History is everywhere in Takayama.
The old town of Takayama in Hida, Gifu prefecture, holds much fascination as to the Memoirs of a Geisha.
Lined with rows of ancient private houses that belong to affluent and the fearless samurais, Takayama is now a preserved national site. Sake breweries, traditional handicraft stores, and restaurants occupy most of these houses. Few have been converted into museums and educational galleries for visitors to learn more of her town’s rich historical culture.
Nevertheless, Takayama today is a reflection of its town in yesteryear. It also tells a humble tale of how its town prospered from being an underprivileged area to a wealthy one.
645AD marks the reformation of Taika. An imperial governor was sent to Hida, Takayama, only to discover that its residents are too poor to pay any tax imposed.
Moreover, Hida is situated in the mountainous region of Gifu prefecture, which makes its region hard to access. A secluded region, poor villagers living in Takayama passed their time working with their hands on arts and craft.
These villagers were given another lease of life by the Edo government to earn them a living by providing compulsory labour in Nara. Many who went worked as carpenters. Some were involved in leisurely crafts like ceramics, woodcarving, pottery, and basket weaving.
Sad to say, these villagers were sent out to work by the government for a purpose: to earn some keeps in lieu of their heavy taxes.
Thankfully, along with the passage of time, these villagers eventually became known as ‘Artisans of Hida’ for their skills and mastery. Takayama flourished, and became known as an artisan town.
Fast forward to the Genroku Era in 1692. Under the Tokugawa government, government officials discovered Takayama’s potential as a bastion and chose to have more control over its town.
It was from here on that this quaint town rich in artistry prospered to become a wealthy town and trading centre with a distinct culture of its own.
Vice-versa, Takayama was able to witness the burgeoning of its town’s artisan culture. These traditional crafts are still practiced in present day Takayama.
The prefecture has also been working hard to preserve the olden townscapes built during those historical days, and create a comfortable environment for the elderly to luxuriate in.
To have a better understanding of Takayama’s historical culture, here is a list of places to peek into.
- Hida no Sato
The Hida no Sato, or the Hida Folk Village, is a whimsical parish-like town situated in the mountainous region of Hida. It overlooks Takayama, offering guests a supremely scenic birds’ eye view from above. Here, Gassho-styled houses are laid out around a beautiful pond complete with white swans. Each house beholds an interesting feature that attests to the historical culture of Hida – even before the reformation of Taika. Next door, is home to the mystical Hida Kaiun no Morr (Hida Lucky Forest), a beautiful surrounding that features 7 statues of lucky gods and goddesses made from the bark of wise trees. These trees are 800 – 1200 years old.
- Kusakabe Folk Museum
The Kusakabe Folk Museum was formerly the residence of the Kusakabe family, merchants that thrived during the reign of the Tokugawa clan. However, their initial residence was burned and rebuilt four years later in 1879 by Jisuke Kawashiri, a notable carpenter. Kawashiri constructed the Kusakabe residence with the reinforcement of architectural elements that are symbolic of the Edo period. The main construct of the building is made from cypress (Hinoki) wood, and it’s finishing is a dark-brown colour whose paint is made from soot. During the 41st year of the Showa period (1966), the Kusakabe house was made a designated cultural asset, thanks to it being a prime example of Meiji era architecture. Since, the Kusakabe house is open to the general public as a folk craft museum.
- Old Sake Breweries
One of Takayama’s food and beverage specialities is making sake. This speciality has been imbued into its town since yesteryear. Several old sake breweries are scattered all over Takayama. Lantern-like paper balls made from cedar branches are hung over the entrance of most breweries.
- Hida Minzoku Kokokan
One of the oldest buildings along Sannomachi Street, the Hida Minzoku Kokokan (Hida Archeology Museum) beholds a historical visual tale of burgeon of cultural crafts in Takayama. Its building’s structure has barely changed a bit since the Edo Period.
- Hirata Kinenkan
The Hirata Kinenkan (Hirata Folk Art Museum) is an example of a merchant’s home now revamped into a local museum. Here, visitors are able to catch glimpses into the traditional craft of candle making – now a popular craft practised throughout Japan – as told by its late merchant.
- Miyagawa Morning Market
The Miyagawa Morning Market is an attraction of its own. It has long been around since the Edo period. Visitors are entitled not just their daily groceries; rather, handicrafts are also sold here.