Situated more than 650 meters above sea level and surrounded by the brooding peaks of the Japan Alps, Hida Takayama is a castle town at the foot of Takayama Castle that was built in the 16th century. It is a town of old wooden houses standing side-by-side, highlighted by projecting lattice and eaves of uniform height, and it is popular with tourists from all over the world who come for a Japan tour.
This generally quiet rural town is known throughout Japan for its vibrant festivals that shatter the peace twice a year. The Takayama Matsuri festival is held in spring and autumn and is believed to have its roots in the 16th to 17th centuries. These two events are some of the largest and most beautiful festivals in Japan. During the festival, intricate floats roam the city. The floats, utilizing the essence of Hida’s traditional techniques, are dazzling and magnificent.
In spring, Hie-jinja Shrine plays the main role, while in the fall the Sakurayama Hachiman-gu Shrine is at the center stage. Tens of thousands of Japanese descend on the town in spring and again in autumn to join the celebrations. Even if you are not in town during the festival you can still catch a glimpse of the yatai (floats) in the Yatai Museum.
Also without a festival going on, there are still plenty of reasons to come to Takayama. Its main attraction is Old Town, the Sanmachi Suji district. The rows of traditional wooden shops are picture-perfect and strolling these alleys feels like a throwback to the Edo period. While you are in Takayama, make sure to get a taste of Hida beef, the wagyu that was raised in this area, and is considered one of the best types of beef in Japan.
The Yoshijima Heritage House used to belong to a rich sake brewing family, and nowadays tourists can come inside to see what a well-built Japanese house of more than 100 years old looks like. The garden is also worth checking out. If you have an interest in artisans and crafts, the Kusakabe Folk Crafts Museum and Hida Folk Village are great places to visit and learn more about Japanese arts and crafts and even try your hand on them in the Folk Village. The Takayama Miyagawa Morning Market held from 8 am until noon is also nice for buying crafts.
For those interested in more recent history, the Takayama Showa Museum will be a pleasant surprise. It feels like a revival of the 60s walking in here and it is quite educational.