Sunday 16 February 2014

A weekend in the mountains - Takayama and Shirakawa-go (part 1)

About 3 years ago while planning a holiday in Japan I stumbled across some photos of a place called Shirakawa-go on the internet and was so stunned by it's beauty that I vowed that I would visit one day.  Talking with some of my students, they advised me to combine that trip with a trip to Hida Takayama to take in it's Old World charm.  A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to do exactly that.

Takayama (or Hida Takayama as it is also known as) is located in the Japanese Alps slightly closer to the Japan Sea side of the main island of Honshu.  Due to it's elevation and location, it is a fairly isolated part of Japan and has developed it's own culture.  It is and area that is historically well know for it's carpentry.  It is said that carpenters from Takayama did a lot of the work on the Imperial Palace in Kyoto as well as a lot of the Temples in Kyoto and Nara.

I had a three day weekend coming up and decided that this was the time that I would finally visit those wonderful places.  I decided this time that I would use the bus rather than the train to travel to Takayama.  The bus ride was only about an hour longer than the train (5 hours rather than 4) and half the price of the train, so it wasn't that difficult a decision to make.  The bus wasn't full so I had plenty of space so I got out my Google Nexus (thanks Dan) put some headphones on and settled down to watch a movie while the bus made its was toward the mountains.

As the bus approached the mountains I put the tablet away as I always love the mountain views.  One day, I would love to stop in some of these mountain towns and just wander around for a day.

The bus made a stop at a roadside stop

where I filled up on refreshments

before we continued on further into the mountains.  More and more snow started appearing on the ground outside, and those of you who know me or read this blog regularly know that I love snow!

I will never, ever get sick of the mountains.  Every time I go through these mountains, I am amazed by the incredible beauty of the scenery.  Coming from a very flat place, I find mountain scenery fantastically picturesque.

We made our last roadside stop and we were now well and truly in snow country.

A short while later we arrived in Takayama.  My hotel (Country Hotel Takayama) was perfectly located just across the street from the bus and train station.

It was a simple standard business hotel.  The room was not large, but all I needed was somewhere to sleep and the price was really good at 5,000 yen per night.  Added to that was the fact that the staff were really friendly and helpful and spoke English to me whenever I came to the desk.

Settled in to my room I decided that it was time for dinner.  The Hida Takayama area is quite well known for it's beef, know as Hida gyu (Hida beef) locals (and a whole lot of other Japanese people too!) will tell you that Hida beef is much better than the more well know Wagyu and Kobe beef.  I decided that it was time to find out for myself.  I had researched a few restaurants a little before going to Takayama and on TripAdvisor, by far the highest rated Hida beef restaurant was Maruaki. 

It was obviously my destiny to eat at Maruaki because it was located less than 5 minute on foot from my hotel.  I sat down and took a look at the menu (which is written in both Japanese and English).

I ordered the cheaper of the two selections and pretty soon it was brought to my table.

The marbling of the fat in the meat was incredible!

While it may not be the healthiest of meats, the fat does make for amazing tasting beef!!

The staff lit the little barbecue in the middle of my table and left me to cook the beef to my own liking.

I usually eat my beef well done, but this time I cooked pieces medium-rare, medium and well done and each way, the taste was stunningly juicy and delicious.  I am happy I was dining alone and that the restaurant was not busy as I would have embarrassed myself with the noises, the moans of beefy pleasure, that I was making!!

I left the restaurant still buzzing in my beefy high and wandered back in the general direction of the hotel taking in the sights along the way.  I took photos of a couple of things I saw along the way as I wanted to make sure that I wasn't having beef-induced hallucinationsI wasn't......

The second one called "Sarubobo" and is traditionally made by grandmothers for their grandchildren to protect them from bad luck and for their daughters for good luck in marriage and childbirth.  The first one?................Well, I guess cats love fish right?

It was now about 9:30 on a Friday night and the streets were relatively empty.

I found a bar called "Junk"

and wandered in for a beer.

The staff were friendly and spoke some English so were able to have a chat and I tried a little of my very poor Japanese.  One of the staff told me that Tokyo was getting a lot of snow that night.  I thought it was pretty funny as I had come to Takayama to see some snow and now Tokyo was getting a big dump of snow!

I walked back to the hotel and went to sleep completely unaware of what I would wake up to the next day!!

Takayama had not disappointed so far and I was really looking forward to Shirakawa-go the next day.

Thanks for reading part one.  I will try and get part two finished in a few days.


  1. Konnichiwa Jason,looking forward to part 2.Never got to Takayama,had it on my list...maybe"mata kondo".By all accounts,Takayama is well worth a visit.However,did spend a half day at Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go,during a rice festival in Oct.The weather was perfect and ate some udon with ingredients from the surrounding mountains and it was oishii!.It is not far from the main street,by the river.This was one of favourite destinations.Like yourself.I enjoy the mountain scenery.I remember passing a holiday/cabin park amongst the trees on the left hand side of the road,not far from Ogimachi and thought it would be a great place to stay.No doubt you will find Ogimachi as interesting as I did and perhaps,you may even find this dining place I mentioned and try some of the noodle there.Ki wo tsukete,noel.

    1. Hi Noel,
      yes, I had not considered going to Takayama until one of my students suggested that I would probably like it and when I saw pictures, I agreed wholeheartedly with them.
      As for Shirakawa-go, I can imagine it would be also quite beautiful in summer, lush and green and sitting by that river would be very peaceful.
      Take care,