More photos of Sanmachi
The historical merchant houses that make the fame of Takayama, besides its festival, are located in the San-machi quarter, the streets immediately beyond the Miya-gawa River as one comes from the train station, between the Kaji-bashi Bridge and the Naka-bashi Bridge. These narrow streets are usually packed with tourists and school groups, reflecting their popularity. It is one of the best preserved Edo-era neighbourhood in Japan. The old merchant and artisan houses have all been converted in private museums, traditional restaurants or souvenir shops. Quite a few old sake breweries/shops still operate and can be recognise by the large ball of cedar needles hanging above their entrance, or more obviously, by the big sake barrels lined in front of their façades.
The morning market stretches north of Kaji-bashi, almost all the way to Sakurayama. It is also filled with tourists, which have become the main customers. The streets parallel to the morning market are also a designated historical preservation area, known as the Shimoninomachi-Ojinmachi quarter.
Takayama Jinya 高山陣屋
More photos of Takayama Jinya
The city's most important historical building is indubitably the Takayama Jinya, the old residence of the governor of the Hida province appointed by the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo. Hida was one of the 60 tenryō (domains) ruled by the Bakufu. The present structure dates from 1692, and is the only building of its kind left in Japan. All the other Jinyas were torn down after the restoration of Emperor Meiji in 1868. This one escaped destruction by serving as the Takayama Prefectural Office from 1868 to 1969.
Visiting the Jinya pludges you back into the age of the samurai, as if you had been dropped in a Kurosawa film. The wooden structure, tatami and fusuma are impeccably preserved, although the empty rooms appear lifeless. The traditional gardens are perfectly laid. Note the rabbit-shaped nail heads on the poles (e.g. on the terrace facing the garden). They are called "mamuki usagi" and are the original Edo-era decorations - a sign that even the samurai of old had a soft spot for cuteness. The rice storehouse ("onkura") was built in 1600 and is the largest of its age in the country.
Shiroyama Park 城山公園
South of the historical centre rises a densely wooded hill (687m) where the local Daimyō's castle once stood. Takayama castle was erected by Lord Kanamori Nagachika between 1588 and 1600. It was the seat of the Kanamori clan until 1692, when the 6th lord was transfered to the Dewa province (present-day Yamagata prefecture). The castle was torn down three years later by order of the shogunate. The hill was designated historical area and renamed Shiroyama Park at the Meiji Restoration. The ruins of the castle are still visible at different places. The park makes for pleasant walks and offers vistas on the city and surrounding mountains.
Map of attractions in Takayama