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Tourist-Friendly Hida Takayama

Historic Town Boasts World Heritage Site, Natural Beauty

The town of Hida Takayama in Gifu Prefecture is renowned for its historic townscapes. Having flourished as a castle and merchant town beginning in the sixteenth century, Hida Takayama's 400-year-old commercial district and Buddhist temple remain to this day. Strolling through the town's streets, visitors become swept up by the feeling they have been transported back in time.


The old streets of Takayama. ©Takayama City

Stepping 400 Years Into the Past
Located roughly in the center of Japan, Hida Takayama is situated in a valley ringed by 3,000-meter-high mountains; wintertime brings plunging temperatures and heavy snowfalls. There are many forests in the surrounding area, which have long provided material for the area's thriving woodworking industry. The highly skilled craftsmen of Hida are said to have already been plying their trade when Nara, one of Japan's ancient capitals, was founded roughly 1,300 years ago.

Much historical architecture can be seen in the old merchants' district and castle town, and though the castle itself no longer stands, the old wooden buildings in these areas are of great cultural significance. One such structure, the Kusakabe Folk Museum, is a veritable showcase of wooden residential architecture and has been designated an important cultural property by the Japanese government.


Floats at the Takayama Festival. ©Takayama City

The Takayama Festival held in spring and fall is famous for being one of the three most spectacular in all of Japan and draws crowds of visitors. Said to have originated some time between 1585 and 1692, the highlight of this unique event is the magnificent floats pulled through the town's streets, stirring the hearts of spectators as they pass. The carvings on the floats and the mechanical dolls they carry serve to showcase Hida's woodworking craftsmanship.

In addition, the Hida Takayama vicinity offers hot springs, such as the secluded Oku Hida Hot Springs Village, and is dotted with ryokan (traditional Japanese-style inns) and health resorts. Tourists can also visit the neighboring Shirakawa Village, a UNESCO World Heritage site, known for its traditional houses with their steeply sloping thatched roofs.

A Tourist-Friendly Environment
Hida Takayama has several celebrated local dishes. One of these is hoba miso, made by cooking miso (fermented soybean paste), onions, and shiitake mushrooms on top of a large magnolia leaf. The simple flavor of the dish makes it a splendid complement to rice. Another local specialty, Hida beef, is of exceptional quality and flavor. Visitors have the choice of enjoying either Japanese or Western-style cuisine.


Hoba miso. ©Takayama City

The souvenirs available in the area include craftworks and furniture turned out with local Hida craftsmanship.

The village has long attracted tourists from overseas, and in recent years the number of such visitors has been on the rise. Hida Takayama received three stars in France's Michelin travel guide on Japan, which lists the village as a must-see destination. According to figures from the town's tourism bureau, in 2007 the number of visitors from abroad grew 23.4% over the previous year to roughly 132,000, demonstrating the region's high rate of growth in international tourism. Many of these visitors are from nearby Asian countries, but the number coming from as far away as Europe and Oceania is said to be rapidly increasing.

The village has sought to create an environment that overseas visitors can navigate comfortably on their own. Tourist signs display information in English, Chinese, and Korean, and there are also walking maps available in French, Spanish, and other languages. Other resources, including a website with information in 11 different languages, serve to provide a detailed guide for visitors from abroad.

Takayama City URL (http://www.hida.jp/) (December 2008)