30 Hours in Shirakawa and Takayama

Exploring old Shirakawa village, the quaint town of Takayama to visiting bears and a ryokan stay at Hidatei Hanaougi (26 - 27 Dec 2016)
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My 2016 was completed with a fun winter trip to the region of Shirakawa and Takayama in the Hida region of the Gifu Prefecture for some sightseeing and a ryokan stay, followed by a ski trip to Hakuba with Y and R. Given how full flights were to Tokyo when we booked this trip sometime in August, we decided to be creative and flew to Nagoya instead and drive up towards Takayama for our 1st stop, renting our car at the always reliable Nissan Rent a Car at the Nagoya Airport (Chubu Centrair International Airport).

We only had a night’s stay in Takayama before leaving for Hakuba the next day, but Y and I managed to jam pack our 30 hours in the Shirakawa and Takayama region with quite a lot of activities, and I think it will be fun to share with all of you what you can do if you are in this area for a short time like us! So here begins the round up!

11.30 am – 12 pm : Rest Stop at Hirugano Kogen Service Area ひるがの高原SA Tel: +81 575-73-0022

For a quick soft ice cream and toilet break, this is a good stop to break and stretch my beary body, after having sat in the car for 2 hours with R and Y. Note: this leg only makes sense if you are driving up from Nagoya like us. Otherwise, feel free to omit this part.

Evidence a Care Bear landed at this rest stop 🙂

1.15 pm – 3.15 pm: Shirawaka-Go Village

Shirakawa Go is a famous UNESCO world heritage site in this region, well known for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are as old as 250 years old and more.

Just to qualify, we pretty much touched and go here. If you would like more time here – ie. visit the local museums that explain in more detail on the architecture of the farmhouses, see the village in depth, walk around more, then perhaps a minimum of 3 hours including some meal time be more ideal, but spending around 2 hours here was just about enough for us, given how the weather was pretty horrid when we got here, with a constant light drizzle rain and tons of tourists walking around.

As a destination marker – you can set the Ogimachi Observation Deck (Tel: +81 5769-6-1311) to take a famous birds-eye shot of the whole village before you explore the area. However, we didn’t have time to go here, so we just headed straight to the town area using the Shirakawa Hot Spring (Tel: +81 5769-6-0026) as our place marker to find parking around there.  Given it’s a heritage site, I think that’s why no cars are allowed to go through the village road with the farmhouses on each side. After parking, we started to walk on foot to explore the area, and find some eats. From one end to the other end of the town, it’s around 1km plus, and hence it’s 2km plus given we had to walk back to our car at the end of the exploration. So wear comfortable shoes, you’ve been warned! And as many of the locals reside in these farmhouses, be respectful and not make too much noise as you walk around and take photos.

Some first views of the farmhouses in Shirakawa-Go.

Flanked by Gassho style houses … left and right.

This place can get pretty crowded, and we didn’t make any lunch reservations, so we went to a local lunch spot – いろり (Tel:+81 5769-6-1737), which serves local Japanese lunch sets, like grilled fish with rice, etc. Nothing to rave about but it filled our tummies. There’s some other stalls down the road that have casual bites like the local Hida Beef Bun at ぜん (Tel: +81 5769-6-1227), which was pretty yummy, perfect for this drizzly day. The beauty in this area, is just to explore on foot, you can visit the Gassho Museum, walk into some local teahouses for a drink, and just take some fun photos with the Gassho style Farm Houses. We were hoping to see the snow covered roofs but I guess we were still a little bit early for a snowy winter in Shirakawa-Go. Tip: you can stay in some of the farmhouses here and experience how the locals live, but many of them provide shared toilets, ensuites are a rarity in rustic living here.

My lunch spot.

Simple grilled fish set.

At one of the popular snack joints!

Can’t wait to dig into the Hida Beef Bun.

Love the whimsical drawings of kids on the farmhouses. 

These houses look supercute.

Mountains of Hida – the Japanese alps in the background of Shirakawa Go.

4.15 pm – 6 pm: Hida Takayama Teddy Bear Eco Village (〒506-0031 Gifu Prefecture, Takayama, Nishinoisshikimachi, 3 Chome−829−4; Tel: +81 577-37-2525)

On route from Shirakawa to our ryokan in Takayama, we stopped by the Hida Takayama Teddy Bear Eco Village for a visit to see my beary friends. This is the ultimate wonderland for bear lovers and it is definitely a fun recommended stop for families with young children. Compared to the Izu Teddy Bear Museum which I visited in 2013, the collection here is definitely larger and more varied. They had a pretty huge collection of different bears collated by eras as well as some animated ones like the baker bears, and many special edition collectible bears by various teddy bear artists. There’s even a bear shop to purchase some bear toys – yes I ended up going home with a “Winnie The Pooh” – Japan edition. After walking around and taking lots of pictures, we rested in the next door bear themed cafe to chill out and have a drink and cake.

Can’t wait to enter the museum!

Most gigantic bear ever!! 

With my new pal – Pooh from the bear museum’s shop! 

6.15 pm – next day 10 am: Ryokan stay at Hidatei Hanaougi (411-1 Honobumachi, Takayama-shi, Gifu-ken 506-0003, Tel: +81 577-36-2000, Website)

Our ryokan for the night – Hidatei Hanaougi in Takayama, was a quick 10 mins drive away from the Takayama Teddy Bear Eco Village. We chose the twin room with garden and outdoor bath. This ryokan isn’t as luxurious as the other ones I have been to, but I think it was pretty decent for a night’s stay, which we paid 64800 yen for 2 persons including breakfast and dinner, which is a bit pricier then usual since it was the peak period when we went.

Meals are served in a separate private dining room showcasing the Hida specialities. Dinner is a delicious multi-course kaiseki, with the highlight being the Hida Beef hot plate course which we cooked ourselves. Breakfast is just as equally scrumptious and healthy – a multicourse meal including hoba miso with mushrooms – where the items are grilled on a magnolia leaf, a signature of Takayama food. The highlight of a stay at Hidatei Hanaougi has got to be the supper at their ramen bar which is open from 9.30 pm till 11 pm.  It’s a must to try the ramen here if you don’t have a chance to eat it in the main town, as Takayama ramen’s stock is a bit different from the Hakata or Tokyo ramen – they use soup bones, katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), and vegetables as a base, so the stock feels less oily but yet very flavourful, and the noodles are thin and appear slightly curly with the right al dente-ness. We somehow managed to wolf down a bowl despite our very full tummies from dinner.

Onsen wise – they have a separate public bath for women and men in case you don’t wish to book a room with an attached hot bath, and the fun part is they have an outdoor foot bath near the entrance to soak those tired feet. A pity we were in a rush to check out the next day, so we didn’t have the time to check out the foot bath.

Our hostess for our meals – Yoko, super cheery girl! 

Soak non-stop in our room’s private outdoor bath.

Must visit to the ryokan’s ramen bar – open only for supper.

Be sure to click through the thumbnails below to see more of the ryokan and yummy food photos.

10 am – 2.30 pm: Takayama Town fr Shopping and Lunch! (For GPS guide use Jizake Sake shop Tel: +81 577-36-8350)

We explored Takayama Old Town starting from where the Jizake Sake shop is, and walked southwards to Kamisanomachi area. Jizake sake shop has quite a decent selection of sakes, but if you aren’t sure what to buy, ask the shop salesperson to recommend. Takayama Town is really a beautiful quaint area, given many of the buildings and houses dating from as old as the Edo Period (1600 – 1868) has been well-preserved. Once an area known for its wealthy town of merchants, these houses are now homes to sake shops, breweries, galleries, cafes and restaurants. Some of the highlights worth checking out other than the sake shop are:

Kissakokatsute  喫茶去 かつて (〒506-0846 Gifu-ken, Takayama-shi, Kamisannomachi, 92, Tel: +81 577-34-1511)

This is a good stop to have warabi (a classic Japanese dessert made from bracken starch), coffee and cakes. The double floor cafe, is pretty quaint with simple Japanese modern design. It’s also towards the end of the “happening” stretch before the Kamisanomachi area.

There’s also some other interesting cafes that I pinned in my Google Maps next door to this which I didn’t have a chance to try as they were closed: Rankakohiten Cafe 藍花珈琲店 T:+81 577-32-3887 and Tefukin Cafe 手風琴 , Tel: +81 577-34-6185.

Enjoying a slow stroll along the streets of Takayama old town.

Jizake Sake Shop – one of the many sake specialty shops here.

Spoilt for choice! Which one should I buy? Hmmmm.. 

Kissakokatsute Cafe for dessert and tea!

Enjoying Warabi Mochi & Apple Pie at 
Kissakokatsute.

Lunch at Maruaki 丸明飛騨高山店 (〒506-0025 Gifu-ken, Takayama-shi, Tenmanmachi, 6 Chome−8 丸明飛騨高山店 Tel: 0577-35-5858)

As this is slightly away from the old town area, be sure to come here after or before you have finished covering all the quaint little shops in the main old town zone. This place serves kick-ass Hida Beef – with steak style, yakiniku, sukiyaki options available. It gets crazy crowded, so it’s best to make a reservation first before coming here. We had the Hida Steak and the sukiyaki which was so good! The strange thing about the sukiyaki is they literally dump all the beef in the pot and cook it at the same time in the sauce, but strangely they didn’t get too overcooked, and was super yummy! They also have a large store adjoining that sells their beef, so we came here and bought tons for our Hakuba ski trip.

Exterior of Maruaki at traffic light junction.

Some of the lovely beef in the butcher shop.

Sukiyaki time!

Steak please!

Gonna miss this cool quaint area.

3.30 – 5 pm: Okuhida Bear Park (〒506-1432 Gifu-ken, Takayama-shi, Okuhida Onsengō Hitoegane, 2535−9, Tel: +81 578-89-2761, Open from 8 am – 5 pm, Website)

Just to qualify, this isn’t really quite in Takayama, but it’s just under 1 hour’s drive away from Takayama Old Town, so it’s still a great half day excursion to get away to and see some super cute Japanese bears frolicking in this bear park. This was a great stopover for us, as we were driving from Takayama towards Hakuba. The Bear Park is located near the Hirayu-Onsen hot spring area and the park has more than 100 bears, but I think I only saw half perhaps, maybe the rest were hibernating away since it was winter. We came here on a slightly drizzly day, and it was super quiet. The bears have performances apparently at selected times, but as we arrived pretty late in the afternoon, we just took our time to see the bears in their habitats and how they behave especially during feeding time. They get fed cornbread and apples, and it’s quite a sight to behold when a wash of yellow (the cornbread) lands on them! The bear keepers also let us feed them some apples, which was pretty fun.

Oldest and biggest black bear – born in 1998, and he loves apples!

Posing with some of the younger black bears. 

I have below my Google Maps of my trip in a nutshell. Just for you to know the stops highlighted in blue – are places I wanted to go, but didn’t manage to visit, but still worth a mention for you to check out 🙂

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