Guide To Takayama, Shirakawa-Go & Kanazawa
After doing the Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka route on my first visit to Japan earlier this year, I wanted to try something a bit more off-the-beaten-path for my second trip to the country. I heard great things here and there about Shirakawa-go, Takayama and Kanazawa and was excited to learn that these three places were all in the same region of Japan, along a well serviced route from both Tokyo and Osaka-Kyoto. Takayama, Shirakawa-go and Kanazawa is a great itinerary to consider as it offers a great mix of sights and foods to appeal to a wide audience whilst being undiscovered enough to not feel like everybody’s here during your visit.
How To Get There
- Bullet trains service Takayama from Tokyo via Nagoya, and Kanazawa direct from Tokyo, or via JR Limited Express train from Kyoto/Osaka. Between Takayama, Shirakawa-go and Kanazawa, look into the Nohi Bus, JR Limited Express and bullet train (via Toyama) for service within the area.
- When travelling into Takayama, the train journey offers beautiful views as the tracks snake alongside Hida River and countless mountains, valleys, bridges and more. It’s definitely a good journey to stay awake for, if you can help it!
The small-scale city of Takayama is the gateway to the mountainous Hida region of Japan. Its main attractions can be reached within 30 minutes or less by foot, making it an extremely easy place to explore.
Things to do
Takayama Old Town
Takayama’s old town is an area of three streets lined with quaint souvenir shops, food stalls and sake breweries. It’s an easy walk from the station and the perfect place to try local foods or pick up local souvenirs. The sarubobo doll is a popular keepsake.
Try the local specialties
Takayama is home to a host of local delights that are an absolute must-try when visiting. Don’t leave without giving the following a go.
- Hida beef – try Maruaki – a popular hida beef restaurant where you can cook your own melt-in-your- mouth hida beef yakinuki-style at the table
- Hida beef sushi + Hida beef buns – both can be found in Takayama’s old town
- Hoba miso – a beef miso dish served on a dried magnolia leaf sitting atop a charcoal stove. The flavour is unique to the area and deliciously served alongside local vegetables and rice.
- ‘Chuka soba’ (Takayama’s ramen) – ramen in the area is done differently with wavy noodles in a soy
Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine
Those who love a walk under the crisp morning air should head to Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine (next to the Festival Floats Hall) which is the start of a walking course that winds past small shrines and temples with even a glimpse of the Alps on a clear day.
The famed thatch-roof village of Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled amongst the mountains. It is a 50 minute bus ride from Takayama and has plenty of things to see and do to keep you occupied for at least half a day. Depending on your preference, a visit to Shirakawa-go can be done as either a day trip or overnight stay.
Things to do
- Visit the Ogimachi Castle Ruins Lookout – the most famous view of Shirakawa-go is the one taken in from this observation platform, where you can see the beautiful village from above. Do make sure you visit the village on a day of good weather, as heavy winter snow can block the view.
- Explore the inside of a thatch-roof house – a number of these houses are open to tourists (Kanda House, Wada House, to name a few) to explore and it is definitely worth visiting at least one of these. Surprisingly, these houses are multiple storeys high and offer a really intriguing look into the gassho style architecture used in the village.
How long to spend here
There are two options for Shirakawa-go visitors – either take the bus on a day trip or book one of the farmhouses to stay overnight in. Note the maximum time you can stay at any farmhouse in the town is one night.
If you love Kyoto, you’ll love Kanazawa – a city endearingly known as ‘Little Kyoto’ for its abundance of temples, shrines, gardens, preserved Geisha district and amazing seafood. With direct bullet train access from major cities, Kanazawa is now more accessible than ever.
Things to do
- Kenrokuen Garden – Considered one of Japan’s top three most beautiful gardens, Kenrokuen Garden is a must visit for anyone who loves autumn chasing. There are heaps of maples within the gardens and if you have time, you should also pop across the footbridge to visit the Kanazawa Castle gardens as well.
- Omicho Market – Kanazawa is right by the Sea of Japan and hence is well known for its fresh seafood and sushi. Omicho Market is one of the best places to try fresh produce and if you’re here in winter, you should definitely try the Kobako Crab (female snow crab), which is a local specialty here.
- Higashi Chaya district – Kanazawa’s very own geisha area is a beautifully preserved area similar to that of Kyoto. Visit the Shima Teahouse, a geisha museum and also try the gold leaf ice cream at Hakuichi.
- 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art – For contemporary art lovers, you’ll definitely want to check this out. There are many exhibitions and installations here, both indoors and outdoors. One of the more popular ones is Leandro Erlich’s ‘Swimming Pool’.
How long to spend here
To see the main sights I would recommend at least 1-2 days in the area. To take it easy and explore beyond the tourist choices, consider a little longer.