Tips for Takayama and Shirakawago

Takayama and the nearby Shirakawago are, in my opinion, one of the most impressive places to visit in Japan. Located in the northern part of Gifu Prefecture, the area is picturesque no matter the season. Spring for the many cherry blossoms, summer for the lush greens in more shades than can be imagined, autumn for the colourful leaves and winter of course for the incredible snow and the impressive (but slightly scary) icicles that hang off the sides of roofs. 

Here are a few tips as a result of the visits I have made to the area over the years.

  1. Visit Shirakawago and the Outdoor Museum. Accessible by bus from Takayama or hire car, this is a world heritage sight famous for the gassho zukuri houses that make up part of the working town. This is a lovely place to wander and some of the houses are accessible to explore for a small fee. The area can be very busy, if you have the luxury of timing your visit on a weekday, it will be a lot more peaceful. I found with young kids, the crowds in the main town were just too much on the weekend but the open air museum, just before you cross the bridge to get into the town from the bus stop/car parking area, was practically empty.  It was only Y600 per adult when we visited and turned out to be a lovely way to explore the houses. Mr 4 and Mr 1 had the freedom to explore at their own pace so it was relaxing and enjoyable for us all!
    Enjoying the open air museum at a leisurely pace
  2. Eat gohei-mochi. This is one of my favourite street foods in Japan which is really Mochi rice, spread with a soy, miso or sesame flavoured paste and grilled over coals. This is a food unique to the Gifu and Nagano regions so you will probably not see it elsewhere on your travels!
    Gohei-Mochi, oishii yo!
    Picture by digital_studio_japan, Flickr Creative Commons
  3. If finding a hotel is proving difficult, which is not a rare occurrence if you are visiting on the weekend and have budget restrictions, look a little further afield. We used airbnb and ended up staying with wonderful hosts in a huge, 60 year old house about 30 minutes from Takayama.
    Our airbnb room in Hida Furukawa
  4. Get up early. I know right, you are on holidays, but if you want to get out and see the markets or the main sightseeing streets in Takayama, the earlier you can pull yourself out of bed the less crowds you will have to battle.
    Huge apples and warm pudding make a satisfying breakfast at the Takayama morning markets
    Picture by Kimon Berlin, Flickr Creative Commons
  5. Transport The train trip from to Takayama itself from the Gifu or Nagoya direction is one of the most beautiful train rides I have ever been on, have your camera ready. If you are driving, and using an expressway, which I would recommend having tried both there are an impressive number of tunnels, including one that is 10.7km long! Most of the sights in Takayama are walkable although there are buses you can use if need be. Shirakawago can be reached by bus from Takayama, tours also go there from Kanazawa and Toyama if you are coming from the other direction. 
Most of all, enjoy your visit to this unique and beautiful place!
Photos without credits taken by Christie Abel

Travelling Firefly