Hida: the highlights

If you’ve been to Japan but only ever tackled Tokyo, you’re missing out! Far away from the big smoke*, the Hida Takayama region was a highlight of my recent visit to Japan. I flew into Chubu airport after four days in Seoul and spent a night in Nagoya stocking up on bargains before boarding the Wide View train from Nagoya. The two-and-a-half hour journey to the Hida region would have been worth it for the scenery alone.HidatrainHidatrain2hidatrain3Although the scenery really did make the train journey worthwhile, the reason I went was actually to visit my friend Tetsuko and her family. They live in Hida Furukawa, a little traditional town full of old whitewashed residences and storehouses.

hidaAs Tetsuko has two very genki young boys, I tried to make myself useful by walking her dog, Marcel (with the ulterior motive of giving my camera some exercise too – even the back streets are photogenic!). Japanese all over the country take tremendous pride in keeping their houses and streetscapes neat, but Hida residents take things up a level or two as they know their town is constantly on display. There were botanical arrangements attached to many houses and shopfronts, some small…hida2

…and some on a much larger scale.

hida3Outside liquor shops or breweries, it’s common to see what looks like a massive pompom (mmm… pompoms…) but is actually a ball made of cedar needles.


Tanuki statues also indicate the presence of alcohol…


Can you imagine any shop keeper in Australia being trusting enough to leave bonsai like this (or a giant ice cream, for that matter) outside on their window ledge? I’m ashamed to say they’d be stolen or smashed in five seconds in my own country, but in Japan, they’re totally safe.


I loved this old teahouse which also sells ice cream and maybe stamps too (the red pillar on the corner is an old fashioned post box). Everything you need, basically.


Hida Furukawa is known for its carp – there are actually some swimming in the canal that runs past Tetsuko’s back door, but these ones were outside the museum and were going crazy as it was feeding time (ie a toddler and his mum were throwing food in for them).



Although most of my trip was all about catching up with Tetsuko and her family, we did also visit the Takayama city area which is like where Tetsuko lives but on a slightly larger scale – think old wooden houses, tree-lined canals…

… traditional shops such as this one selling tea…Hidatea

… and decorating details like this tiled letter box.


Unlike a lot of tourist-frequented places, the Hida region doesn’t feel too gimmicky as it’s still residential, although there are of course still touristy places. Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village) is one of them, but that doesn’t mean it’s not charming too. I’d been once before about 10 years ago, but the view at the entrance impressed me all over again – a lake with ducks and a lone white swan (called Takako and apparently a bit vicious!) swimming around on it, surrounded by traditional houses from the colder regions of Japan with their super-photogenic thatched roofs.

And then, as if I wasn’t enjoying myself enough in the sunshine with my friend and her family, this happened.Hidacat Now you know why Hida was one of the highlights of my Japan trip (apart from seeing Tetsuko and all the gorgeous old buildings, of course)!! I think this guy was a local, strolling around the village with his wife – and his cat – and thereby bringing joy to everyone. Or at least this crazy cat lady who is usually shy with strangers but sheds all inhibitions when there are feline friends to be made 🙂 I can’t promise that this guy will be there, but regardless, Hida and the surrounding area are definitely worth a few days’ visit, so if you’re planning a trip to Japan, work them into your itinerary!

Oh and by the way… I’m actually back in Melbourne now but the next few posts will be about the remainder of my travels through Japan, Thailand and Bali until I get back into the swing of DIY and get something made from all the textiles I bought. Stay tuned!

*Hida Takayama is about six hours from Tokyo (Shinjuku) by bus.