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Discovering the heart of the Northern Japanese Alps

Discovering the heart of the Northern Japanese Alps

Owing to its gorgeously well-preserved traditional buildings dating back to some 400 years ago during the Edo Period (1603–1868) that closely resemble those in Kyoto (京都), Takayama City (高山市 Takayama-shi) or Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山) is also known as the “Little Kyoto” of the Japanese Alps (日本アルプス Nihon Arupusu), just after its slightly more famous sister town, Kanazawa (金沢). Being completely surrounded by mountainous regions all around, Takayama offers more than enough to boast for its status as the heart of the Hida Mountain Range (飛騨山脈 Hida Sanmyaku). While it’s mostly popular amongst tourists as a stopover from Kyoto to Tokyo (東京) and vice versa, there is more to Takayama than what truly meets the eye. 


Travel back in time to the Showa Period

(Image credit: Dawn Sim)


Take a leap back into the nostalgic golden era of Westernisation in Japan at the Takayama Showa-kan Museum (高山昭和館 Takayama shōwa-kan), just a 15-minute walk away from JR Takayama Station (高山駅 Takayama-eki). Upon walking through the ticketing booth, you are instantly warped into the world of mid-20th century Japan as vibrant pop-art posters and eye-catching metal signboards greet you from all directions. Nostalgic songs being played from the old radios in the background accompany you as you walk from exhibit to exhibit.


(Image credit: Dawn Sim)


You can even try your hands at the old Pac-Man arcade machine and other old arcade games for free. You will also be able to have a peek at the old elementary classrooms with the traditional board and chalk, and table-and-chair settings. The museum even has a 1950s barbershop exhibit as well as a small movie theatre screening films from the 1960s.



(Image credit: Dawn Sim)


One of the exhibits even showcases old Japanese household items that were used at that time. From old cassette tapes to the retro pinball machine, the Takayama Showa-Kan Museum has every nostalgic memorabilia from the mid-Showa Period (1926-1989) that one can possibly dream of. Take your time to slowly savour the good old days and witness the wave of dramatic changes that were brought ashore to the lifestyles of the Japanese as their livelihoods intertwined with western culture.


Takayama Showa-kan Museum (高山昭和館)
Address: 6 Shimoichinomachi, Takayama, Gifu 506-0843
Nearest station: JR Takayama Station (JR高山駅)
Opening hours: 09:0018:00 (Open throughout the year)
Admission fee: ¥800 (Adult), ¥500 (Child), Free (Age 4 and below)
Tel: +81 577-33-7836


Unwind and step into a cafe frozen in time

(Image credit: Dawn Sim)


After visiting the Showa-kan Museum, where else better to take a break than at a kissaten (喫茶店 traditional Japanese coffee shop)? At the corner of Sanmachi Street lies Bagpipe, a quaint café hidden from the buzz of the city.  


(Image credit: Dawn Sim)


The interior of the shop is very beautifully decorated with tons of retro clocks and antique furniture, as well as old-fashioned lamps that reflect the bygone era. Inside the coffee shop, it feels as if time had stopped in that golden age and has not moved since. The atmosphere of the shop is very calming and if you get a window seat, you are also able to enjoy a view of Sanmachi Street (三町筋 Sanmachi suji) while sipping your coffee. The shop features their original blend of coffee (¥450) that is definitely worth a try—served in old china, a tableware that is very reminiscent of the good old days. They also serve light meals such as butter and jam toasts (¥400–¥450) and homemade cakes (¥450). It is the perfect place to take a break after exploring the city and have a refreshing cup of tasty coffee.


Bagpipe (バグパイプ)
Address: 75 Kataharamachi, Takayama, Gifu 506-0847
Nearest Station: JR Takayama Station (JR高山駅)
Opening Hours: 09:0018:00
Tel: +81 577-33-7401


Get up close and personal with the Japan Alps

(Image credit: Dawn Sim)

Planning to take a one-day trip away from Takayama City? Thinking of Shirakawago (白川郷)? Well, personally, I would say give that a pass and head straight for Shin-Hotaka Ropeway (新穂高ロープウェイ) located in the Okuhida Region (奥飛騨). For ¥2,200 (one-way), there is an express bus that goes straight from Takayama Nohi Bus Center (高山濃飛バスセンター) to Shin-Hotaka Ropeway via Hirayu Onsen (平湯温泉). After around 1.5 hours, alight at the last stop at Shin-Hotaka Ropeway Station. From ground level, there are two cable cars you’ll have to take to reach the observation deck at the very top, Nishihotakaguchi Station (西穂高口駅).


It is recommended to go as early in the morning as possible if you are not too keen on fighting with the crowd for a good view in the double decker gondola cars. When you have finally reached the top about 14 minutes later, you’ll then have to climb a flight of stairs before getting to the observation deck. Upon walking through the doors of the observation deck, you will find yourself surrounded by a panorama of mountains so close to you that it feels as though you can touch them just by stretching out your fingers. Apart from offering a spectacular view of the Northern Alps, on a clear day, you can see as far as Hakusan (白山) located in the neighbouring Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県 Ishikawa-ken).


(Image credit: Dawn Sim)


Depending on the different seasons, the experiences differ. In winter, you can witness the snow-covered mountains all around you as the tip of the mountain glows white with freshly fallen snow. In the summer, it is even possible to hike from Nishihotakaguchi Station all the way to Kamikochi (上高地), in Nagano Prefecture (長野県 Nagano-ken). No matter the season, being surrounded by the Northern Japanese Alps is an experience one will never forget. 


Shin-Hotaka Ropeway (新穂高ロープウェイ)
Address: Shinhotaka Onsen, Okuhida Onsen-go, Takayama, Gifu 506-1421
Nearest bus stop: Shin-Hotaka Ropeway Station
Admission fee (One-way): ¥1,700
Admission fee (Round trip): ¥3,000
Opening hours: 08:0016:45 (AprilNovember), 09:0016:15 (DecemberMarch)
Tel: +81 578-89-2252


Finding your own Hida-Takayama

Like Takayama, every old and small town has its own story to tell. Perhaps somewhere hidden away at the foot of the Northern Japanese Alps, there’s another town waiting to be discovered and visited. Or perhaps there’s more to uncover in Takayama that we’ve yet to hear about. For some, it might be a story of nostalgia, while for others, it might be one of new discoveries. It is special and unique and none the same. It is then up to us, to find our very own Hida-Takayama in this timeless town.


Header image credit: Dawn Sim


Writer's profile: Dawn Sim, in love with Japan’s culture and well as the fascinating natural sceneries it has to offer, often takes long solo backpacking trips around Japan in search of breathtaking views and its hidden gems. She had also previously lived in Kyoto for a period of time.


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