Takayama is one of Japan’s most atmospheric townscapes in the mountainous region of Gifu Prefecture. Takayama is commonly referred to as Hida-Takayama in reference to the old Hida Province. Takayama’s old town has been beautifully preserved with whole streets of houses dating from the 1600’s. The city has become increasingly popular among international travelers who wish to add rural sights to their itineraries. We arrived at the town right before sunset and checked-in our really cool hotel with hot spring spa on the roof top that looked out to the old town. We stayed two nights in this town.
A little about Hida-Takayama, the town’s history is an interesting one. Different samurai clans fought for the region over many years because the region’s abundance of natural resources, especially timber and supply of skilled workers. Takayama enjoyed some prosperity considering its remote mountain location that is very hard to reach.
Our official tour started the next morning. We went on a walking kind of tour because many streets were very narrow that cars were not able to drive through. We started with a morning stroll to the Miyagawa Market that was next to the Miyagawa river. Most stands at the market sold local crafts, interesting snacks, such as wasabi crackers, miso candies, and mochi with sweet bean fillings, farm products such as vegetables, pickles and flowers. Some members bought crafts and foods to bring back home with them.
Our stroll through the market also got us onto Sannomachi Street, one of the few old narrow streets of the Sanmachi Suji, a historic district that is lined with 300 years old wooden merchants’ homes and warehouses. Many of these old homes open their doors to the public. These homes provide a glimpse into the former living quarters of the local merchants. It’s always interesting to walk inside these stores and visualize how Japanese merchants in this region lived in these houses a long time ago. Other homes were converted to coffee houses or restaurants, specialty shops and art galleries. There were some sake breweries and other processed food stores some of which have been in business for centuries. The sake breweries are recognized by the sugidama, those huge round balls made of cedar branches hung over their entrances. We enjoyed a short tour of the brewery and sampled some sake, too.
Next, we went to the Takayama Jinya an old government office that was built during the infamous Tokugawa shogunate. It is the only remaining Tokugawa shogunate office (Jinya) of its kind in Japan. The building is now open to the public as a museum. We entered the museum and saw nicely maintained tatami mat rooms that once served as offices, conference rooms, hall, guest rooms and residential space. There is also an interesting interrogation room and a huge storage room that once stored tax collected rice.
And then for the rest of the afternoon, each one of us travelers spend our own time freely, some of us stayed around the old town, sampled on foods and more sake, a couple took a ride on a rickshaw around the town. And some chose to go back to the hotel for a spa bath on the rooftop of our hotel.
By evening, we met in the lobby of our hotel for some dinner of Takayama’s famous beef. We have heard of the famous Japanese Kobe or Wagyu beef as imported beef from Japan. But this evening we had Hida beef. Not many people have heard of this very tasty Hida beef. Hida is a specific name given to beef from black-haired Japanese cattle that
have been raised in Takayama region for at least 14 months. And the quality of beef must be confirmed and certified as yield score of grade A or B by the Hida Beef Brand Promotion Conference, and the beef must have a firmness and texture grade of 5, 4 or 3, as per the Japan Meat Grading Association’s system. Hida Beef is probably the highest quality beef that is not imported. It remains in Japan, specifically in Hida-Takayama. One has to travel there to taste it.
The meat has a beautiful marbled pattern. The marbling appears not only on the steaks but also in the fat coating. This coating prevents the juice and aroma from escaping when the meat is cooked and maintains the tenderness of the meat. We all smiled through our dinner. It was really tasty and delicious. Along with our beef, we had vegetables and spirits.
Eventually, food coma followed and our comfortable beds were calling us “home”. We paid our bill and left the restaurant to our hotel. We had to pack for departure. Some of us took our last natural hot spring spa on the roof. By the time we were done, played dressed up and modeled in our Japanese samue before we break up to our rooms for bed.