Located in Gifu Prefecture, and surrounded by some of Japan’s richest natural areas just below the famous Northern Alps, Takayama is some what isolated and distant. This isolation allowed the city to developed its own distinct culture that combines that of nearby Edo and Kyoto’s into a new and interesting way.
Takayama has a very traditional feel to it, and offers a wide variety of onsen hotels and guesthouses, local restaurants whose dishes are distinctly local; featuring traditional regional and local recipes made with local ingredients. While visiting you can see many historic buildings, or shop for local handcrafted arts, etc.
One thing not to miss is Shirakawago, a World Heritage Site located near Takayama. Shirakawago Village is famous for traditional houses called A Gasshō-zukuri style of traditional minka homes. Some of these traditional homes are hundreds of years old. This is especially impressive when you consider that the distinctive shape of the dwellings was developed over time to withstand the substantial weight of the heavy snow falls that all but lock in the village in winter; how many tons of snow has a 250 year old home had to bear? The roof of these homes are said to resemble hands clasped in prayer. From Takayama, day trips to Shirakawago to see its main attraction, Ogimachi, are popular, but according to Japan Guide, the best way to experience the town is to stay overnight at one of the farmhouses, many of which now serve as minshuku, or guest houses.
One of my favorite cities in Japan, Takayama is particularly famous in the spring because the cherry blossoms really enhance the gorgeous old houses and small cobbled streets. You really need to book ahead if you are planning to travel around the busy times. A couple of friends however rolled up and were able to make themselves understood and were able to stay at the beautiful youth hostel housed in a temple, at very little notice last Obon. Website (Japanese only, but has map)If you’re wanting to stay in a Japanese guest house (anywhere, not just in Takayama), you might find this link useful: www.japaneseguesthouses.com
It takes a little more than two hours on the train from Nagoya, the nearest Major city, and about the same by car. It’s certainly a very beautiful trip as well. From Takayama, there are endless possibilities for hot springs, most featuring outdoor baths that look up into the mountains.