Takayama, or better known by the locals as Hida-Takayama, is a historic little city located about an hour’s drive from Shirakawa-go, that famous UNESCO site with the cute little thatched roof houses featured on many Japanese travel pictorials (and they look especially magical and dreamlike in winter). Since it’s almost next to impossible to stay in one of these thatched roof houses (they’re usually only available to accommodate 1-night stays and even then, they’re not like normal ryokans which can accommodate at least 8 to 10 rooms), most people would stay at Takayama and hop on a day trip to Shirakawago instead. As it’s such a small city, you’re likely to see many tourists walking around the place taking photos. By nightfall however, most of Shirakawago is pretty much dead.
On its own, Takayama has a few interesting day trips, including the Hida Folk Village (Hida no Sato) and the Old Town area, which is just about 15 minutes walk from the main train station. The folk village features old farmhouses that appear to bear some resemblance to those in Shirakawago and exploring these interesting houses with creaky wooden floorboards really transports one back in time to the olden Japanese days.
Back to eating in Takayama. If you’re in Takayama, one unmissable dish you would have to try is the greatly-prized Hida Beef, usually served on Hoba Miso. Hida Beef comes from a breed of black-haired cattle and like Kobe and Omi Beef, comes in various grades. It seems to be a dish that is local to just the Hida region, and the beef is served sizzling on a magnolia leaf, smeared with miso. The raw beef is gently and lovingly cooked with vegetables, mushrooms and tofu over a small fire in front of you, and the flickering of the flames coupled with the sizzling sounds of the beef feels so indescribably homely it’s probably one of the most unforgettable experiences one can have on a trip.
Another popular Takayama eatery appears to be the TripAdvisor highly-recommended Ebisu Honten (恵比寿荞麦面). Most of the seating areas are on the wooden floorboards and there was a queue when I went during lunch ( unsurprisingly, many were tourists apart from the locals). According to its website, the restaurant has a long history of over a century (like many other famous Japanese restaurants around the country) and the noodles are handmade fresh everyday with a recipe handed down over the years by their soba artisans I had the Cold Soba with Tempura and it came as a pretty huge portion, served with lots of seaweed flakes. The buckwheat soba was slurpingly good dunked in the dipping sauce and together with the crispy tempura, it makes for a traditionally wonderful Japanese meal! The lunch sets are pretty affordable too, ranging from JPY 800 – 1600.