Hida Takayama heart of Gifu Travel Guide

Hida Takayama is the heart of mountainous Gifu Prefecture, offering an amazing amount of natural and cultural attractions, fantastic festivals, and fun activities, all packed into a relatively small, easily accessible area.

Not many cities can boast a backdrop as spectacular as Hida Takayama’s © Takayama City

Maybe first time visitors to Japan want to rush around a handfull of mega attractions like Kyoto, Mt Fuji and Tokyo. But anyone who wants a more diverse, fascinating Japanese holiday experience will do well to travel at a slower pace and spend sufficient time to get to know areas like Hida Takayama in depth.

As an absolute minimum, 2 or 3 nights here is our recommendation, but you won’t be bored making that 4 or 5 or more!

If you like peaceful and historic, than Hide Furukawa is the perfect choice, or if you prefer more urban activity than Takayama will float your boat. It’s only a 15 minute scenic train ride between the two anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

How cool is this? MTB rail with ‘Grattan Go!’ near Hida Furukawa © Grattan Go!

Hida Furukawa historic town

From the moment we stepped off the train we felt this historic town was something special. Central Furukawa’s historic district offers several blocks of low rise traditional buildings with parks, temples, shrines, white-walled warehouses, shops, restaurants and sake breweries scattered seemingly at random among them.

Enkouji Temple gate, Hida Furukawa
Enkouji Temple, Hida Furukawa © Carmen Price

The Seta-gawa stone lined canal flows among them. It’s clear waters are stocked with colourful koi carp for April to November.

Seta-gawa Canal view, Hida Furukawa
Streetscape along the Seta-gawa Canal, Hide Furukawa © Owain Price

Best day of the year, or rather best night, to see the canal is January 15th for the magical Santera Mairi “visit 3 temples” event when people rent kimonos and come and light candles along the canal and visit the temples.

Santera Mairi candles along the Seta-gawa Canal, hida Furukawa
Candles along the canal, Santera Mairi, January 15th © Hida City

Another festival not to be missed if you can get here on the 4th Saturday in September is the Fox Wedding Festival, or Kitsune-bi Matsuri. The kids will love this one – paint some foxy whiskers on and join the fun!

Married at first sight .. or meet the Foxes © Visit Hida

You can stay in the heart of historic Hide Furukawa. Innovative local company Iori Stay have been renovating deserted houses into deluxe traditional town houses (like in much of Japan, a declining population has left empty houses and farms – rather than pay the taxes on them some who inherit them just abandon them, or the owners leave no descendents). We stayed in one of theri properties just across the road from the Honkouji Temple, waking to the sound of the temple gong – which reminded me of the village church bells of my childhood.

Iori Stay’s townhouses offer well equipped kitchens, so you can self-cater, but a delicious breakfast is delivered from a nearby café.

The company also run local tours and courses like including cycling, sake tasting, cooking and Japanese language classes through their Hidaiiyo tour company.

Iori Stay accommodation, Hida Furukawa
Iori Stay offer deluxe townhouses in the heart of the old district – wake to the sound of a temple gong! © Carmen Price

Fortified by breakfast we were ready to check out more sights around town. If you can’t be here for the famous festivals (see below) then at least you can check out some of the floats at the Hida Furukawa Festival Exhibition Hall (open daily except over New Year).

The Hida Crafts Museum shows off the skills of traditional Japanese nail-free joinery. Centuries ago they had worked out how to design earthquake proof houses, and with inter-active displays you can see how they did it (open daily except over New Year).

Hida Furukawa Festival floats
If you can’t make the Hida Furukawa Festival in April check out some floats at the museum © Hida City

By now you will be working up a thirst, so why not drop into a Sake brewery? Watanabe offers their award-winning “Komachi-Zakura”. We sampled several with local expert William Polensky, who’s company Hida Tours does sake tasting and other tours around Gifu.

Kampai! Local William Polensky runs sake stasting tours in the Hida Region © Owain Price

Come lunchtime you are spoilt for choice with plenty of the local specialty, Hida beef (similar to wagy, but better according to the locals), soba, izakaya, and cafes, the latter including the Hineno Art Museum & Cafe. Or hop on the train to Takayama for more choice.

Hida Furukawa outdoors

The surrounding farm land and mountainous countryside offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy rural and wild Japan. Renting a bike around Hida Furukawa is one simple one.

Gattan Go MTB Rail expeirence, Hida Takayama
Rail bikes – mountain bikes converted to power rail cars – are a unique way to see the gorgeous countryside © Gattan Go

Or for something a little funkier, check out the ‘Gattan Go!’ rail mountain bikes – with options for the fit, the unfit (electric power!) and families. The company claim to have invented the idea of pedal-powered rail like this along a scenic disused line with a choice of the easier Town Route or more spectacular Canyon Route. The tours run at set times with a limited number of the bikes allowed first up then down the line again. If you are not self-driving Nouhi Bus have a tour that starts at Takeyama Station with a pick-up at Hida Furukawa from April to November, details on the link.

Another active option in the Hida Takayama area are the alpine view hiking routes at Hida Nagareha which is a ski area in winter. There are two main walking circuits – the Alpine View Mysterious Forest Course, 5km, a bit over an hour for most people, and the longer Sato Yama Alpine Flower Course, 8.8km, 2 – 3 hours. They overlap for a stretch, so you can do one big circuit. Beautiful fresh forests, a castle ruin, several shrines, the alpine flowers, and spectacular views to the 3000m peaks of the Northern Alps are highlights.

Best of all, the Nagareha Onsen awaits to soothe your aching legs from the day’s exertions. It’s only 30 minutes drive or 35 minutes on the Nohi Bus from Fukurawa Station.

Hida Nagareha Alpine View Mysterious Forest walking course
Alpine View Mysterious Forest walking trail © Hida City

Hida Takayama City top attractions

Hida Takayama is the largest city in the area, with lots of accommodation, shopping and attractions and excellent transport links. It’s a natural choice as a hub to enjoy the area from – you can easily day trip to major attractions like Shirakawa-go or the Shinhotaka Ropeway.

Takayama boasts lots of restaurants serving the famous Hida Beef, best served sizzling. Is it better than wagyu? You decide. Or go big on buckwheat with local soba. Or find oddities like great Italian cooked by the owner/chef right in front of you.

Or just grab a snack like charcoal grilled rice balls from a stall at the Miyagawa Morning Market along the river bank. There is so much choice, the Japanese love to travel to eat.

And drink! There are 7 sake breweries in Takayama and they all get together for the brewery-hopping NONBEI Festival which runs from the last week in January to the end of February.

Floats crossing the Nakabashi Bridge during the Takayama Spring Festival
Floats crossing the Nakabashi Bridge during the Takayama Spring Festival © Hida Takayama

Did we say festivals? The Takayama Spring Festival (Sanno Matsuri) and Takayama Autumn Festival (Hachiman Matsuri) are rated among Japan’s 3 most beautiful festivals.

On April 14th and 15th every year 12 fantastically decorated floats – including 3 with marionette puppet displays – are hauled out and dragged across the Nakabashi bridge. The Spring Festival is for the southern side of Takayama, for their Hie Jinja Shrine, and takes place along the southern part of Yasugawa Street.

On October the 9th and 10th it’s the turn of the northern side of town to celebrate at their Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine, another 11 floats featuring superbly detailed lacquer and embroidery that showcase the crafts skills of Hida’s master artisans of the Edo era.

Again, if you can’t make the festival dates at least you can appreciate the floats at the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall the rest of the year. Exhibits include the floats (yatai), portable shrines (miyoshi) and festival costumes (kamishimo).

An ultra precise 1/10 scalemodel of the Nikko Togshogu Shrine is on display at Sakurayama Nikkoukan, featuring 28 buildings including the famous 5 storey pagoda. It took 33 carpenters 15 years to complete!

Dekonaru-za Perfroming Arts Theatre taiko drumming show Hida Takayama
Don’t miss Dekonaru-za Perrforming Arts Theatre in the centre of Takayama with shows daily © Owain Price

Another must do/see experience in Hida Takayama is the amazing Dekonaru-za Performing Arts Theatre. Fantastic taiko drumming, traditional dances and folklore theatre, and participatory activities the audience can join in makes for a thrilling experience.

The energy, skills and grace of the performers is a delight, not to mention the strength and sheer physicality on display in their high energy taiko sessions.

Nostalgic for the 50w and 60s? So are the Japanese, and the Hida Takayama Retro Museum features plenty of fascinating retro stuff plus (super popular with local visitors!) the chance to eat an Elementary School lunch just like back in the day. We skip that, but it’s fun. The Tokayama Showa Museum celebrates the same Showa Era (the period of Emepror Hirohito’s rule to be precise, from 1926-1989, but it’s the post war economic miracle times that are the main inspiration).

More classic in it’s inspiration and content is the Hida Takayama Museum of Art, with classic glass craft works and art nouveau.

If you don’t have time (you should really make time!) to visit Shirakawa-go village than at least check out Hida Folk Village, which features 4 of the famous ‘gassho’ style steep thatch roof houses that have been relocated and rebuilt here along with other displays of traditional village life. It’s only 15 minutes drive from Takayama.

4 authentic ‘gassho’ thatch roof houses have been relocated at Hida Folk Village © Takayama City

There are plenty of attractions to encounter on foot in and around town. The Higashiyama Walking Course is a 5.5km trail from Higashiyama to Shiroyama Park passing several temples and shrines along the way. In autumn the colours are especially beautiful.

Take the Higashiyama Walking Course to discover historic Takayama © Takayama City

The historic street, Furimachinami, is lined with souvenir and craft stores, sake breweries, coffee shops and restaurants. Matcha (green tea) ice cream is something not be missed.

Coffee time on Furimachinami street offers modern tastes like matcha soft serve green tea ice cream! © Carmen Price

Getting to Hida Takayama

By rail Takayama is 2 hours 20 minutes from Nagoya or 90 minutes from Toyama on the Wide View Hida Limited Express on the scenic JR Takayama Line.

Hida Furukawa is 15 minutes closer towards Toyama, and is also Limited Express stop.

By bus Takayama is 2 hours 45 minutes from Nagoya, and 2 hours 30 minutes from Matsumoto in Nagano. There are express bus connections to major cities from the terminal at Takayama Station, and lots of day trip tour packages to attractions like Shirakawa-go or Shinhotaka Ropeway. There are options to continue on to your next destination via these also, which makes Hida Takayama even more convenient as hub.

For timetables and booking check Nouhi Bus

Shops along Furimachinami Street Hida Takayama
Sop till you drop along Historic Street © Carmen Price

Hida Takayama useful links/more info

There are excellent tourist offices at the JR Stations in Hida Furukawa and Takayama City.

Hide Furukawa Tourism English info site here

Takayama City Tourism English info site here

Official Gifu Prefecture tourism site

Accommodation options in Hida Takayama

Huge selection from hotels to ryokan and private houses – just enter your target dates for the latest deals on booking.com

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