To be honest, Takayama, Japan is definitely worth a two night stay. But since we have the luxury of time at the moment, we decided to stay for three days and nights. But if you want you can easily condense the most enjoyable parts of Takayama to two days and nights.
Takayama is a town nestled in the mountains west of Tokyo. We traveled a few hours from Kanazawa on the bullet train at Toyama, where we transfered to the local express to get here. After Saigon, Da Nang, Hanoi, and Tokyo, Takayama is decidedly quiet and mellow.
We suggest that you could do two days as follows:
Day 1: Arrive Takayama in the afternoon and get settled; walk the old historic street – Sanmachi – and browse, taking time to try the sushi; find dinner around 7 or 8; go for a drink at a “Snack” place or “Pub” like the Red Hill Pub. First Night.
Day 2: Sleep in by western standards and walk the Morning Market street around 8am. You will still only be able to find two places to grab a cup of coffee – we had coffee at both places (on the street level at one end of the Market Street and one on F2 (2nd floor) at the other end). Both fine and you will certainly meet other tourists in search of 7-9am espresso. Rent bikes ($13 half day) and head out for the Hida Folk Village. Walk your zero gear bike up Friendship Hill and finally arrive at the Folk Village. Explore for 2 hours. Stop for a beer (no food) at the nearby craft brewery or maybe an matcha ice cream cone if you like before starting your quick trip back down hill to Takayama proper and return bikes. Go sake tasting along Sanmachi street after picking one other museum or temple to enjoy – $2 per cup and you get to pour your own tastings of 10-15 different sake bottles. Take the warm sake feeling with you and grab dinner focusing on the famous Hida beef. Second Night.
Day 3: Walk around figuring you will find great coffee somewhere. Give up and return to the Morning Market street for espresso, see the other tourists you saw at sake tasting and say ‘hello’. Pack up to check out by 10 or 11 am and stroll back to the train station to head out for Kyoto or Tokyo.
We never did figure out what time of day or which days shops were open – our favorite morning coffee place, Coffee Don had posted hours that said he would open at 7:30 the next day but when we showed up it was closed up tight. Sigh.
We added an evening of bowling which made John happy. While their bowling registration form only offered shoes up to a US size 11, when I held up my size 14 hiking shoes and the manager nicely took my shoe to some mysterious store room and returned with shoes that were actually a bit too big. I was so happy to have shoes close to my size I stuck with what I got, not that it was going to hurt my game anyway.
Takayama was easily worth the stop. It felt a bit like the Rogue Valley with the beautiful river going through the center of town but interestingly, there are at least seven bridges we used going back and forth. It also felt like northern Idaho, where I was born, that the town seems to built up in the space where mountains meet. We loved walking around at night and seeing groups of identical suit-wearing men coming home about 8 or 9pm. Takayama felt like both a cultural gem and a real town. We outlined how you can visit Takayama in two days but we instantly knew that we wished we could have spent more time here. We felt like we were a day or two away from knowing our neighbors or the check out kids at the grocery store. And if we had stayed longer we might have actually figured out when the stores all open and I’m sure we would have gotten to return to the Coffee Don when he was open, whatever day that might actually be.