2.5 hours on two Shinkansen, with a stop in Nagoya, brings you to Takayama from Tokyo. Approaching Nagoya, the views of Fujiyama from the Shinkansen are spectacular, probably the best in all of Japan. After all, you can’t really see the mountain from the mountain.
In the heart of the Japanese alps, the town of Takayama and its culture were shaped in the 16th century. The high altitude and isolation from other areas of Japan have served to preserve a rather unique culture and atmosphere, despite its popularity as a vacation destination for Japanese as well as visitors from other nations.
We arrived in time for Autumn foliage (kōyō) and Golden Week. The town was exploding with tourists, at full capacity, but it somehow remained pleasant and relaxed.
It was lovely to see average Japanese and foreign visitors, mostly from other Asian countries, enjoying simple pleasures, well-earned and anticipated. These are hard working people and they look forward to a break from the obligations of work and daily life.
Various foods on sticks, locally brewed sake and other regional specialties, and handcrafted goods can be enjoyed from kiosks or purchased from merchants for later enjoyment. All of it is of very high quality and sold from shops that are housed in perfectly preserved buildings along narrow pedestrian streets.
The townspeople and shopkeepers are not jaded, as we often are in tourist destinations such as my home town, San Francisco. They are friendly and seem genuinely happy for the opportunity to come into contact with other cultures as they share their own, and are appreciative of the business that tourism brings. Because of their graciousness and good humor, and the nearly childlike delight of my fellow travelers, I managed not to have a claustrophobic panic attack. It also helped to be able to escape to, Shoren-ji, one of many serene temples, tucked away in Shiroyama Park.
A visit to this mountain hamlet, especially in fall or spring, is highly recommended.