En route from Kanazawa to Tokyo, we stopped in Takayama, a city in the mountainous Hida region of Japan. According to Japan-guide, Takayama “now ranks as one of the prime candidates among travelers wishing to add a rural element into their itineraries.” I had a desire to see as many cities as possible in Japan – something very different than the relatively slow-paced travel style we had become accustomed to. But here we were, a year and a half into travelling and breaking almost every rule we had. We had a jam-packed schedule in Japan with day trips and one-nighters; we booked things in advance (although not far enough); bought an unlimited two-week rail pass and even slept in dorm beds. One thing we should have done was research cities in advance because WiFi was (shockingly) incredibly limited in Japan.
As with all of Japan, accommodation was quite expensive. In Takayama, we booked the cheapest place in town which ended up being a cute temple converted into a hostel (Takayama Zenkoji Temple Inn). Private rooms were separated with very thin paper walls and there was a large shared kitchen. The hostel lacked internet but it was centrally located and clean, everything we needed. The hostel reserves the best rooms for those who book first, and while we thought we were booking well in advance (over one month) we were informed on arrival that we got one of the upper level rooms (vs one of the lower level ones with a garden). Regardless, our room was large and comfortable. Beds were once again traditional style mattresses on the floor with an electric blanket to keep us warm. The price is “by donation” but our confirmation email clearly stated the price and the fact they only accept cash (*although all profits go to charity).
In many ways Takayama was quite similar to Kanazawa (albeit in the mountains). The main part of the both towns involved lots of restaurants and touristy shops selling souvenirs such as chopsticks and Japanese pottery. Since we had covered lots of those in Kanazawa, we were free to spend more time roaming around the beautifully preserved old town.
I was looking forward to the morning food market but by the time we had dropped off our luggage and grabbed our umbrellas, the market was closed. We were still able to find some of the famous Hida beef steamed buns to snack on, a Takayama specialty. The hot and steamy buns were exactly what we needed to warm us up and get our day started. The filling was minced Hida beef* and finely chopped vegetables with a gravy to keep it moist – very flavourful and delicious!
*Hida Beef is particular to the region and refers to beef from a black-haired Japanese cattle breed, that has been raised in the Gifu Prefecture for at least 14 months. It’s considered very high quality and is known for its gorgeous marbling.
The Higashiyama Walking Course
The remainder of the day we spent walking the Higashiyama Walking Course. There are signs all over town, although they can be confusing and slightly misleading as there appears to be multiple course options. Since we didn’t have anywhere we had to be, we were content just walking around and not concerned about which direction we went. The walking course took us first to a large wooded hill and then through the rural ‘suburbs’ of Takayama. One street in particular was quite beautiful – it was just temple after temple after temple. At each temple you could enter the grounds and walk around admiring the beautiful architecture, large bells, statues and gardens. We also passed countless cemeteries and saw decorative gravestones – both old and new. We saw very few other people on the walking course and it was a calm and pleasant way to spend the afternoon.