You might know that when I was in my 20s, I lived in Japan for a year. I used every cent I saved to travel everywhere I could while I lived there. So I’ve been incredibly lucky to have travelled all over Japan quite extensively. As such, I’m often asked where are my favourite places to visit. I figure telling people about Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, even possibly Nara is a little useless as anyone who has any knowledge of Japan knows about those areas. This post is about the other places, the places where the locals travel when they go on holidays – the places that should be on your list of places to visit.
The best time to visit anywhere in Japan is when there is a festival on. Held during Spring and Autumn each year, the Takayama Matsuri (festival) is ranked as one of the top three most beautiful festival in Japan. However, the great thing about Takayama is that it is just as amazing when there isn’t a festival.
In Takayama, it is almost like time has stopped. Sure you have some modern streets, but the way the mountains hug this pretty little town, with the river running through it – well it’s easy to imagine what Japan was like several hundred years ago.
Must see places in Takayama –
Hida no Sato 飛騨の里 an open air Japanese folk museum. This is the real ‘time has stopped’ experience as houses built in the Edo Period (1603-1867) were relocated here in 1971.
The Old Town area. The buildings here also date back to the Edo Period and many of them are museums. Such a beautiful place to walk around. Every morning there are markets here too. Well worth the early wake up time.
Takayama’s Temple Town. If you take the Higashiyama Walking Course 東山遊歩道, which is about 3.5km, you will pass by many temples and shrines as well as the ruins of Takayama’s Castle.
Takayama is also the place to try traditional Japanese Hida Chuka. A traditional noodle dish that is unique to this area.
Hida Furukawa 飛騨古川駅
I almost don’t want to tell you about this place because I’d rather nobody else knew about it. If you are going to go to Takayama, take the train a few stops further and visit this tiny, little town. I would stand by the statement that I think this is the prettiest town in Japan. Like Takayama, it has many buildings from the Edo Period. I fell in love with it when I walked down one of the cobblestone streets and noticed what I thought was a drain in front of the houses, with cute little stone bridges over them so people could get to their front door. But it wasn’t a drain, it was a tiny canal with clear water and koi swimming in it. Every year in April, this tiny town also has a festival. It is no where near as big as the festival in Takayama, but it doesn’t have the huge crowds either.
Kanazawa is another city lucky enough to have many traditional buildings intact, but that is not why I love this city. I love this city for two main reasons – the Kenrokuen Garden and Kanazawa Castle grounds. Guide books will tell you these combined gardens is one of the top three gardens in Japan. I will tell you it is the best garden in Japan. It is 11.4 hectares of traditional Japanese garden splendour. Take a picnic lunch because you won’t want to be leaving the grounds anytime soon.
Gifu is the capital of the prefecture with the same name. I love this city as it ticks many boxes – traditional businesses, beautiful castle, set on a gorgeous river, easy to navigate… I could go on. The city’s castle is actually a replica of Oda Nobunaga’s original castle. Oda Nobunaga was a 16th century daimyo (like a warlord) who was pivotal in the unification of Japan, but who was also infamous for his brutal methods. However, he wasn’t all about war – he was also a great supporter of the arts. The castle is quite a walk, all up hill, but it is worth it for the incredible views of the city. But hold tight to the castle walls at the top floor lookout, because it’s a long drop down!
If you have the time, make sure you wander around the streets of Gifu. There is an amazing amount of traditional shops, such as this traditional Japanese paper umbrella (Wagasa 和傘) craftsman. Wagasa are made from paper, bamboo and oil. But be careful, when you step into their shops and they take the time to show you how they make these incredible creations – it’s almost impossible to walk away without purchasing something that is not only incredibly beautiful but also entirely practical! Needless to say I have one on display in our home.
So get yourself over to Japan, but when you’re planning your itinerary, consider stopping at places other than the usual and travel like a local instead. Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto are great, but there are so may other equally amazing places, just a little off the beaten track.
This post was written as my entry in the Virgin Australia travel competition as part of the ProBlogger Event. Virgin Australia fly to both Tokyo and Osaka, from there you can catch connecting transport to these destinations.