Takayama Ryokan experience
Takayama is a city in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture. To differentiate it from other places named Takayama, the city is also commonly referred to as Hida-Takayama. It has the nickname “Little Kyoto of Hida” as it has managed to retain a traditional touch especially in its beautifully preserved old town.
We were in awe when we first saw Takayama’s s Edo-period buildings with gorgeous dark wood timbers. Walking through the narrow streets made us feel like we have stepped back in time. Most of the buildings now house restaurants and souvenir shops, selling laquerware and other handicrafts, as well as Sarubobo dolls.
Running north to south along an esplanade lined with tree, there are thirteen temples and five shrines here. This area is known as Higashiyama Teramachi. Every temple or shrine has interesting buildings and many have fine statues and other treasured art objects. By visiting Higashiyama Teramachi you will fully understand why Takayama is called “little Kyoto”.
Jinya-mae Market in front of the Takayama Jinya
The Jinya-mae market started more than 300 years ago. The origin of the market started with silk raising farmers who sold leaves of mulberry trees and even today only farmers are allowed to open stalls. Most stalls sell fresh green vegetables, dried foods, and homemade pickles. Unusual ingredients including sansho peppers and wild vegetables.
Ryokan and our experience
Honjinhiranoya Kachoan (34, Honmachi 1-chome, Takayama-city, Gifu, Japan 506-0011)
It was our first time staying in a ryokan and we were treated to such warm hospitality and truly felt like royalty. A stay at Ryokan should definitely be on everyone’s list – even if only for one night. It gives you a chance to experience Japanese culture, hospitality, and cuisine at its best.
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn that is quite similar to the Western B&B. This style of accommodation dates back to the Edo period that stretched from 1603 to 1868 when Japan was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family. Back then, ryokans served travellers along Japan’s highways. These days, you will find ryokans mostly in scenic areas outside of the big cities and away from their skyscrapers and neon lights. They are especially popular in areas that feature onsen or natural hot springs.
The ryokan was started by Eroki san’s father 42 years ago. It is 2015 Travelers’ Choice by Tripadvisor. Seeing the accolade it got, we had high expectations and definitely did not disappoint. The experience we had was a surreal one. Eroki san was a souperb landlady and host. Gracious, elegant and very knowledgable. Her staff greeted us by our names and we were giving a loud “gong” welcome on arrival.
Ethics of bathing in an onsen
This is my first time in an onsen too. I was lucky I had my hosts with me and they brought me to the onsen and shared with the dos and donts.Indeed it was a mind blowing experience when I was explained what each of the steps are.
In the Ryokan, bathing areas are communal (male and female separate) and consist of a handful of showers – to be taken while seated on the stool provided – and a hot bathing pool. You have to shower before you go in the bathtub, and even showering takes on a completely new definition. You are actually cleansing your body, making it as pure as possible, getting rid of all the daily bad energies. You sit on tiny stool, and start washing yourself, while looking at the mirror, making sure you don’t miss a spot, while a small wood bucket is filled with water. When you finish, you get the bucket and empty it above your head, repeating the process until you are ready, and soap free to get yourself in the bathtub filled with very hot water, and relax.
For dinner, we had an elaborate meal known as kaiseki ryōri, and it features multiple courses prepared in a variety of cooking methods. Food meets art in this traditional Japanese meal, as our chef did his best to balance the appearance, taste, texture, and color of the various dishes.
The theme for our dinner was Hida beef, multiple courses featuring it in different manner to showcase its versatility from appetizers, to salads, to hot pots and grills. Hida beef is Takayama’s Kobe beef. This is beef from Japanese Black cattle raised to over 14 months of age within Gifu Prefecture and graded by the Japan Meat Grading Association with the yield rate class of A/B meat quality with grades from 5-3.
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and the folks who run ryokans take that very seriously, as they serve up a multi-course morning meal full of local and seasonal specialties. We were treated to a feast fit for an Emperor – salad, homemade tofu, eggs, seasonal veggies, an assortment of pickles, grilled river fish, and the obligatory bowls of rice or porridge and miso soup. All washed down with a good pot of tea.
Till we meet again, Takayama!