2 DAYS TAKAYAMA & SHIRAKAWA-GO, JAPAN
高山 / 白川郷
Bespokcracy may be a huge fan of modernist Japanese architecture but the charm of its more traditional counterpart is hard to resist too as will be apparent in this short itinerary that saw one of our younger clients taking a bucolic detour from her ultra-urban Tokyo stay. Venturing to the northwest into the Gifu prefecture beyond the Nagano mountains, she explored two towns famous for their well-preserved Edo-period architecture, Takayama and Shirakawa-go. The latter is even a UNESCO heritage site since 1995. If time permits and the more traditional visage of Japan appeals to you, then this detour is one you want to embark upon.
Getting around: The fastest way is to take the train, the JR Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagoya (100-120 minutes, several trains per hour) and transfer to the JR Hida limited express train to Takayama (140 minutes, one train per hour). About 4.5 hours, around 14,000 yen for a OW ticket.
The most direct route from Tokyo is to take the Nohi Bus which departs from Keio Highway Bus Terminal, outside Shinjuku Station's West Exit. Reservations are required. About 5.5 hours, 12,040 yen for a RT ticket.
Shirakawa-go is another hour away from Takayawa on the Nohi bus. About 50 min, 4420 yen for a RT ticket. Prices all as of May 2015.
What cannot be missed 1: Old Town
Welcome to the time warp back into the Edo period (1600 - 1868) where the old town is as it was. Walk, especially, down Sannomachi Street where the architecturally-intact shops, coffee houses and sake breweries are still in business, yes, since the Edo period. Some residential homes are even open to the public to give you a glimpse of how people lived and worked in the past so try your luck. Its architectural importance and cultural significance was given official endorsement from the government of Japan. Need you more convincing that this is a true cultural experience not to be missed?
What cannot be missed 2: Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan
The Takayama Festival, which traces its roots back to the 16th/17th century, is one of Japan's top 3 festivals, and features some big-ass ornate floats called yatai which you can catch either on the streets during the 2 annual editions of the festivals (in spring and autumn respectively) or in this museum-of-sorts where 4 out of the 11 floats are featured. Marvel at the painfully elaborate carvings of wood, metal and lacquer and learn about the history and the makings behind these works of wonder. It is on the northern end of Takayama's old town, a 20-25 minute walk from Takayama Station.
Where to stay: Tanabe Ryokan
A mom-and-pop establishment serving up the most authentic brand of Japanese hospitality, this veteran institution has been around for awhile for good reason. And it has its own private hot spring to boot. Just stay here already.
58 Aioityo | +81 577 320 529 | website | fr 15,300 yen per person for a small-sized room
What cannot be missed: Ogimachi
This UNSECO world heritage site is the largest village and raison d'être of tourist Shirakawa-go. This is possibly the largest collection in a single village of gassho-zukuri farmhouses (well over 100 of them and entirely well-preserved at that). The gassho-zukuri or the “prayer-hands construction" style, en mode almost 250 years ago in Japan, is characterized by a thatched and steeply slanting roof resembling two hands joined in prayer. This construction style allows the house to withstand the weight of heavy snowfall in winter and Bespokcracy recommends visiting then because for several weekends in January and February, the farmhouses are illuminated by floodlights to create a truly magical winter wonderland.
Where to stay: Hisamatsu Minshuku
For the ultimate authentic Edo-living experience, stay at one of these minshukus where you can experience traditional living in the truest sense in a house that is over 2 centuries old. Be prepared for thin walls and communal toilets though but it is worth every penny when everyone gathers around the old Irori hearth for breakfast and dinner. This should complete your rural Japanese experience very nicely.
585 Ogimachi | website
For a personalized trip to Takayama/Shirakawa-go and Japan, please contact us via our enquiry form.