In the center of Honshu – the largest island in the Japanese archipelago – West of Tokyo and the Kanto region and North of Kyoto and the Kansai region, lies the mountainous area known as the Japanese Alps: arguably one of the nation’s most beautiful stretches, with crystal clear rivers crisscrossing through cedar and pine forests, paths and mountain trails winding through rough and rocky highlands, and gorgeous vistas over the valleys and lands below in any direction you look. After having spent any amount of time in the urban environment of Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto, a few days of enjoying the onsens (hot springs), hiking through the mountains, and reliving Japan’s past in the well-preserved villages is the perfect prescription for rejuvenating a weary soul.
As a base of operations for my adventures through the region, I choose to set up camp in the (relatively) small town of Takayama, the focal point and logistical center of the Hida region of Japan. Famous for its series of merchant houses, preserved old town, and folk village history, it makes for a great destination in and of itself, let alone a jumping-off point for the nearby attractions.
Getting out of the center of town, Takayama offers a few different walking paths that snake in and out of a few dozen temples, shrines, and parks on the out-skirts of town. If you’re up for a bit of a stroll, it makes for a great afternoon (complete with some great photo opportunities):
A short bus ride from the center of Takayama lies the Unesco-preserved town of Shirakawa-go, a very small village famous for its classic Gassho-style houses, in which the thatched roofs resemble two hands in prayer. The steep angle of the houses was initially intended as a means of keeping snow from piling up on the roof (as the yearly snowfall in this part of Japan is well into the double-digits of feet), but they’ve come to be a symbol of a rural Japan of times past. Additionally, just after the rice harvest season in October, an annual festival is held here where the local sake, doburoku – an unfiltered sake brewed only here — is served to visitors from all over Japan.
The highlight of the entire Hida region (and perhaps that of the Japanese Alps) is the stretch of land known as Kamiko-chi, a large valley cut between a series of mountain peaks that offers great hiking up and down both sides of river running down the middle. The majority of the valley can be hiked in a single day — though it is pushing nearly 20 miles of trails, which my feet weren’t happy about – but it also acts as a stepping off point for mountain climbers looking to scale the peaks nearby. This is the perfect destination for any outdoors enthusiasts that happen to be visiting Japan (though, obviously, it is more of a summer retreat, unless you like a LOT of snow, that is):
Although a hike through Kamiko-chi will allow you ratchet up the elevation levels, if you really want to get to the top of Japan, there is the option to take the a Ropeway funicular up to the peak of a mountain in Shinhotaka. At the highest point, you hit altitudes of over 2,150 meters (or over 7,000 feet). The views are supposedly breath-taking, but unfortunately the day I chose to come, the clouds rolled in and obscured the views of most of the surrounding area (given that you’re literally in the clouds at this height):
And no trip to a new region would be complete without sampling the local fare. And in the Hida region around Takayama, the king of the cuisine is that of the local Hida beef. It is a strong, powerful flavor with a great deal of fat marbling, as well. The locals have gotten pretty creative with it, and have nearly (at least to my eyes) exhausted every use for it that you can find. Take a look:
That’s all I’ve got for now from Takayama and the Japanese Alps. Up next is the scenic, and historic, town of Kanazawa, famous for its gardens, sweet confections, and historic districts. Until then, cheers from Takayama!
I’ve gotten a few messages stating that the email notification for my last post – Sushi, Sake, and Soy Sauce: Consuming and Imbibing in Tokyo — didn’t work properly. I’ve been fiddling around with the options in WordPress, so I apologize for any inconveniences this technology mishap may have caused. If you’d still like to read it, you can access it via the “Archive of Past Posts”, “Posts by Month” (August), “Posts by Country” (Japan), or by merely clicking the link below. Thanks again!