Seeing Japan from the slow train – part 6: Takayama

The train from Hida-Furukawa to Takayama only took about 15 minutes and is essentially going from one end of a valley to the other, so the ride in and of itself wasn’t overly impressive. Once at the Takayama station, it was clear that it was the regional hub, and spotting my hotel a few blocks away I opted to check in and drop off my pack before heading out into the afternoon.

Given the timing of my visit I knew I wasn’t going to be able to explore all the various museums and exhibits that Takayama offers, particularly the open-air museum village, but I did have plenty of time to explore the city. The primary draw of Takayama lies in it being one of those places that has, at least in the architectural sense, been “frozen in time” for entire sections of the city. It is not a stagnant museum, and it is a functioning modern city complete with powerlines, antennas, traffic issues, etc…, but in the historic center it still has narrow streets lined with traditional buildings that give an impression of stepping back in time a little.

This is what I explored on a rainy late winter Sunday afternoon through the varying shades of gray to night, and briefly into the broken sunlight and snow flurries of a starting day before I departed the next morning. Dark wood, whitewashed walls, grey rock, flowing water – these are the memories I carry with me of the old town, particularly impressive in the last moments of dusk when the streets have gone quiet and the few lights highlight the contrasts of wood and wall.

As for the stay, I opted to increase my accommodation budget a little and stayed at the Takayamaouan hotel, which is best described as what a traditional onsen ryoken (hot springs inn) would be if it grew into a hotel. Tatami floors, a natural hot spring in the courtyard (and thanks to pumps the indoor and outdoor baths fed from the same spring are on the top floor with a great view over the city to the mountains) and stunning food of a ryoken, but with beds, amenities, and come-and-go atmosphere of a hotel. For a solo traveler (who has found traditional ryoken to be a bit awkward as a party of 1) it is an excellent combination…. and watching the sunrise from a 13’th floor outdoor hot spring bath in snow flurries made it unforgettable.

I opted for the late morning departure and spent the early part of the day revisiting the old section of the city, complete with morning markets selling produce and souviners and an overabundance of other shopping options for local arts and crafts. While I appreciated the opportunity provided by the shops to go in and out of the old buildings and appreciate the construction from the inside, there were only so many repetitions of the same items I could look at before I found myself preferring the quiet of the evening.

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