In the middle of the island of Honshu, in the middle of the prefecture of Gifu, sits the small city of Takayama (population 88,000). It’s a sprawling place, spread out low to the ground in the shadow of the Japanese Alps. And though it’s somewhat remote, the city’s Edo-period streets, morning market, and many small museums make it a magnet for tourists. It felt crowded after our visit to the town of Furukawa (population 28,000), but still charming.
My mom, sister, Prescott and I started our day at the Miyagawa Morning Market …
… which runs alongside the banks of the broad Miyagawa River.
This is clearly a market aimed at tourists — Japanese tourists, for the most part (as evidenced by the number of pickled items on offer), but also travelers from all around the globe. You can buy trinkets and fruit and boxes of mochi, and handmade items like elegantly braided pepper strings …
… and perfectly folded paper shoes and flowers:
There are all sorts of yummy snacks for sale at the market, from chestnut-filled cookies to homemade sesame crackers to these delicious custard-filled cakes:
We had fun watching them be made:
One of our favorite experiences of the morning market was being interviewed by a group of schoolchildren engaged in an immersive supplementary English lesson.
They asked us about where we were from, drew our names in Japanese, and cheerfully posed for pictures.
The other thing that the morning market offers is this cat statue. It seemed totally random, and I really appreciated that.
After the morning market, we tried mont blanc soft serve ice cream — it was nothing like a true mont blanc pastry (which is extruded chestnut paste on top of whipped cream and glazed chestnuts), but it was delicious nonetheless.
We then wandered the streets of Takayama’s old town, the Sanmachi Suji District, which is filled with buildings that date back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. You just have to pretend that the electrical wires, asphalt, and cars aren’t there, and you can imagine what Japan might have looked like long ago.
This part of the city lends itself to a lot of walking.
We bravely joined the other tourists who jammed themselves into a single major eating and shopping street as the morning market began to wind down.
In this part of town, the big thing to do is stand in line for thin slices of freshly-cooked Hida beef. You can also shop to your heart’s content for everything from cheap fans and keychains to fancy thread …
… and local Hida dolls.
There’s an antique-style marionette in the street to entertain the kids (this is the same kind of puppet that would be found at the spring float festivals in Takayama and Furukawa):
But if shopping isn’t your thing and you want to get away from it all, you can always hire a rickshaw (this seems to be a thing in tourist-oriented Japan):
We enjoyed lunch right by the river at Tokisen, a restaurant that serves vegetables and tofu in a miso sauce on a magnolia leaf, all warmed over a small charcoal stove right in front of you.
It was delicious, especially when eaten alongside some pickled vegetables, rice, and a scary-looking but delicious salted fish.
We were all happy to linger over this meal …
… dig in …
… and scrape the magnolia leaves pretty much clean:
For the afternoon, we paid a visit to the Hida Folk Village, which is a wonderful place where you can see authentic homes, crafts, and household implements from all over the Hida region.
We also stopped for pastries at Bel Ange (as you can see, I’m obsessed with mont blancs– that’s the dessert at the top left — and theirs was pretty darn good).
We ended our evening with a visit to the onsen at the Hotel Associa Takayama Resort (not bad for a hotel onsen at the edge of a city — most of the baths are outdoors, albeit under a roof) and then a fairly good and very reasonably priced meal at Matsuki Sushi.
We enjoyed our day in Takayama — my sister liked it especially — and would recommend it to anyone looking for a manageable small city that still has plenty to do. Next time we would stay for one more day to travel up to the onsens and the Shinhotaka Ropeway (a double-decker cable car) in the Alps just outside of the city!