The Northern Japan Alps of Central Honshū is a region that can be enjoyed throughout the entire year. We arrived during Winter and were lucky enough to see this beautiful area covered in snow, which added so much to the experience. There are trade-offs to make though, for example, Kamikochi was off limits to us during that time, as the snow makes getting the area very difficult.
However, sitting in an outdoor onsen (also known as a ‘rotenburo’) with white-capped mountains surrounding you and the snow falling on your face is an unforgettable experience that we will always remember.
Takayama is a town famed for its old and traditional feel. Sometimes referred to as Little Kyoto, Takayama is a great city to explore by foot or bicycle. The best way to spend time here is to simply walk around the historic old town and try some of the regional specialties.
Takayama makes a great base or starting point for venturing out towards other areas in the Northern Japan Alps. An economical way to explore this area (without a car) is a multi-day ticket from Nohi Bus, a transport company that links up all the major spots in the region. You can make good use of this ticket by travelling onwards to Kanazawa or Matsumoto to continue on your journey across Japan (Both well connected cities with JR stations.)
We stayed a 5 minute walk from the train and bus stations at the Spa Hotel Alpina. There are plenty of restaurants a short walk into town away.
Okuhida is famous for it’s open air onsens and mountain ropeway. This onsen village is popular with local tourists and feels a world away from the busy cities.
A lot of the hotels here offer stunning views of the mountains with outdoor pools. We stayed at the Yamano Hotel in a traditional Japanese style room (known as a ryokan) and enjoyed a fantastic dinner and breakfast that were included in the room price.
Their outdoor onsen was breathtaking, and our first time stepping foot in it may have been our number one highlight of our entire trip to Japan.
It can be slightly difficult to find hotels in the area if you are searching in English and you may have an easier time using JAPANiCAN as we noticed there were a lot more results (with better prices too) during our search.
This area can be reached by bus in under 90 minutes from Takayama. The main attraction here is Ogimachi Village, a quaint little town thats easy to get around by foot. There are a few small museums scattered across town and some eateries. You can walk up to Shiroyama Viewpoint in around 20 minutes if the path isn’t blocked by snow. Otherwise, there is a shuttle bus that runs every 30 minutes from the town center.
We didn’t get a chance to, but you can stay overnight in one of these farmhouses. Seems like this would be a great experience as you would get the town to yourself after all the day trippers leave.
If the pristine natural beauty, excellently preserved towns and glorious outdoor onsens aren’t enough for you, you’ll be happy to know that the food in this region is varied and incredibly delicious.
Takayama continues the trend of offering fabulous beef. Hida beef is especially popular here, and you can find it in all forms such as burgers, croquettes, beef buns, gyozas and sushi. The most popular ways to enjoy Hida beef, however, is to simply grill it (2 minutes on each side) and eat it with some vegetables and dipping sauces. We ate at Suzuya Restaurant and accompanied it with some Shabu Shabu. Hida beef isn’t cheap, but worth the splurge if you’re in the area.
Another regional specialty that’s offered here is their Takayama Ramen, a deceptively simple shoyu broth with thin noodles, locally grown green onions and 2 slices of pork. We loved the simplicity of this ramen and tried it a couple of times while we were here. Tenaga Ashinaga and Menya Shirakawa, the latter which had a lengthy line full of locals (always a good sign!).
Here are some more great articles that expand on some of the food offerings in Takayama: A Gourmet Food tour of Takayama — JAPANiCAN, 9 Delicious Local Meals in Hida Takayama You Must Try — Tsunagu Japanand Stroll The Streets Of Hida Takayama With Delicacies In Both Hands! — Matcha.
After getting used to Japans amazing transportation, Takayama can take a surprisingly long time to reach. We came in from Osaka and it took us close to 4 hours with a couple of changes along the way.
Takayama, as we have mentioned previously, makes a great base to explore this region however. By combining your JR Pass and Nohi Bus ticket you can hop around to a lot of different cities.
You can reach Matsumoto in 2 hours, Kanazawa in 2 hours, Nagoya in 2 and a half hours and Tokyo in 4 and a half hours.
We continued on to Matsumoto for a quick stop over to see the famous Matsumoto Castle on route to Nagano, where we were spending thenight before getting up early to see the snow monkeys at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park.
Port Barton is a charming town to visit. The calmness and understated beauty of the area make it a great stop off point on the way to the more hectic destinations of Palawan, such as El Nido or Coron.