Gassho-zukkuri homes in Shirakawa-go

Getting to know the Shirakawago,Takayama and Hida Region


2019.11.06

NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR

Gassho-zukkuri homes in Shirakawa-go

The Hida region occupies the northern half of Gifu Prefecture, it’s an area that retains a feel of traditional Japan like few other parts of the country, this can be said especially so about the townships of Takayama and Shirakawago. Historic buildings and traditional culture are in abundance in Hida, making it a popular place for domestic and international travelers alike, who are looking to add a slice of rural life to their Japanese travel itineraries.
In the summer months the area enjoys beautifully warm weather, and in winter it experiences a very cold climate, with some of the heaviest snowfall in all of Japan, reaching up to ten meters in the northern-most parts.
The region is also famed for its high-quality wagyu beef, and the Takayama Festival, which is considered one of the best traditional Japanese festivals in the country.

There’s a lot to see and do in the Hida region, with several areas worth adding to any trip to this part of Japan. The city of Takayama is the obvious place to base yourself as it has the better connections to the rest of Japan and offers a wide range of places to stay, from here you can also access all other parts of the Hida region.

  • 01

    Takayama

    Takayama’s Sanno Machi district

    Takayama’s Sanno Machi district

    The picturesque city of Takayama, or Hida-Takayama as it is often referred to is famous for its authentic old town, exceptional quality local beef, colorful festivals and a rich history of carpentry. It can be easily accessed by bus from Shinjuku in Tokyo, or by train from Nagoya, Matsumoto or Toyama.

    Present day Takayama took shape at the end of the 16th century when highly respected Japanese samurai, Kanamori Nagachika decided to build a castle there. Once he had established rule over the city little changed there for several hundred years due to its remote location and relative protection provided by the surrounding mountains. The towns people developed a rich culture over this period of time that can still be seen today in the traditional architecture and bi-annual festivals that attract thousands of spectators.

    Takayama Festival takes places twice a year every spring and autumn, in April and October respectively. Local people and businesses parade along the streets with large, intricately crafted wooden floats – these colorful and spectacular looking floats are testament to the region’s rich history of artistry and craftsmanship. The festival’s dance performances that include the use of sophisticated mechanical dolls are an unusual sight and attract large numbers of spectators.

    A busy shopping street in Takayama’s Sanno Machi district

    A busy shopping street in Takayama’s Sanno Machi district

    Takayama’s Sanno Machi District is home to a host of shops and restaurants

    Takayama’s Sanno Machi District is home to a host of shops and restaurants

    Takayama’s Sanno Machi district

    Takayama’s Sanno Machi district

    Rickshaw rides around Takayama are a popular choice among visitors

    Rickshaw rides around Takayama are a popular choice among visitors

    Perhaps Takayama’s biggest attraction for travelers though, is the well-preserved old town in the city center, known as the Sanno-machi district. The narrow pedestrian-only streets of the old town are dotted with spectacular looking town houses from the Edo period (1603 - 1868), some of which now operate as restaurants, shops and Inns for travelers.

    Takayama City also plays host to a morning market every day of the week starting at 6am. This three hundred year-old tradition sees local farmers and market stall keepers line the streets of two areas on the outskirts of the old town selling a variety of local produce, snacks, handmade goods and souvenirs, until around midday.

    Hida Takayama Nofuruimachinami
    place
    Gifu Pref. Takayamashi Kamisannomachi , Kaminino Town, Shimonino Town, Daxin Town, other
    phone
    0577323333
  • The entrance to Takayama Jinya

    The entrance to Takayama Jinya

    Takayama Jinya

    Takayama Jinya

    A view from inside Takayama Jinya

    A view from inside Takayama Jinya

    Along the eastern edge of the old town sits Takayama Jinya, a grand wooden structure dating back to 1615, that was used as the local administrative offices for the city. Inside visitors can tour the rooms and learn about how business was conducted during Japan’s Edo period, and just behind this sit the ruins of Takayama Castle.

    Detail inside Takayama Jinya

    Detail inside Takayama Jinya

    Detail inside Takayama Jinya

    Detail inside Takayama Jinya

    Takayama Jinya
    rating

    4.0

    1096 Reviews
    place
    Gifu Pref. Takayamashi Hachikenmachi 1-5
    phone
    0577320643
    opening-hour
    [3/1-10/31 (except Aug.)] 8:…
  • The history on display in Takayama isn’t just limited to places and buildings from the Edo period, there’s also a curious place for those looking to get nostalgic about the latter half of the twentieth century too! Takayama’s Showa-kan is a fairly small, but highly entertaining museum jam packed with items and reconstructed scenes from the Showa period in Japan (1926 - 1989), with a particular focus on the sixties, seventies and eighties. It has an excellent collection of artefacts from these times including whole rooms built in the style peoples living rooms, school classrooms and regular high street shops and cafes.
    This is a great place to spend an hour or so, and get your fill of nostalgia from a past era that wasn’t that long ago, and still in the memory of many visitors to the town.

    The entrance to Takayama Showa-kan

    The entrance to Takayama Showa-kan

    Inside a typical 1960s Japanese living room at the Takayama Showa-kan

    Inside a typical 1960s Japanese living room at the Takayama Showa-kan

    And finally, for those looking to get out of the old town, a short walk to the east of the city will present you with a 3.5 km walking course that winds its way through the Higashiyama Temple Area, passing a variety of beautiful temples and gardens. This is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the more touristy parts of town, and offers ample opportunity to unwind in the peace and quiet.

    The Higashiyama Temple Area

    The Higashiyama Temple Area

    The Higashiyama Temple Area

    The Higashiyama Temple Area

    Takayama Showa Museum
    place
    Gifu Pref. Takayamashi Shimoichinomachi 6
    phone
    0577337836
    opening-hour
    9:00-18:00
    Sogenji Temple
    rating

    4.0

    6 Reviews
    place
    Gifu Takayama-shi Tenshojimachi 39
    phone
    0577322519
    opening-hour
    9:00-17:00
    東山遊歩道
    place
    岐阜県高山市愛宕町・城山他
    phone
    0577323333
  • 04

    Eats and Drinks in Takayama

    Food is big business in Japan, with almost every major town or city boasting a local specialty that they take great pride in producing, and the Hida region is no exception! By far the most popular food here is “Hida-Gyu”, a type of wagyu beef, that is famous for its great taste and succulent texture. Hida-Gyu beef comes prepared in a variety of ways, from simple steaks, to more unusual variations. You can find these dishes and many more in various establishments around the city, you won’t need to look far to find them!

    Hida-Gyu steak cooking in miso over an open flame

    Hida-Gyu steak cooking in miso over an open flame

    Seared Hida-Gyu Sushi is an unusual but delicious way to sample Japanese wagyu beef!

    Seared Hida-Gyu Sushi is an unusual but delicious way to sample Japanese wagyu beef!

    Chunks of Hida-Gyu infused inside an onigiri rice-ball

    Chunks of Hida-Gyu infused inside an onigiri rice-ball

    Two of our particular favorite places to eat local beef in Takayama are Jibiruya Bar and Center 4 Burger. Both places are stylish, serve great food and are a real hit with both locals and travelers alike…

    Jibiruya Bar is located just a few minutes north of the Sanno Machi District by foot. Yamanaka-san, the owner, serves locally sourced beef in a variety of ways, mostly on skewers or in a bowl with rice. Flavorings include miso, soya source and wasabi. He also serves vegetable chips, French fries and pickled vegetables as side dishes. As well as all of the above you can also find locally brewed craft beer on tap to go with your food! A real winner!

    The entrance to Jibiruya Bar

    The entrance to Jibiruya Bar

    Hida beef on rice at Jibiruya Bar

    Hida beef on rice at Jibiruya Bar

    Yamanaka-san with a pint of his best craft beer!

    Yamanaka-san with a pint of his best craft beer!

    You will find Center 4 Hamburgers located south of the Sanno machi district along a street with a handful of antique shops. The owner Takanaka-san relocated to Takayama over a decade ago after a successful career as a chef at one of Tokyo’s top burger restaurants. He now runs this very popular burger joint in Takayama, which often has people queueing to get inside thanks to its high ratings in some of the most popular overseas travel publications.
    The menu is fairly typical for a burger place, but the juicy, succulent beef burgers are in a league of their own! A variety of drinks and sides, along with a chilled, laid back atmosphere make this place an absolute must on any itinerary of Takayama.

    Center 4 Hamburgers

    Center 4 Hamburgers

    Inside Center 4 Hamburgers

    Inside Center 4 Hamburgers

    A cheeseburger, home-cut potato chips and a glass of ginger ale. Perfect!

    A cheeseburger, home-cut potato chips and a glass of ginger ale. Perfect!

    Takanaka-san at the entrance to Center 4 Hamburgers

    Takanaka-san at the entrance to Center 4 Hamburgers

    じびるや
    rating

    3.5

    5 Reviews
    place
    岐阜県高山市朝日町1
    phone
    0577323041
    Center4 Hamburgers
    rating

    4.5

    635 Reviews
    place
    Gifu Pref. Takayamashi Kamichinomachi 94
    phone
    0577364527
    opening-hour
    11:00-14:30(L.O.)/18:00-21:3…
  • 05

    Shirakawago

    Gassho-zukuri houses in Shirakawago

    Gassho-zukuri houses in Shirakawago

    The picturesque township of Shirakawago is best known for its Gassho-zukuri houses built in a traditional architectural style developed over many generations. It is surrounded on all four sides by rugged mountainous terrain and experiences some of the heaviest snowfall in all of Japan. Shirakawago was registered a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. It is easily reached by bus from Takayama City, however there is no train station here.

    Freshly cropped rice hangs out to dry in Shirakawago

    Freshly cropped rice hangs out to dry in Shirakawago

    Every season in Shirakawago brings something new to enjoy and admire

    Every season in Shirakawago brings something new to enjoy and admire

    Ogimachi is the largest village in Shirakawago and many consider it the main attraction. Nestled among a patchwork of rice fields and split between the flowing waters of the Sho River are a total of 114 beautiful thatched-roofed houses, some as old as 250 years. The roofs, made without a single nail, have been built at steep angles to withstand the vast amounts of snow that falls in the region every winter. The shape of the houses closely resembles the hands of a Buddhist monks when pressed together in prayer, hence the name Gassho-zukuri, which translates in Japanese as “constructed like hands in prayer”.

    A Gassho-zukuri house in Shirakawago

    A Gassho-zukuri house in Shirakawago

    Some Gassho-zukuri houses have been converted in cafes and rest houses

    Some Gassho-zukuri houses have been converted in cafes and rest houses

    Many of the buildings here are still used by the local community for work and farming purposes

    Many of the buildings here are still used by the local community for work and farming purposes

    Gassho-zukuri houses which are often between three and five stories tall have large open attics that were utilized for the production of silkworms for generations - they are an outstanding example of a traditional way of life and rare example of this type of architecture in Japan. To maximize the experience of the Gassho-zukuri, some offer overnight stays with traditional Japanese meals included. Other Gassho-zukuri have been turned into museums where one can read all about the history of the village, entry fees are typically just a few hundred yen. Nestled among the Gassho-zukuri houses are a number of small eateries serving local delicacies such as Hida beef, seasonal vegetables and variations of the traditional Japanese sweet “Dango”. There are also tea houses and gift shops to be found along the main strip of the village.

    A view of Shirakawago from the observation deck

    A view of Shirakawago from the observation deck

    A short trek out of the village, the Shiroyama observation deck affords fantastic panoramic views of the area framed on both sides by mountains and thick forests. The landscape surrounding Shirakawago changes dramatically between seasons making it a popular travel destination all year round.
    On the outskirts of Ogimachi village, across the Sho River sits an open-air museum made up of 26 Gassho-zukuri style houses that have been relocated from various areas in the region. Several other structures including a watermill, a shrine and a temple are well preserved here allowing visitors to get a feel for how the area was in times gone by.

    Shirakawa-go
    rating

    4.5

    31 Reviews
    place
    Gifu Pref. Onogunshirakawamura Ogimachi
    phone
    0576961013
    opening-hour
    8:00-17:00*Subject to change…
  • 06

    Hida-Furukawa

    Detail from Hida-Furukawa

    Detail from Hida-Furukawa

    Hida-Furukawa is a pleasant riverside town situated in the heart of the Hida region, just fifteen minutes south of Takayama by train. Like Takayama it is famous for its nicely preserved old town, traditional festivals and a rich history of timber carpentry. Hida-Furukawa attracts a lot less attention than Takayama, making it a great place to escape the crowds for a few days

    The streets in Hida-Furukawa are lined with narrow canals with carp swimming freely

    The streets in Hida-Furukawa are lined with narrow canals with carp swimming freely

    Traditional candle maker in the town of Hida-Furukawa

    Traditional candle maker in the town of Hida-Furukawa

    Traditional candle maker in the town of Hida-Furukawa

    Traditional candle maker in the town of Hida-Furukawa

    The old town is divided by a narrow canal that runs off the bigger Seto River situated a little way upstream. The canal cuts through the town center and runs alongside pedestrianized streets carrying with it swarms of koi-carp, adding a rather colorful touch. On either side of the river sit rows of old town-houses and warehouses from a bygone era, their distinct bright white stone walls add to the uniqueness of the towns character. Local carpenters make every effort to protect the old structures, preserving the atmosphere of Japan’s Edo period.
    Highlights in the old-town include the Mishima Candle Shop which has specialized in traditional Japanese candle making for over 200 years and a series of sake breweries which have also been in operation for several generations.
    Every spring on the 19th and 20th of April, the towns folk come together to celebrate their annual festival – The Furukawa Festival, also known as The Naked Festival, due to the large numbers of men who take part in the procession in little more than skimpy cotton underwear. Teams of locals parade through the streets, beating large Japanese taiko drums, while carrying beautifully decorated wooden floats. The festival often coincides with the towns cherry blossom season, making it a colorful display of manmade and natural beauty.

    Hida-Furukawa

    Hida-Furukawa

    Hida-Furukawa is a great place to see various architectural styles from the past 100+ years

    Hida-Furukawa is a great place to see various architectural styles from the past 100+ years

    A quiet Hida-Furukawa back street

    A quiet Hida-Furukawa back street

    Those who choose to stay in Hida-Furukawa and are looking to escape the town for the day have plenty of options available to make the most of the areas scenic beauty with an abundance of hiking trails that start near the town and bicycle rental companies offering rentals by the day. For those feeling a little more adventurous, the now-abandoned Kamioka Railway which used to serve the local mining community has a unique and fun, family-friendly cycling course on bikes that are attached to the old train tracks. The 3 km course winds through stunning mountainous scenery and several disused train stations. Information on all of the above can be found at the Tourist Information.

    Mishima Japanese Candle Shop
    rating

    4.0

    17 Reviews
    place
    Gifu Pref. Hidashi Furukawachouichinomachi 3-12
    phone
    0577734109
    opening-hour
    9:30-17:00
    飛騨古川の町並み
    place
    岐阜県飛騨市古川町壱之町、三之町
    phone
    0577732111
    no image
  • 07

    Hirayu Onsen

    The Hida region has a number of onsen hot-spring towns for those who want to rest their weary legs in naturally steaming hot baths. The oldest of which is the town of Hirayu Onsen, which is also a convenient stop on the Tokyo (Shinjuku) to Takayama bus route.
    The towns hot springs were discovered in the mid 1500s but warriors who were crossing the region during feudal times, they have been enjoyed by settlers and travelers ever since.
    The town has a handful of traditional Japanese inns where visitors can stay or in some cases, just use the baths.

    Free outdoor bathes for public use

    Free outdoor bathes for public use

    Free outdoor bathes for public use

    Free outdoor bathes for public use

    Free outdoor bathes for public use

    Free outdoor bathes for public use

    A foot spa in the center of Hirayu Onsen town

    A foot spa in the center of Hirayu Onsen town

    There are also hot-spring baths in the town that are free of charge to use at the Minzokukan, a museum made up of several traditional straw roofed farmhouses that display tools and daily items from the rural region. The hot-spring facilities are of course gender separated and also have showering facilities.

    Hirayu Onsen
    rating

    4.5

    23 Reviews
    place
    Gifu Takayama-shi Okuhida Hot spring village Hirayu
    phone
    0578893030

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