This trip was organised by Takayama Green Hotel. Click here to book a room at this hotel.
Takayama City, or Hida-Takayama as it is sometimes referred to, is located in Gifu Prefecture and has enjoyed a certain amount of prosperity since it was first settled in during the Jomon period. The region has long been famous for artisans and craftsmen - particularly carpenters - and it is often said that the carpenters of the Hida region played a big role in the creation of some Kyoto's most famous temples, shrines and castles.
Located in a somewhat isolated part of the country, the city of Takayama has benefited from its withdrawn location in that a large part of the old city has been wonderfully preserved, with old-style wooden buildings dating back to the Edo period. Arriving in Takayama early on in the day, my first port of call was the Old Town district.
The Old Town
With so much to see in the Old Town, I was run off my feet to begin with. I stopped off at the Takayama Jinya - a building that served as a seat of the local government ever since the town became under direct control from the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1692 until 1868. After the Tokugawa Shogunate lost control of the area, it served as the Takayama prefectural government office until 1969. The building (pictured at the top of this article) has since been designated a national historic site. The only existing building of its kind, it is now open to the public to peruse at leisure. As well as the traditional decor, including large tatami straw mat rooms, there are also exhibitions and displays that explain the history of the town and the Takayama Jinya building itself. Signs are all written clearly in perfect and easy-to-understand English.
After taking a look around the Jinya, I took a wander down the streets of the Old Town and treated myself to a sample of some sake from an old sake brewery, which now offers visitors the chance to sample a wide variety of nihonshu at a reasonable price - perfect to help decide which one to buy a bottle of! Sake breweries are easy to spot in the old town because they have a huge sugidama cedar ball hanging from the eaves over the entranceway. I stopped by a shop run by the Funasaka Sake Brewery.
A couple of masu (the wooden cup) of sake later, I picked up some midarashi dango from a stall run by an old lady. Midarashi dango are dumplings made from rice, covered in a shoyu-based sauce and roasted on skewers. I then went to a cafe for a cup of coffee. What a life, eh?
There wasn't much time to relax after drinking my coffee though, as I was due at the Takayama Green Hotel for lunch!
Lunch was another all-you-can-eat buffet! The Takayama Green Hotel had a few nice and unique aspects to its buffet that I haven't seen anywhere else. The first thing was that they cooked their pizzas fresh in a traditional Italian-style oven! I took a few photos of the pizzas being made freshly.
The other point of interest was the sushi chef, who was making nigirizushi for guests as it was required. It was all pretty fascinating to watch.
Next the staff took me on a tour of the hotel. The hotel boasts a variety of rooms to suit all guests' needs and requirements, ranging from Japanese-style rooms to Western.
Some rooms have their own private open-air baths, which can be seen clearly in the photo below - perfect for couples.
The hotel is also proud to offer great public baths for guests to enjoy after a hard day's sightseeing in the old town. I wanted to take a dip myself, but I had some other things to do. We headed for the hotel's gift shop...
My Own Sarubobo
The first fun-packed activity the hotel had organised for me to partake in was to make my own sarubobo. What's a sarubobo? I hear you say. Well, "saru" is the Japanese word for "monkey", and "bobo" is a dialect word from the area that means "baby". So a sarubobo is a monkey-baby... That doesn't help much, I know, but look! It's cute!
It's also a very famous souvenir for people who visit Takayama, and most Japanese friends will not be surprised if you return from a trip here with a massive collection of sarubobo in your suitcase.
But, Takayama Green Hotel lets guests try something quite original - for around 1,300 yen, a member of staff at the gift shop will show you how to make your own sarubobo - including drawing a design on his (her?) chest using special pens for use on fabric. You can also pick out the colours of her (his?) clothes. Without further ado, allow me to introduce my very own sarubobo that I made that day:
I drew the kanji character for meat (肉) on mine, because when pronounced in Japanese it sounds like my name in English...
After making my beloved sarubobo (which I sleep with at night now), I moved onto the next cultural activity that the hotel offers: making my own senbei rice crackers! An old lady showed us patiently how to hold the rice cake over a flame inside a ceramic thing that looked like a kiln. We were taught to heat the cake one side at a time and flip it over rhythmically so that it didn't burn or curl up in a little ball and die (it did happen). She definitely made it look a lot easier than it actually was...
After cooking the senbei crackers, the lady wrapped them up neatly in plastic and let us take them home.
That evening, after a dip in the hotel's hot spring, I enjoyed another slap-up traditional Japanese kaiseki-ryori meal, which of course included the famous Hidagyu beef that the region is famous for. The food was absolutely delicious, and I went to bed stuffed to bursting. There, waiting on my pillow to remind me that I'd eaten too much meat (肉) was my very own sarubobo...