It was a long ride to Takayama: a couple of hours west to Nagoya by Shinkansen or bullet train, then a couple more on an express. The train headed north into Gifu prefecture to what is known as the Japanese Alps, following the Hida river in a spectacular stretch, at first along a rock canyon. Deep and narrow, the pale beige rock along its sides reflected in the dark slow-moving current, creating the illusion of even deeper walls. The winding river was spanned at intervals with small, gracefully arched bridges and some plain metal ones—one red, now white, then blue, red or white again. Tunnel after tunnel covered the road; you never knew what side the river would be on when you emerged from the darkness.

Shinkansen bullet train

I love morning markets! There’s a sense of local life in the air. I walked to a different one each morning. Among the vegetable stalls were bagged cut veggies, some pickled, others processed by hand in some way, and the vendors provided small bowls or cups with tasters. I bought a bag of seafood spices from a woman who mixed them from piles at her stall. Handcrafted goods included odd stuffed red dolls with no face (a mascot of the area), balls of twisted wood which I discovered were cat toys, and pretty little bags containing six little beanbag balls each. I pointed to the beanbag kit and asked two women, “Nan da ke?” (What is it?) They said something in Japanese and I’m sure I gave them a blank look. Then one grabbed a couple and started juggling them, shouting “Child toy!”

pet toys and gourds
mixing spices
gourd faces

The old wooden houses and shops in Takayama’s historic section came alive in early morning as the shop owners came out to set up their displays. The area is known for its small sake breweries that offer free tasters and bottles for sale. In the evening, I had a few drinks wandering the streets and bought a bottle to bring back to Tokyo. The quiet streets were a bit mysterious at night, especially if you imagine the electric lights replaced by gas or flame, and dirt or gravel instead of asphalt on the streets. You could be transported back centuries.

sake bottles
sake container

I stayed at a temple, still functioning, but now also in use as a hostel with simple tatami rooms. Across the street was a small café, perfect for breakfast. When I came back years later, with my son, the first morning we came in, the staff behind the counter looked at us suspiciously. We were foreigners, and when my son is off work, he lets his beard grow, so it’s hard to tell how old he is. I introduced us in my simple Japanese, saying we were staying at the temple and this is my son. What a welcome we received each morning! They were happy to host us, knowing we were a family.

Zenkoji temple
temple sign
clothed gods

A former-American Buddhist monk, surprisingly a transplant from Colorado, recommended a local style restaurant in one of the old houses for dinner. I had an assortment of delicious, wild mountain plants one night with a warm bottle of local sake. It was so good, I went back the next and had meat, vegetables and tofu on a leaf with miso bean paste over a little grill set up at my table for me to tend.

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Published by rkrontheroad

Writer, photographer, traveler

57 thoughts on “Takayama

  1. I’ve not heard of Takayama, but it looks to be a quieter place and a great getaway from the big city! Shopping around with a language barrier can be challenging, but there’s nothing that miming and facial expressions can’t succeed in doing! Those gourd faces are really cute, too. Glad you had a good time exploring the local scene!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s on the way to a destination I’ll post next time. I did study some Japanese while I lived there, enough to initiate conversations, but found that most people had much better English and welcomed the opportunity to practice it!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Japan is truly one of the great travel experiences! I hope to go back one day and see more of it. Takayama looks lovely, quaint and quiet. Local markets are wonderful places to roam around and get to know the food scene and interact a bit with locals. Asian markets certainly don’t disappoint.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and as always, your thoughtful comment, Leighton! It was good to get out of the Tokyo metropolis when possible. This town was an unexpected pleasant village on the way to another stop (next post).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The photos of the market place are stunning. I love the one with the lady sitting at the table and the one with the bikes. Also, that is so cool that you and your so get to travel together. I tell them to travel whenever and where ever they can and learn about different cultures.

    Have a lovely evening and take care.


    Liked by 1 person

  4. The bullet trains in Japan are truly amazing. The morning market sounds interesting and I loved looking through your pictures of all the various goodies that are for sale. I bet my cat would love those balls of twisted wood. They also look like they would make nice filler within a vase. Thanks for sharing. Linda

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did buy one of those cat balls because they were so unusual, and got a cat from the local shelter a few years later. There were small pieces of wood inside that knocked around. She loved to play with them until she got all those pieces out.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comment. Living in Japan, and earlier in Europe, it was so easy not to have a car. The trains afford a unique way to view the landscape and take a different view than highways. I enjoy it as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I loved Takayama – I think probably my favourite place of those we visited in Japan! The vibrancy of the markets, the sense of history in those old wooden houses, the shrines, the fresh mountain air, the delicious Hida beef, the sake 😀 A wonderful small town, I would love to go back!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad to bring back those memories for you! It was a surprising treat and a favorite of mine as well, although not originally chosen as a destination (on the way to the place I’ll feature next time).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What a wonderful stroll through the morning market – so many interesting things to look at. How cute are the little faces on the pumpkins (is it pumpkins?) ☺️. And those sake bottles would be great souvenirs to bring back home. Great post and lovely pictures Ruth!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Corna! The faces are on gourds, aren’t they sweet? I was tempted to buy one of those sake bottles as well, but not only were they a bit expensive, but quite heavy. I have a few smaller sets though – one I bought, and two that were gifts from Japanese friends when I left the country. ☺

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I enjoyed the variety of photos helping to tell your story, Ruth, especially the contract between bullet train or coffee shop to local market, people, and wares. Was the experience of the bullet trains as clean and inviting as they look on the outside? I’ve seen pictures where they’re so packed an attendant has to push on people’s backs to help cram them in. Your street views almost bring to mind the one-street towns of the American West. Surprised the look of the buildings is somewhat similar. Finally, “Takayama” brought back the memory (and last name) of a great guy I used to work with when I was an architect in California. He had the typically serious demeanor of the Japanese, but as you got to know him you realized there was a wonderfully dry sense of humor underneath. Perhaps his ancestors had something to do with the name of this town.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The commuter trains are the crowded ones, especially in and out of Tokyo proper – I’ve been pushed many times by those white-gloved attendants to cram onto the train, standing in a crush, my face smooshed against some suit. The bullet trains, though, are not like that. They are a bit expensive and you have a reserved seat, worth the expense and comfort and speed. The character of your friend is a common description to me, Dave. I’ve made many Japanese friends, and that dry sense of humor is charming.


  8. Oh how wonderful to be transported back to Japan! A lovely post Ruth that had me longing to return. The sake bottles are beautiful and I wish I’d bought one when I was there. That monkey on the bridge! What? Do you know any more about it? I think my fave photo has to be the lady at the market with prayer hands – such a sweet moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Alison! I had to look that one up: Apparently there are two sculptures, Tenagazo, Long-arms, and Ashinagazo, Long-legs (that I missed) on this bridge, characters in old Japanese folklore. They cooperate fishing together. Long-arms rides on Long-legs’ back. Long-legs wades into the river and Long-arms grabs all the fish. 😃

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I would love to take a ride on the bullet train. It is an interesting juxtaposition of very modern engineering with traditional markets. I subscribe to a couple of Youtube channels in Japan and Korea with simple videos about day to day life. It is almost alien to an American mentality but I find it so soothing. Lovely images.

    Liked by 1 person

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