att.JAPAN Issue 61, Autumn/2012
Visitors to Hida Takayama experience a unique Japanese culture different from that of Kyoto. The castle town, built by the Kanamori clan about 400 years ago, had two areas: the elevated area surrounding the castle with residences for the samurai class and the lower area for the common townsfolk. Three streets including Kamimachi and Shimomachi areas developed as a merchant town at the center of the castle town and are now called “Furui Machinami”(old town). The quaint area has a distinctive atmosphere with its canals flowing by houses with latticed bay windows, sakabayashi (a big ball made of cedar needles) hanging outside the front entrances of the sake breweries, massive doors leading to old-style town houses, and traditional restaurants. From the old town area, a 10-minute walk takes you to the elevated area of Higashiyama Teramachi with many temples that were built according to the temples in Higashiyama, Kyoto. The area is perfect for taking a stroll in the quiet, relaxing atmosphere.
Takayama Jin-ya was originally one of the mansions of the Kanamori clan; however, after the Tokugawa Government brought Hida under its direct control, it served as an office for the local governors dispatched from Edo (now Tokyo). There is a farmer’s market every morning in front of the front gate.
The modern-appearance Hida Takayama Museum of Art standing in harmony with its natural surrounding looks like a work of art itself. It includes a display of a superb world-class glass collection. Hida beef curry at the café is also recommended.
The most popular local delicacy in Gifu is Hida beef. The marbled beef produced in the natural and cool climate in the Hida area has the perfect amount of fat with a delicate texture and is a favorite of meat lovers. Enjoy one of the simple but delicious dishes such as steak, yakiniku, and shabu-shabu. Ayu (sweetfish) from the Nagara River is another local delicacy. Hoba-miso, a staple of the breakfast menus at hotels in Hida, is Hida’s local specialty. Miso paste together with other ingredients is roasted on hoba (magnolia leaf), which is said to have antiseptic properties, creating a mouth-watering aroma. It goes really well with rice, so be careful not to eat too much!
Gifu Prefecture has more than 50 local sake breweries. With the pure water from the Hida mountain range and cool winters, Takayama is especially suitable for sake brewing and growing high-quality rice. Local sake breweries start selling their new sake from mid-January. When you see a sakabayashi, a large cedar ball, hung out under the eaves of a sake brewery, it means the new sake is ready. Don’t hesitate to enter and ask to sample the latest brew. The Takayama Festival is held twice a year. The Spring Takayama Festival, aka the Sanno Festival, is held on April 14 and 15, and the Autumn Festival, aka the Hachiman Festival, is held on October 9 and 10. Gorgeously-decorated floats called yatai are pulled around the area.
From Takayama on the Takayama Line, it takes about 20 minutes to get to Hida-Furukawa, another beautiful old castle town with colorful carp swimming in the channels running through the center. Hida-no-Takumi Bunka Kaikan (craft museum) was built with Hida’s local lumber by local carpenters using skills passed down through generations of Hida craftsmen of construction without using nails. Okuhida Onsen-go hot spring resort includes five hot springs that overlook the Northern Alps. Enjoy a relaxing time in the hot spring baths.