Hida Takayama

After Tokyo we traveled to Takayama, a small city in the Japanese Alps, also called Hida Takayama after the region where it is located. In picking this place, I was motivated by the desire to spend part of the vacation where it wasn’t quite so hot. In this, I was misguided. Takayama does have cold and snowy winters, but the summers are almost as hot as those in Tokyo.



Fortunately, there were other good reasons to visit Takayama. It’s a historic town surrounded by forested hills. Here’s a view from a bridge over the Miyagawa River.


And another view looking in the opposite direction. Takayama was a town poor in agriculture but rich in timber. Most taxes were paid in rice before the modern era, but Takayama paid the central government with timber and the labor of local carpenters. The carpenters became famous for their skill as they helped construct palaces, temples, and public buildings in the capital.


Here’s a typical street in the more modern part of Takayama.


Even in a small city, there is no open space for gardens in front of any of the buildings. People still do garden, though, in small containers lined up along the street. Here someone is growing beans, cherry tomatoes, peppers, and various herbs.


Colorful hanging pots are combined with tomato vines. Morning Glory vines are also a favorite.


Here’s some Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra) with a small shrib – Viburnum?


People use long dippers to moisten their pots from the water running down the city gutters.


Parts of Takayama contain merchants homes and other wooden buildings dating back three or four hundred years.


Many of these are open to the public, and some have been converted to museums.

dsc_0575There are many shrines in Takayama, but we visited one called Sakuramaya Hachimangu. The history of this shrine is supposed to date back about 1,500 years, to a story that sounds a bit like a Japanese version of St. George and the dragon.


The towering conifers that surround this shrine were, to me, it’s most outstanding feature.


The buildings themselves had a most solemn and mysterious ambiance.


The trees seem to be watching over the buildings like benevolent spirits.


There are several smaller sub-shrines surrounding the main building.


There’s an exhibition hall adjacent to the Sakuramaya Hachimangu that is dedicated to the parade floats used in Takayama’s spring and autumn festivals. The festivals date back to the 1600s. I was not at first enthusiastic about visiting a hall dedicated to parade floats. But then, these are not just any floats.


These are floats that can weigh several tons and are topped with multiple giant marionettes, some of whom play musical instruments.

At festival time, the floats are hauled outside and taken through the streets of the town. Here’s a short video from the festival. 


They are covered with intricate carvings.


The floats are kept behind glass in a temperature-controlled area. However, you can examine them at ground level, and then walk up an ascending hallway that lets you view the floats from above.

Hida Takayama is certainly calmer and less overwhelming than Tokyo. We did enjoy our visit, even if it didn’t have the cool weather we craved.

27 Comments on “Hida Takayama”

  1. The shrine was set among the very tall pines in a way that felt like a Gothic cathedral, with the trees playing the role of the upward-sweeping columns. I was very frustrated not to be able to capture the essence of the space with my camera. The space was relatively small, and even with a wide-angle lens, I couldn’t get in what I wanted. Plus, I couldn’t capture the sense of an enclosed space, which was nevertheless open to the heavens. And of course, the fresh smell of the air escaped my camera.

  2. At first I thought this post was about Hagi where I stayed but that is south so its not the same place but looks so similar. I must do another Japan post soon as your post reminded me of the interesting none tourist things we saw, like the tightly packed pots in front of houses

  3. Americans sometimes label items that are 30 years old as vintage. If an item is 100 years old, it’s considered an antique. Japan takes “vintage” and “antique” to a new level.

    The floats are obviously pieces of art. And pardon me, but are those mannequins standing around the floats? If so, who do they represent?

    Hida Takayama appears pristine and uncluttered. Wonder what living there is like on a permanent basis? All very interesting.

  4. Very interesting post, and great photos Judy. I was fascinated with the pots of flowers, and vegetables outside houses, you just can’t keep a good gardener down…hardly any space, and water from gutters and look at the result! I also loved the conifers almost guarding the temples. I do love the way blogs give such an individual account of the country or city, many thanks.

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