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You may be surprised that more than 67% of Japanese land is covered with uninhabitable mountains.
You will witness this fact on the way to Takayama and Shirakawa-go through the windows of train or bus.
Takayama is a principal city of Hida district and it is also called “Hida* Takayama” in many guidebooks. Shirakawa-go refers to the Shirakawa villages. Both are in Gifu Prefecture, and in a middle of 2000m class mountains.
The center of Takayama city has been preserved as a castle and merchant town since the Edo period (1603~1868). It is famous for “Takayama Festival” known as one of the third beautiful festivals in Japan. The city has received three stars in the tourism section of "Voyager Pratique Japon," a guide book by French Michelin.
One of the charms of Takayama is the size as well as its beautiful streets.
The main part of Takayama city is concentrating within a 2km circle. Within good half an hour walk you can across most of the Old Town, which preserves narrow lanes of wooden buildings with lattice windows and roadside canals.
Folk craft shops catch the eyes of tourists with colorfully and carefully designed souvenirs along the lane. Scent of local food such as Gohei mochi and Mitarashi dango (both are rice cakes, one is salty and the other is sweet) makes people turn around and sake breweries invite to taste fresh brewed sake.
“A small Kyoto in Hida”, so Takayama is called. It is not as big as Kyoto, but commercial tourism has not yet reached into every corner, thankfully, so that genuinely local people are there to welcome you with all their heart. It is quite understandable that many tourists return there repeatedly after a glance of good old days of local Japan.
Map of Takayama is available in 7 languages and their website (http://www.hida.jp/) is written in 11languages (English, Traditional & Simplified Chinese, Korean, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Russian and Thai.)
Plus, many hotels provide multi-lingual information services.
Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO world heritage site, is famous for the pointed Kaya-buki roofed (thatched) houses and it takes 90min by bus or car from Takayama city.
This village and houses were highly acclaimed by German architect Bruno J. F. Taut who visited the area in 1935 and introduced these structures to the world through his literary works.
This unique architectural style developed to survive severe winter snowfalls and to provide for a large households' daily requirements. Harmonized into a magnificent mountain site, many of these historic houses offer Japanese style B & B ('Minshuku') where one can enjoy a rural atmosphere such as traditional 'tatami' mats, sleeping on 'futon', and tasty local dishes.
Besides enjoying the beautiful landscape, visitors can experience a Japanese farmers' daily life such as handmade buckwheat noodles, weaving, dyeing and pottery.
If you stay overnight, illumination of the village, especially in the snow, is magical, so do not miss it.
*Access to Takayama & Shirakawa-go
© 2009 Yumiko Kato
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