Takayama – “Shitamachi”

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Takayama’s preserved old town, “shitamachi” dates back from the Edo Period [1600 – 1860]. Here, in its crowning days, many wealthy merchants lived here. Some of these homes are now opened to public. The most popular streets are in the south – Sannomachi, Ninomachi, Ichinomachi and Sanmachi. Takayama is also renowned for its high quality sake. Several breweries can be found around this old town. They are easily identified with barrels outside their premises and with a huge cedar ball hung above the door. The smell is also a good give-away. At one, I sampled a few. Traditionally, each serving comes in a small wooden box. Now, glasses are used. I loved the sweet plum sake.

Throngs of people walked in these streets looking through museums, cafes, heritage homes, art and craft shops, and sake breweries amongst others. It is lovely to see ‘old’ Japan as most images of Japan are urbanised areas like neon lit Tokyo and Osaka. During the Edo Period, Takayama was the centre of high quality timber production. This preserved old town is fully made from timber. It has appeal and good feeling as we walked down the streets. Although crowded, it was easy to navigate through. Running water gushed through stone canals that ran parallel to the street and along the houses. Potted plants and climbing purple wisteria flowers add further appeal to this charming place.

Although touristy, there are places where we could chill out, get some respite from the crowds like today. One such street is off the red Nakabashi Bridge. This street is planted with lovely cherry and willow trees that overlooked the slow flowing Miyagawa River. Small eateries and local handicraft shops are tucked away in this narrow leafy street. There were hardly any tourists here. Wandering these back streets is best done by walking which allowed an intimate experience with the old town. However, another mode of transport popular here is by using a rickshaw. Men and women dressed in black and wide hats hand pulled rickshaws through the historic streets. However, we did not try them.

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Our stomach was rumbling. On a corner of a busy street, an elderly unassuming woman sold “mitarashii mochi dago”, rice ball on a stick spread with soy sauce. It just fills your stomach. One of the rewards of walking is trying out various foods along the way. There is always something to discover. Ramen was the order for lunch. I passed. The heat escalated and temperatures increased. It was time to retire for the afternoon. Not for me though. Sweet “mochi” waits.

“we were all tired after a huge day……slept soundly on our futon beds on the tatami floors” – Navindd

After a long day’s walk in this hot and humid weather, it was nice to just to sit in a modern art – deco restaurant for dinner. There are many along the main roads. Nearly all specialized in Hida Beef (wagyu) dishes – the signature dish of Takayama. We sipped “macha” tea to drown these lovely dishes. Takayama is certainly not vegetarian friendly although available.

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