again, this time as part of Hoba Miso – another traditional dish of the area. The beef was brought out raw and was cooked atop a magnolia leaf resting on a burner. Mushrooms, miso and some other raw foods were added to the mix and my mouth watered with every morsel. We capped the night off with a few whiskies in the bar before heading back to the hotel.
Having stayed in Airbnb accommodation until this point, we had been fending for ourselves for breakfast. It was extremely nice to be able to enjoy a full Japanese (and Western) buffet breakfast. I filled up on miso, fish, egg and rice and I think that I could definitely have gotten used to this type of eating at breakfast time!
After breakfast we headed out to explore the Takayama markets. There were two of note, the Takayama Jinya was the first we visited and was really quite small, it only seemed to sell vegetables and a few spices and the like. The Miyagawa Market however was really great and stretched along the river through Takayama. We wandered the stalls, sampled miso soup and other local made delicacies. The locals were more than happy to stop and have a chat to us, we spoke to a few market goers (mostly the ones with dogs) and also spoke to some of the market stall holders about their wares.
After the markets we bought some souvenirs and then made for the next activity as part of my must do in Takayama (and in Japan) and found ourselves a Sake tasting. We went to two places, the first of which charged 150¥ per tasting (at about $1.60AUD totally reasonable) but wasn’t really the best environment, I think we had perhaps wandered into the shed of a distributor. We then found another brewery (easily found by the big balls of yarn hanging outside the doors to denote they are a brewery in stock of sake), which had a cute little fire set into the floor with stools around it. We asked for a tasting and were advised for 150¥ we could taste 12 sakes. Jackpot.
We tasted away for the rest of the afternoon and were definitely feeling a little inebriated by the end of our experience. We enthusiastically told other English speaking tourists of the arrangements (and value) of the tastings and chatted to visitors from Italy and the UK while we were there. One backpacker by the name of Marko who was on a sabbatical from Sweden pulled up a spot by the fire with us and we chatted for a couple of hours. As it happens we was staying at our hotel and was on our train out of Takayama in the morning. We told stories of our holidays so far before parting ways for the evening with our free souvenir sake glasses when the brewery shut up shop.
For our final night in Takayama we experienced an Izakaya for dinner, which was again another great must do Japanese food experience. We were led down to our private booth where we had a buzzer to continually order delicious food delivered back to us in a timely fashion until we had eaten our fill. I could not recommend doing an Izakaya dining experience enough for someone travelling to Japan. You can really imagine the hidden world of Japan taking place behind the screens where other diners were laughing, eating and drinking. It’s a world that you would most definitely never be invited into.
Feeling very refreshed after our time in Takayama we were sad to leave but excited to go on to the penultimate destination for our holiday: Kanazawa.