Takayama Itinerary: Travel Back in Time to Old Japan

by Feb 3, 2019Itinerary, Japan

Touring Takayama feels like you’ve stepped back to a time when Japan was ruled by shoguns and samurai. It’s a small town located in central Japan in the Japan Alps about five hours by train from Tokyo. The town is filled with beautifully-preserved dark wooden buildings that are supposedly in the “same form they were 400 years ago.” Takayama, in fact, with so many traditional buildings, is known as “Little Kyoto”

The food is also some of the best I ate while in Japan. You must try Hida beef while you are there.

And for solo travelers, Takayama is a safe and easy city to walk around alone in.

Overall, the city exudes charm, and it is worth your time to devote to at least a day and a half to your Takayama itinerary. Then stay in Takayama for one to three days longer if you like and use it as a base to explore the Japan Alps, a plethora of onsens scattered around the area, and the fairytale villages of Shirakawago.

By the way, you might see Takayama referred to as Hida-Takayama. The reason is in order distinguish it from the other cities named Takayama in Japan.

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Below is an itinerary for one and a half days in Takayama. This Takayama itinerary is part of a larger 3 weeks in Japan itinerary that you can find here. In this article, I have not included information on itineraries for side trips to areas around Takayama. For Shirakawago, you can visit my itinerary here, and for hiking at Kamikochi, you can visit my Kamikochi itinerary.

Takayama itinerary: Day 1

1. Tourist Information Center

Let’s say that you arrive in Takayama at around 12:23 pm from Tokyo. The first thing to do is visit the tourist information center to get a map, some brochures, information about the surrounding area, and bus schedules for visiting the sites outside of Takayama. You’ll want to get a bus schedule for Kamikochi which includes the Shin Hotaka Ropeway, the onsen town of Hirayu, and Shirakawago.

The town has only about 88,000 people, but the center of the town and the friendly people make it feel like it’s even smaller. It took me 10-15 minutes depending on how heavy my bags were or how tired I was to walk from the train station to my hotel. The other tourist attractions mentioned in this Takayama itinerary should be about 20 minutes from the train station.

2. Lunch

After dropping off your bags, head to one of the restaurants in the old part of town that is serving local beef or soba noodles. I suggest Sumikyu for some soba noodles with mushrooms for ¥1,200 (US$11 /€10 /£8.37).

3. Old Town Area of Takayama

COST: free; OPEN: 24/7 but stores are open from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Next, spend the afternoon exploring the Old Town area, also called the Sanmachi area. It’s the merchant district of Japan during Edo and Meiji periods. It takes about 15 minutes to walk there from the train station.

The Sanmachi area consists of three streets of old merchant houses that have supposedly remained untouched over the past 400 years. It is pretty cool, and it does feel like you’re in another era.

I was out of batteries for my camera, so I wasn’t able to take any photos of this part of my trip. Ugh!

In Edo times, society was divided into four levels with the samurai being at the top. As a result, they lived on higher ground with the local daimyo (lord). The merchants were at the bottom below peasants and artisans; thus, they lived in the lower levels of Takayama; hence the reason the merchant homes are found in the center of Takayama.

Another interesting fact is that only samurai were allowed to own weapons; merchants, peasants, and artisans were prohibited from owning any.

However, during the Edo times, there was an increase in trade as well as the increase in money and credit, eliminating the barter system. The merchants started to become wealthier, while the samurai became poorer and in debt to the merchants.

Takayama merchants were particularly wealthy. One reason is that Takayama was famous for its high-quality lumber and carpentry. As a result, the city was considered strategically important, and thus it came under the jurisdiction of the Shogun in Edo (Tokyo), giving it opportunities to acquire more wealth.

I just kind of wandered the streets of this area visiting the souvenir shops, galleries, and museums.

Takayama was famous for its sake breweries. Make sure to drop by the many breweries to do sake tastings. 

You can also visit the Takayama Museum of History and Art to learn about the history of Takayama and the Takayama Showa Museum to learn about Japan’s modern history from 1926 to1989.

4. Takayama Jinya

COST: ¥430 (US$4 /€3.43 /£3) OPEN: 8:45 am – 5:00 pm Mar-Oct; 8:45-6:00pm Aug; 8:45-4:30 Nov-Feb

If you’re a history nerd like me, make sure to visit Takayama Jinya, the old government house from the Edo period. You can walk through the rooms that were once offices. Don’t forget to visit the interrogation room to see how people were tortured back then.

5. Dinner

Japan is famous for its high-quality beef known as Wagyu beef. The most well-known Wagyu beef is Kobe beef, which can cost you an arm and a leg in some restaurants.  Well, did you know Japan has other kinds of Wagyu beef? Takayama’s Hida beef is one of them. And it’s amazingly delicious.

⇒ If you’re interested in learning more about Hida beef, visit this website here.

Try Hida beef by having a traditional Japanese barbecue called a yakiniku at Kyoya. I had a set meal which included two kinds of beef that you grill yourself. The staff first help you and guide you through the grilling process.

If your alone, you can get a seat at the counter and not feel so conspicuous. Also, the set meal is perfect for one person.

You get beef with vegetables (carrot, cabbage, and onion) barbecued over one small grill, and you also get beef with miso grilled on a leaf over another small grill. The set meal also includes miso soup, rice, tofu, and pickled cucumber and ginger. The draft beer was ¥600 ($5.50/€5.00/£4.10). The beef set meal was ¥3,000 (US$27.40/€23/£21).

I find it ironic that Japan has such exquisite and delectable beef, yet for 1200 years the eating of meat was banned and considered socially taboo. In 675 AD, influenced by the beliefs in Buddhism against the killing of animals, the Emperor prohibited Japanese people from killing animals like cows and chickens for consumption. They were allowed to hunt and eat wild animals, though. As time went on, eating meat also became socially taboo.

But then when the Jesuit missionaries came to Japan in the 1500s and local lords starting converting to Christianity, the eating of meat slowly became more acceptable. Although Christianity was eventually banned, some people still continued eating meat. However, overall, it was still taboo for most people. Finally, in an attempt to make Japan more westernized, the Emperor lifted the ban on eating meat in 1872. Gradually, the consumption of meat spread throughout Japan.

Takayama itinerary:  Day 2

In the morning, after visiting the Miyagawa Morning Market (7:00 am – 12:00 pm),  which takes place along the Miyagawa River, visit the old merchant houses in the northern part of the city, also called the Shimoninomachi and Ojinmachi areas nearby.

The Shimonimachi and Ojinmachi areas were also merchant areas during Edo times. You can find lots of old wooden buildings from that era. However, it’s different from Sanmachi area in that there are fewer tourists.

1. Yoshijima Heritage House

COST: ¥500 (US$4.50/€4.00/£3.50) OPEN: Mar – Nov 9:00 am – 5:00 pm; Dec – Feb 9:00 – 4:30 pm

As someone who’s really into architecture, I enjoyed visiting the Yoshijima Heritage House. It was built in 1907 by a famous carpenter, making it an architecturally significant structure.

The house belongs to the Yoshijima family, who were famous sake brewer and money lenders. During the Edo period, Takayama was well-known for woodworking. I noticed that a lot of the houses did not have high ceilings, but the Yoshijima House did as you can see from the photo of the entrance area.

Like all the other traditional Japanese houses that I saw, the house is very bare. The floor is covered in tatami mats and there are a lot of paper sliding doors.

There are other merchant houses that are open to the public. These include Miyaji Heritage House and Kusakabe Heritage House.

2. Walk around the Shimonimachi and Ojinmachi areas

This area of the town is another great place to walk around. It’s definitely less touristy. You can pretty much walk down the street while admiring the charming wooden structures and seeing no one else. Take a break at a coffee shop. 

3. Takayama Festival Float Exhibition Hall

COST: ¥900 (US$8.20/€7.17/£6.28); OPEN: Mar-Nov 9:00 am – 5:00 pm; Dec-Feb 9:00 am – 4:30 pm

Takayama Festival Float Exhibition Hall displays four of the twelve festival floats that are used in one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan, the Takayama Matsuri. The floats that are on display rotate three times a year.

The festival is held twice a year: April 14 and 15 and October 9 and 10. A parade is held twice a day each time: during the day and at night. In April, the purpose of the festival is to pray to the gods for an abundant harvest. In October, the purpose of the festival is to thank the gods for their harvest.

The festival dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The floats are very beautiful. They are carved in great detail both inside and outside the floats. They are topped with marionettes that represent the gods.

I felt the admission price for the exhibition hall was expensive compared to how much you get to see and compared to other museums I’ve seen in Japan. It’s basically just one large with the four of the floats and some mannequins placed behind glass. I’m glad I went because now I know what a Yantai (floats) look like for this famous matsuri.

4. Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine

COST: Free

Next to the Festival Float Museum and surrounded by towering trees is the beautiful and peaceful Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine. It is the oldest shrine in Takayama going back to the 5th century.

The woodwork on this shrine complex is just beautiful.

5. Lunch

Take a break from your Takayama itinerary for lunch. I myself had bought food earlier from a convenience store and had that. I don’t think there are many restaurants near the shrine.

My hotel recommended a Chinese restaurant called Heianraku, but it’s near the station, so kind of far from the shrine.

Restaurants that have gotten good reviews are an over 100-year-old soba restaurant called Teuchisoba-Ebisu and a ramen restaurant called Menya Shirakawa.

6. Higashiyama Walking Course

COST: free

Nestled on the upper level of Takayama is the Higashiyama Walking Course, a 5.5 kilometer trail that winds its way from Higashiyama temple area to Shiroyama Park where the remains of Takayama’s castle is located. It’s a great way to take a leisurely walk and escape the hordes of tourists on the lower level of the town.

It takes about 10 minutes to get from the shrine to the beginning of the walking course. Again you’ll pass some lovely buildings and few cars or people.

The one thing that really struck me about Takayama was the sounds that I heard as I walked down the streets. You can hear the sound of water wherever you are. There are two rivers that run through the town and there are drains along the side of the road where you can hear the water rushing through them. It’s a lovely sound.

The path is well-marked with signs guiding you. If you’re direction challenged or your walking solo and want peace and quiet but not complete isolation, this is a great way to spend a couple of hours.

⇒ Here is the PDF map of the Higashiyama walking course.  

If you pass under the gate, you’ll arrive at the first of a dozen temples: Unryuji Temple.

This temple was first built in the 720 and rebuilt in the 1300s near the town’s castle. However, it was moved to its present location in the 1600s at the request of a local samurai named Kanamori Nagachika. He loved Kyoto so much that he wanted the city to be filled with beautiful temples like those in Kyoto.

After leaving the Unryuji Temple, continue along the path up a path surrounded by a forest and a cemetery to Higashiyama Hakusen Shrine, the oldest shrine structure in Takayama (719 AD). It’s quite small, but the surrounding area is nice and peaceful.

After visiting this shrine, walk back down the stairs and turn left at the bottom of the stairs. You’ll come next to what looks like a newer temple called Daio-ji Temple. It’s another temple that was moved here by Kanamori, but this one was transported here from another town.

As I stood looking at the Dounin Temple, I grew frustrated. Is this a Buddhist temple or a Shinto shrine I asked myself? Why can’t I tell the difference? Temples and shrines look pretty similar. 

Later, it was clarified to me that shrines are Shinto and they have torii gates, while Buddhism has temples. The reason it is so confusing is that religious complexes often have both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples on their premises. 

You have two choices. You can go up some stairs to Higashiyama Shinmei Shrine or keep going straight to the Tenshoji Temple.  As my feet were killing me, I chose Buddhism and went to the temple.

Which do the Japanese choose more often, Shinto or Buddhism? In fact, the Japanese tend to follow both Shinto and Buddhism. Japanese generally pay attention to their religions during major events like births, marriage, and death rather than during their every day lives like in Christianity.

There is a common saying in Japan: Japanese are Shinto when they’re born and when they get married and then become Buddhists when they die.

The next temple, the Hokkeji Temple, is the perfect example of a Buddhist temple complex with a Shinto shrine. Above is the main hall of the temple.

There’s a pond and sone arched bridge on the temple grounds. Once you cross the bridge, you’ll come to a Shinto shrine, the perfect example of how the two religions coexist side by side.

You can leave the Higashiyama walking route anytime you want. I exited after Hokkeji because it was getting late and I was tired and hungry. I had seen enough temples and I wasn’t that excited about seeing anymore. But to continue this route, you’ll see a few more temples and shrines and then you’ll come to a park with the remains of the castle.

7. Dinner

A great place to have dinner at is Center 4 Burger. I usually don’t like eating American food while traveling, but man this burger was the greatest burger I have ever eaten in my entire life. Get the burger made with Hida beef! The restaurant only serves 30 to 40 of these per day, so make sure you arrive early. They’re a bit pricey at ¥2650 (US$24.20 /€21.12 /£18.50) but they are sooooo worth it!

The décor of the restaurant is also pretty cool. The walls are covered in Americana. And I spotted a copy of the Twin Cities City Page free newspaper, my hometown weekly free newspaper. The owner said that he got the newspaper when was visiting friends who were living in Minnesota.

Unfortunately, there’s a sign saying you’re not allowed to take photos of the restaurant for fear of others copying it.

Side Trips from Takayama

1. Shirakawa-go

Shirakawa-go is a charming village located an hour by bus from Takayama. It’s special for its Gassho Zukuri houses. You’ll need a full day to visit the town. To learn more about the village and what to see, where to stay, and how to get there, visit this article, Shirakawago Itinerary: Enter a Japanese Fairy Tale.

2. Kamikochi

Another great and easy side trip is a trip to Kamikochi, a park located in the Japan Alps. It’s special for its natural beauty, majestic mountains, and babbling rivers and streams. You’ll need a whole day to visit the town. It’s only an hour and a half away from Takayama. I tried to squeeze in a visit to the hot springs along with Kamikochi, but it wouldn’t have  worked if I wanted to catch the last bus back to Takayama. To learn more, read this article, Kamikochi itinerary: The Perfect Day Trip from Takayama.

3. Shin-Hotaka Ropeway

Another option is to do the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway. The ropeway takes you to the peak of one of the mountains in the Hotaka mountain range. I’ve read that there’s a 2.5-hour hiking trail from the ropeway station to Kamikochi. I’m not sure how easy it is, though.

4. Okuhida Onsens

Situated near Takayama in the Okuhida Valley are five hot springs (onsen) towns: Hiraryu Onsen, Shin-Hirayu Onsen, Shin-Hotaka Onsen, Fukuji Onsen, and Tochio Onsen. For some, you can enjoy the hot springs just as a day trip, while for others, you’ll need to book a room and stay overnight. Most of them supposedly have great views of the Japan Alps. I tried to do half a day at Kamikochi and half at Hirayu Onsen, but I couldn’t manage it. Schedule a full day at one of the onsens.

Where to eat in Takayama

As a recap of where I suggested eating on my Takayama itinerary, the following restaurants are

  • Hidatakayama Kyoya – Eat here for traditional barbecue Hida beef (¥3,000)
  • Center 4 Burger – Eat here for an amazing burger also with Hida beef (¥2,600)
  • Sumikyu – Soba noodles with 7 kinds of mushrooms (¥1,200)

Where to stay in Takayama

I stayed at the Rickshaw Inn, a cozy traditional Japanese style hotel. You get the whole Japanese experience of floors covered in tatami mats and comfy futons for beds. However, there are modern conveniences like a coin-operated washer and dryer, a small kitchen for simple cooking, and a cozy lounge to hang out in.

  • It’s reasonably priced for Japan at $65, so it’s a great place to stay for solo travelers who don’t like hostels.
  • It’s close enough to walk to the train and bus stations easily even with luggage (10-15 minutes), and it’s just a five-minute walk to the main tourist sites.
  • The owner and staff have lots of great advice on where to eat.

If Rickshaw Inn doesn’t fit your needs, here are some other popular places to stay in Takayama.

How to get to Takayama

From Tokyo to Takayama

There are two train routes that lead you to Takayama from Tokyo.

1. Train: Tokyo – Nagoya – Takayama

This route takes around five hours. The best part of the trip is the stunning scenery between Nagoya and Takayama. I couldn’t get over how clear and blue the water is.

To give you an idea of train times, these are the times for the Hikari trains (you can use your JR Pass on these) from January 2019. They were the same as the times in August 2018. All trains leave from Tokyo Station and require you to transfer in Nagoya.

Train times from Tokyo to Takayama in January 2019

Tokyo

Nagoya

Takayama

7:33 am

9:17 – 9:33

12:23 pm

8:33 am

10:17-10:48

1:10 pm

9:33 am

11:17 – 11:48

2:10 pm

10:33 am

12:17 – 12:48

3:07 pm

(for more times, visit Hyperdia.com)

I took the 7:33 train, so I was able to get in a half day for my Takayama itinerary. I used my JR Pass, but if you don’t have one, it will cost around ¥14,980. Make sure to check that the train going to Nagoya is NOT a Nozomi train as you cannot use your JR Pass on these trains.

If you’re thinking of staying in Nagoya for a day, check out this 1 day Nagoya itinerary.

2. Train: Tokyo – Toyama – Takayama

This train leaves at 7:20 am from Tokyo Station and gets in at Takayama at 11:23 am. I tried to take this train, but the tracks were flooded so the route was not running. Without a JR Pass, it costs around ¥16,120.

Train times from Tokyo to Takayama via Toyama in January 2019
Tokyo Toyama Takayama
7:20 am 9:31-9:52 11:23 pm
10:24 am 12:32-1:02 2:32 pm
2:24 pm 4:57-5:13 6:39 pm

For more times, visit Hyperdia.com.

3. Bus: Tokyo to Takayama

If you want a cheaper and more direct way, take the bus. It costs ¥5,040   (US$46 /€40/ £35.16) one-way to ¥6,690 (US$61 /€53 /£47) depending on where you buy your ticket from. When you’re looking for your ticket online, you want to search for the destination of “Gifu”. The bus arrives in Takayama at the Nohi Bus Terminal, which is right next to the train station and tourism office. 

Bus times from Tokyo to Takayama in January 2019

Tokyo Shinjuku

Takayama Nohi Bus Station

7:05 am                             

12:35 pm

8:15 am

1:45 pm

9:15 am

2:45 pm

11:05 am

4:35 pm

2:34 pm

8:05 pm

5:05 pm

10:35 pm

For more times, visit Hyperdia.com

Besides Hyperdia, you can also check times and buy tickets from this website for Willer Express   or this website called Highway Bus

From Kyoto to Takayama

You can travel by train or bus to Takayama from Kyoto.

1. Train – Kyoto – Nagoya – Takayama

Train times from Kyoto to Takayama in January 2019

Kyoto

Nagoya

Takayama

7:42 am

8:34-8:43

10:56 am

8:32 am

9:25-9:39

12:23 pm

9:58 am

10:34-10:48

1:10 pm

10:58 am

11:34-11:48

2:18 pm

(for more times, visit Hyperdia.com)

2. Bus: Kyoto – Takayama

One way ticket is ¥2,800 (US$25.60 /€22.32 /£19.53).

Bus times from Kyoto to Takayama in January 2019

Kyoto

Takayama

8:30 am

12:52 pm

11:00 am

3:22 pm

4:45 pm

8:57 pm

6:40 pm

10:52 pm

For more times, visit Hyperdia.com.

From Kanazawa to Takayama

Another popular way to get to Takayama is to travel from Kanazawa. There is no train; the only way is by bus if you don’t have a car.

The bus stops in Shirakawago before going on to Takayama. However, this fact makes the trip a great opportunity to stop off in charming Shirakawago for the day.

The cost is ¥3,390 (US$31 /€27 /£23.65) one way.

Here are some typical times from January 30, 2019. They were the same as August 2018’s schedule.

Bus times from Kanazawa to Takayama in January 2019

Kanazawa

Shirakawa-go

Takayama

8:10 am

9:25-9:35                

10:25 am

11:10 am

12:25-12:35

1:35 pm

1:10 pm

2:25-2:35

3:35 pm

4:00 pm

5:15-5:20

6:10 pm

(for more times, visit Hyperdia.com)

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a meal of Japanese food and a street at night in Takayama Japan
a red bridge surrounded by trees and a river with stone embankment iNT

I can’t say enough about how great a little town Takayama. It’s such a laid back, relaxing, and peaceful place, especially after visiting a big city like Tokyo.

Have you been to Takayama? What was your favorite thing to see and do in Takayama? Would you recommend anything else to this list? If you haven’t been there, do you have plans to go soon? If you have any questions about Takayama, Japan in general, or solo travel, leave them below in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

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About the Bamboo Traveler

Julie Krolak

Hi! I’m Julie, the Bamboo Traveler!  This blog is devoted to helping the inquisitive traveler explore Asia’s history, heritage, and culture. Fun facts about me: I’m from a town so small that if you blink, you might miss it. I once owned my own language school in China.

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