June 3 - 9, 2012: Issue 61     


This lovely lady disassembles vintage Kimonos for mad quilters all over the world

Towards and In Takayama pt.1: from Jigokudani to Takayama and just wandering around town


Small contemplative space in our room at the Ryokan Tanabe

Just some colour at Hida kokubunji Temple, just down the road from the Ryokan

Takayama Bonsai: You walk around any corner in Takayama and you are liable to be blown away

Shirakawa-Go: going to see the Gassho houses

Takayama Pt.2: Still just wandering around Up at the castle ruins and in the Hida folk village

Kindy Takayama style


The trees that have been shaped need to be protected from the weight of snow. A month or so after this shot the snow would probably be up to the thatch

More protection in Toyama

Lovely little water mill

Videos and Text by and Copyright of Paul Wheeler, 2012. All Photographs by and Copyright of Kerry Ritson, 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Paul Wheeler Articles on Japan:

Yokahama and Yudanaka Toba and Kii Katsuura The Kumano Kodo   Nara and Kyomizu dera  

By Paul Wheeler

"Located in the centre of the Japanese archipelago, Hida Takayama has absorbed cultural influences from all directions over a history that dates back to the prehistoric Jomon period.  The town and its culture, as they exist today, took shape at the end of the 16th century, when the Kanamori clan built Takayama castle. The name 'Takayama' means 'tall mountain'."

Ayako Mitsui put these little notes into the itinerary as background for us. Takayama is a beautiful small city and although our hostess in the Ryokan Tanabe, Mrs. Tanabe, was amazed that we were spending six days in Takayama we had absolutely no difficulty filling our days with interesting walks and outings. As the crow flies Yudanaka and Takayama are quite close providing that the crow is happy to fly over the top of the Japanese Alps.

We had hoped to cross from Matsumoto to Toyama on the Tateyama Korobe alpine route. That route would have included a bus ride that has been described as the best bus ride in the world. Unfortunately we were just a little too late in the season to add that onto this trip and as the snow falls can be very deep and heavy the people on the ground said it was too dangerous for a couple of old fools who didn't really know the way. The Journey would have included cable cars, a walk past a high lake and various buses and rack and pinion railways. As it turned out we could see that they were right when we had an excursion to Toyama from Takayama, the mountain tops were indeed covered by new snow. We were sorry but we fully intend to do it one day.

Cityscape in Toyama

So, we had to go nearly all the way south to Nagoya and then head north again up the other side of the mountains. Flying over Japan you can clearly see how the mountainous terrain has informed it's development. It looks a lot like flying over the Snowys’ on the way to Melbourne where the settlements run along the valleys and the slopes are left to themselves. The trains run in the valleys and through mountain tunnels and you are nearly always alongside rivers unless you are running along the coast in which case you are nearly always crossing rivers. Japan is very wet and water management is one of the myriad civil engineering skills the Japanese have developed to a very high degree.

After a long day on two on Wideview expresses and a little local line we arrived at a lovely Ryokan run by Mr. and Mrs. Tanabe and were welcomed into our very nice, comfortable, warm room. The Tanabes and staff are very nice people, the food was excellent, beers in the fridge and the baths were sensational. We were two minutes away from the old town and the morning markets, Five minutes from the station and a short walk to the belt of Temples and Shrines overlooking Takayama.

The fire pits in the living spaces warm you, make the wild grass tea , cook dinner, fumigate the thatch and keep the ropework tight holding the roof on

The things that stand out for me in and around Takayama were the sensational Bonsai display we found by accident at the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine, the very peaceful Shiroyama Park and the gorgeous autumn colour at the Castle ruins, no castle left just great views to the Alps. Spending a day walking along the Temples above the town and coming down into Old Takayama, the morning markets by the Miyagawa river and the Hida folk village, a sort of historic theme park, even though the day before we had gone to Shirakawa-Go which is a real village lived in by real people with a large number of traditional Gassho (hands in prayer) houses mostly lived in and some available as accommodation and some available for simply gawking in. They are large buildings in which entire families, Kazoku house tribes, multi generational, would live and work; living on the ground floor, growing silk worms and manufacturing silk on the upper levels. The houses as far as I could see were held together by rope and the entire villages would get involved in rethatching them. I would also like to mention the delicious Yaki Yaki burger sets in the restaurant by the Kajibashi bridge.

Nearly all spare land is cultivated for food, the decorative areas are very lovingly created

As I said before there is no shortage of things to do around Takayama and since we've come back we've discovered there are even more things involving cable cars and mountain paths and hidden valleys on the way towards Matsumoto. I would love to see the four seasons unfold there, as you can see the autumn is gorgeous, the amount of snow would make the winter beautiful and I can only imagine the cherry blossom spring time. The ladies at the Ryokan Tanabe made us feel so welcome and at home that I must confess I've left a little bit of my heart in Takayama.

Fire pit in a formal public room at the Ryokan Tanabe

We had a day trip to Toyama to see the castle, which although it has been recently rebuilt was quite an impressive building from the outside, unfortunately it was closed for repair and refurbishment. This can happen a lot in Japan, it's a by product of the fact that they spend so much time and money keeping the old things spick and span and I guess if that’s the price you have to pay for seeing these beautiful buildings and artefacts then so be it. Anyway shortly now we will be leaving Takayama and heading through Nagoya, it seems that Nagoya is on the way to everywhere, to Toba and then Ki- Katsura to visit Mikimoto pearl island and Nachi falls.  

Kerry has a good eye for beauty

A racoon fertility and good luck charm, I like her

J.R. heavy rail on the way home. The Ryokan Tanabe was so much like home


Display in the most whimsical shop on the planet near Takayama old town  


 Gassho houses at Shirakawa-go, looking across the family rice paddy

 Hida folk village