Honjin Hiranoya takes my breath away the moment I step into the wide-open expanse of the fresh smelling tatami reception area. This is no ordinary ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) but a luxury destination in its own right. The only problem being the competitor for the travellers’ attention are the wonderful things to do in Takayama itself.
On this trip, I discover that winter in Japan offers so much more than skiing. Takayama’s old district is filled with Meiji-era inns, kura houses (treasuries built of mud bricks and resistant to fires) and the old courthouse, the Takayama Jinya a historic government house built in the 17th century, the only remaining office of its kind in Japan and worth visiting.
Things to do in Takayama
So as time is of the essence, I tear myself away from the exquisite tatami rooms and charge out the door into the brilliant sunshine to explore.
1- Take a photo at the Nakabashi Vermillion Bridge
The Nakabashi vermillion bridge beckons and we stop there to take some pictures of ourselves, as we are clad in traditional winter gear provided by the Honjin Hiranoya.
The outfits consist of a yukata, over which you wear a heavy long blue robe topped by a padded sleeveless vest.
On our feet, we have a pair of geta (wooden sandals) overtabi (socks specially designed to wear with thongs).
You might think this is not warm enough for 3 degrees Celcius outside with lots of lying snow piled up around but the winter geta have an almost invisible plastic see-thru shield to protect your toes from getting wet.
2- Go Sake tasting
We clip-clop happily around the neighbourhood admiring the traditional houses and stop often for sake-tasting at the sake breweries.
3- Visit a Kura House
Kura houses are my favourites and they are easy to spot: their exteriors are always plastered and painted a brilliant white with their interlocking, fire stopping doors, painted black.
As these depositories of family heirlooms are no longer needed since houses these days are not so prone to catch fire, they have been lovingly converted into boutiques, cafes, spas and art galleries.
4- Visit the Yatai Kaikan Museum
Hida – Takayama is home to two of the most lavish festivals in the country but if you can’t be there for the Sanno Matsuri (April) and the Hachiman Matsuri (October), you can still see the 17th-century floats at the Yatai Kaikan Museum.
During the 17th century, wealthy merchants in Takayama poured money into the arts and crafts of the region paying craftsmen to create beautiful floats to be paraded in spring and autumn.
Designs grew in complexity as competing tycoons tried to outshine each other.
5- Soak in Honjin Hiranoya’s Onsen
After a full day of sightseeing the Honjin Hiranoya’s Onsen beckons. The ground floor Onsen is not only divine but it offers unexpected luxury Shiseido products.
All private Onsen have shampoo, conditioner and shower gel at every shower station but here the products are first class.
I put a hair masque after I shampoo, gather my hair up in a ponytail with the holders provided, wrap a hot wet towel around my head and step into the hot springs.
It is with regret I have to tear myself from this blissful environment but a special kaiseki dinner awaits at one of the private rooms. To say it was exquisite is an understatement.
Don’t miss an incursion into their Kura Spa, anonsen inside a kura house right across the street from the main building.
How much more Japanese can it get?
Another city not far from Takayama is Nagoya. Here’s how to spend one day in Nagoya.