Second only to our love of traveling is eating. Aside from the amazing sushi, wonderful ramen, and delicious vendor foods (takoyaki, etc), the most amazing meal we have had to date was eaten in Takayama, Japan. The food in Japan has quite the variety!
As self-respecting carnivores, Erica and I live for meat. After hearing about the beef in Japan, we knew we wouldn’t be able to live with ourselves if we didn’t devour some.
After dropping our bags off at the hostel, we set out to find our anticipated meal. It began to rain shortly after we left and we could tell it was going to get much worse, and fast. Minutes away from a torrential downpour, we headed into a traditional-looking restaurant and sat down. The window next to our table overlooked a beautiful garden which was now being flooded. Thankfully out of the rain, our minds returned to the beef.
We decided to order three different styles of Hida beef and sample them all. Erica’s beef was brought out with some veggies and a small charcoal grill. It was very simple and delicious. My meat was served with veggies and miso and cooked on a magnolia leaf. The flavors and scents worked wonderfully together as the beef melted in our mouths. However, the dish that easily stole the show was the sukiyaki that our travel mate ordered. It was comprised of a large metal bowl filled with broth and veggies that was placed over a flame. The meat is then placed in the broth and boiled, absorbing the flavors. Once cooked to your ideal temp, the beef is then dipped in raw egg before giving your taste buds an orgasm.
And now for Erica’s version of Takayama. My man can only remember the beef. While the Hida beef was good, there is so much more to the city.
This city is quite a few hours off the main “strip” of cities (i.e. Kyoto, Tokyo, Nagoya, etc.) and requires this awesome train ride through the Japanese Alps. Not only are you heading to a small city with lots of personality, but the view on the way there is gorgeous – green mountains, rivers, tunnels – the WORKS.
We arrived hungry, sweaty, and it was hot as hell (this is what we get for going in July), and we treated this city like we had so many others – we arrived with nowhere to stay and apparently most hostels were booked up that weekend. Our search in Lonely Planet’s hostel page began. The actual city is quite small and can be walked around on foot – may take you a while but is completely doable. After some luck and our dear friend Michael struggling through the little Japanese he knew, we found a place – two small rooms, about $30 per person USD (which was the going rate of most hostels). We actually only stayed there one night, but it was home enough.
We walked around Takayama, but be prepared! As this is a small quaint city, everything closes by 5pm. By the time we were able to really enjoy any time, it was close to closing time so we had to make some quick decisions on where to go. One place we definitely suggest is Sannomachi Street. This awesome street is lined up with original buildings from the 1600s. Not only is it a blast from the past but a beautiful scene to start your journeys in Takayama. When you hit it up during the day you have your choices of sake breweries, coffee shops, homes and shops. Basically it can be a photographers dream.
While we quickly made it through the streets we headed to the main government building – Takayama Jinya. This is also a really nice building to check out. You are basically free to roam around (and they give you plastic bags to carry around your shoes, which is nice!) and explore this building at your pace.
If we had more time I would have loved to have just sat and taken it all in. You get a really nice breeze from the central garden and it is so quiet and peaceful. Please note that while this building can be amazingly peaceful, it does have interrogation quarters in which the various torture devices are displayed. Must see!
I think after everything closed down we hit up the local corner store to grab some instant ramen. We were saving our bellies for the aforementioned Hida Beef escapade the next day. All I have to say is that once it got dark, there really isn’t much to do unless you plan on heading out to the bars… but that will come later. We ended up crashing early to head out for some more sites.
In the morning, after our bellies were full of corner store coffee and packaged baked goods, we started searching for another hostel. We definitely hit the jackpot on this one. A spot opened up in Takayama Hostel Zenkoji Temple Inn. This place is phenomenal. Not only was it a renovated temple, but you get the ryokan style feel with a beautiful garden in the middle that just blows your mind. It also just so happened that the room we got had two sides that opened up to the garden. If you have the opportunity, I highly suggest this hostel. While the walls may be paper and you can hear your neighbors giggling and snoring, the owners are a friendly group of people.
We threw down our things and headed out to catch a bus to Hida-no-Sato, or the Hida Folk Village. This site houses (no pun intended) various forms of housing found in traditional mountain villages in Japan over various regions and years. We got lost in it for a few hours and probably would have stayed longer had dark ominous clouds not shown up. We headed out before the torrential downpour that was about to occur.
As Shaun stated above, our meal for the night was meat. Good, beautiful, yummy, fatty meat. When finished, we all fell into a small meat coma and took a nap/played UNO (yay for bringing cards on backpacking trips) until the businesses closed and the bars started setting up. We decided our drinking trip of the night would be to head out to a bar called the Red Hill Pub. I was unable to really find much information on it, however, you can find it on Wikitravel here.
This pub was a small, quaint bar with an awesome vibe. The bartender was fantastic and super friendly. The beer choices not only included local fare but various imports and IPAs. Please note that going here you will run into some less than savvy travelers. Some English dude decided to yell at a local, “I don’t understand you! Domo origato Mr. ROBOTO!” and we all cringed.
We had an awesome surprise as Izumi (our host dad’s daughter) decided to surprise us and drive out to Takayama to drink the night away. To make the night even weirder and more AWESOME, this song came on. As I am a film junkie, it seemed a bit odd that a Lost in Translation song would be playing in a bar while I was there. We stayed until we were pushed out at about 2am. As we felt the need to continue to drink, we grabbed some beers at the corner store and wandered the streets while drinking. Being as this lovely activity is illegal here in Texas, it felt quite liberating to walk down the street with an open container. Something stupid, yes, but worth mentioning lol.
All in all we had a blast in Takayama and highly suggest making the trip out. It may be out of the way but the experiences and sights are totally worth the effort.