Takayama is located in the Hida Mountains (a part of the Japan Alps National Park) and surrounded by 3,000 m peaks, it nestles along a river on a wide plateau. Although Takayama is a small town, it is truly impossible to describe each beauty of it in brief. The natural sights all around the town are breathtaking and the cultural centers and historical sites are many. The town is likely to accumulate all the attractions of old Kyoto and beauties of Edo Tokyo and to combine the peculiarities of both cities in one miniature copy.
Modern Takayama boasts an amazing historic district, San-machi Suji, with homes of classical design of the 18th century Hida. Narrow and clean streets are flanked on both sides by small canals that were necessary in the past for fire prevention, washing clothes and dumping the winter snow. The houses are one- or two-storied with overhanging roofs, finished in dark wood that gleams in the sunshine.
According to one of the local stories, Takayama carpenters built the ancient capital cities of Kyoto, Nara and Edo and when they came home, they applied their mastery, as well as designs and styles to the architecture of their own town. Another version is that the mastery of Takayama carpenters resulted in their high demand for being involved in the building of ancient capitals after they had built Takayama. Whether you choose the first or the second story to believe, you will see that the undoubtedly astounding architecture and intricate history, along with fine shopping opportunities and town museums, make Takayama an inexhaustible source for research and exploration.
In spring and autumn Takayama is especially bright and excited due to the spring and autumn festivals, held annually since 1690. Each festival has a close link to Takayama's past and ancient farming rituals. The locals hold the spring Sanno festival at the beginning of the growing season to pray for a good rice crop and they organize the autumn Hachiman festival to thank for a good crop.
The main peculiarity of each festival is a procession of sophisticatedly designed floats with artistic carvings by local artisans. Many floats are hundreds of years old and each festival has a different set of floats. If you want to see them all, you should participate in both festivals. Probably, due to the narrow and cozy streets of the town, each festival seems more real and intimate than those that are held in large Japanese cities. The limited area brings together the artists in their colorful costumes and the crowd, in which each observer becomes a part of the bustling and lively procession.
During the feudal era, each festival ended with a banquet, provided by the wealthy class and attended by the lower layers of society. The festivals were also two times a year, when lower classes could freely complain about their lords.
If you are not able to visit the town during the festivals, you can see famous festival floats and the world's biggest drum in the Takayama Festival Museum. The museum is situated in the underground dome and it makes the first construction of such kind in Japan. Not far from the Takayama Festival Museum there is the Art of Tea Museum, presenting masterpieces, which were made by nationally famous potters and where you can enjoy the taste of true Japanese Tea.