December 2023 | by Julie Yamamoto
In planning our two-week visit to Japan, I asked my son what he wanted to see – his answer was snow! With the itinerary already tight and a season of tennis tournaments ahead, I decided to avoid a skiing and snowboarding adventure – instead, we opted for a one-night stay in Takayama in Gifu. It fitted in perfectly to our final few days using the Japan Rail Pass – we were scheduled to travel from Osaka to Tokyo – so we stopped at Nagoya and transferred to the Hida Express (use included in the JR Pass) – one of the most scenic train rides in the Chubu region (ironically during my 15 years in Japan, I would always travel by car to Takayama). The train ride from Nagoya to Takayama stations was approximately two and a half hours. We enjoyed our bento boxes and traditional sweets along the way. (Note: there was no food service on board, so we stocked up at the train station shops before we boarded.)
We booked early – about three months ahead to ensure a reasonable hotel price– we stayed at one of our favourite hotels – the Green Hotel ($350 per night for the three of us which included a fabulous breakfast) – the hotel is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and also a favourite of the Japanese Imperial family. We arrived at the hotel in the early afternoon and went upstairs to our room. Whilst it had not snowed in the area for over two weeks, we were all thrilled to open the window coverings (traditional wooden style with paper screens) and see the snow-capped mountains in the distance. Whilst my son did not get to touch snow on this trip, he was still thrilled to see the snow-capped mountains.
The Takayama Green Hotel is within a 10-minute walk of Takayama JR station and a 20-minute walk to the old town tourism centre (including the Sannomachi Street) – this area provides a journey back in time to what Japan looked like centuries ago – many buildings and streets date back to the feudal ages. There are abundant interactive tourism experiences including art galleries, museums, sake breweries, gift shops, cafes, and restaurants. We spent the afternoon exploring the old town district and stocking up gifts to take home with us.
Then it was time for dinner. We headed to Hida Gyu one of the town’s most famous yakiniku restaurants. They do not take bookings and limit to 85 reservations in the evening. People arrive as early as 4pm to secure a seat – we arrived around 5:15pm and secured ticket number 81! It was a two hour wait but the food was worth it – it was within my top three yakiniku restaurants in the Gifu region. And, surprisingly not as expensive as I had anticipated – it cost us about $130 for the three of us.
Then it was back to the Takayama Green Hotel. I went to the hotel onsen about 9pm – it was surprisingly quiet – only a few other guests. I started in the inside large hot bath and then headed outside to enjoy the door outdoor baths – the outside temperature was -1 degree, and I was willing the snow to fall – unfortunately, it did not. The gardens and overall landscape were magnificent – I felt an incredible sense of zen.
It was then time to go back to the hotel room – the staff had prepared our futon beds earlier in the evening when we were at dinner. The room was large and extremely comfortable.
I would recommend the Takayama Green Hotel for anyone travelling with a family. You can reach the hotel without having to use a car or taxi, the hotel is uniquely Japanese (whilst not a traditional inn you definitely know you are in Japan), the regular-size rooms are large enough to sleep at four people, it is very clean, the staff are very welcoming, and the breakfast buffet was superb.
We will include Takayama again in our future itineraries. I would like to spend more time in the old town tourism district next time – explore the shops more thoroughly (and do more shopping), arrive earlier so we can enjoy lunch in one of the traditional family-owned restaurants, and spend time in the museums and learn to learn more about the history. Whilst I am not a sake drinker, I would like to also spend time in one of the sake breweries to learn more about the production processes and stock up on gifts for family and friends back in Australia.
Thank you Takayama and to the Green Hotel – I will be back.