Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Takayama and Shirakawa-go

Sake shop, Takayama. HDR processed using Photomatix
If you want something slightly different on a trip to Japan a good place to visit is Takayama and neighboring village of Shirakawa-go, in the Japanese Alps. 
Takayama is popular because it has a several very old (read: wooden houses) neighbourhoods that have changed little over the years - for the tourist this amounts to a day or two sauntering up and down the streets in the old part of the town. 
Sake shop, Takayama. HDR processed using Photomatix
Most of the houses are wooden, single-story buildings housing tourist shops, caf├ęs, and sake breweries. I'm not sure if the alcohol is actually brewed on the premises but you can certainly visit these establishments and try out, for free, some of their products. Obviously at some point in tasting preamble there's a requirement to buy a drink but, at 200yen for a square wooden cup of best sake, you can't complain. Or at least, after finishing the drink, you might forget to complain..
View across a carp pond into the Alps beyond. It is such an idyllic rural scene it's hard to image it is still in Japan. HDR Canon EOS 5D MkII.
In a completely different vein to the sake businesses in old Takayama, Shirakawa-go, just an hour's bus drive into the mountains, is one of the most memorable spots you can visit in Japan. Today it stands as a UNESCO world heritage site because of its unique thatched farm houses huddled together in the two communities of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, in the Japanese Alps. The style is described as gasso-ziguri and is certainly a symbol of rural Japan. Even better, you can stay in one of these places as a guest. Most have five or six tatami mat rooms for rent, with shared bathroom facilities. You get to eat together in a communal dining room that serves (predominantly) vegetarian food grown in the mountains around. The food is delicious and the visit highly memorable. The village is crisscrossed with small streams and fish ponds so, once the tourists have left on their buses around four o'clock each evening, you pretty much have the place to yourself - and the residents of course.

Meeting house in the Shirakawa-go museum. HDR, Canon EOS 5D MkII

Autumn comes early here because of the climate and its altitude.

Another place worth visiting is the (outside) cultural museum which includes a number of these steeply-angled thatched houses that have been preserved and relocated in a corner of the valley. This is a great idea because you not only get a good feeling of how it was to live in one of these communities years ago, but you can get great shots without being hampered by cars, bikes or telephone lines.

A bend in the river. Visitors have to cross a suspension bridge spanning this river to get into the village. It is surprisingly sharp considering the movement in the (concrete) bridge!


  1. Wow what you did with the old shoping street! I love it. Never seen it like that.
    May i use these photos on our HidaTakayama facebook page?
    I have already posted a link to your post so Takayama fans can check it out.
    Thank you for promoting Takayama.
    Look for us on FB.

  2. No problem with your using these pics...