We had arrived in our hotel in the mountains about half hour away from Hida-Takayama in the late evening hours. We stayed at Nakao Kogen Hotel Kazaguruma ,which is the first hotel I just cannot recommend. It looked like good value as the price per night was relatively low with good reviews but ultimately I regret giving this place a try. The private onsen inside our room was the only plus but the temperature of the hot springs was frequently far too high to be enjoyed. The room was large ,however, the beds were very uncomfortable, it was not well cleaned and the decor heavily outdated. The only shower option was to shower near the outdoor onsen terrace which was extremely unpleasant when not using the hot spring (it was freezing!!!). The whole hotel looked like no one has done any work on it since the early 90’s; it smelled musty mixed with a faint cigarette odor. The breakfast buffet was very low quality and the selection extremely poor. It almost felt like zero thought was put into the available options as very few of the dishes even went well together. Dinner was even worse: do NOT order the Hida beef there. It’s a huge rip off and not worth the money at all. Lastly, I cannot imagine staying there without a car. There absolutely nothing to do and the bus connection is very infrequent.
The next morning we got in our car and headed to the famous Takayama Miyagawa Morning Market. It’s located along the Miyagawa River and opens everyday from 6:00 am till noon. On the river side you will find stalls offering mostly fresh local produce, flowers and spices while the left side with the buildings holds small shops and vendors selling anything from souvenirs to local snacks. Many sellers offer free samples so keep your belly empty coming here because you will probably end up both trying and buying plenty of food! We had bought many Japanese products here to take back home from miso soup base, mushroom tea and dried Hida beef to snacks and sweets.
One of the first things we tried was Gohei Mochi: simple rice cakes on skewers that are coated in a sweet, nutty miso sauce and Mitarashi Dango. It was a Takayam style mitarashi dango ,which unlike the most famous Kyoto-fu variety covered in a sweet soy sauce & sugar glaze, is actually savory (basically sans the sugar). I think I prefer it in savory Takayama-style. Any form or dumpling & other useless carbs is my jam (sugar addiction… i guess).
One of the most popular folk crafts from Takayama is the Sarubobo ,which means ‘monkey baby’ and is somewhat of a mascot for the Hida region. Sarubobo dolls were traditionally made by grand-mothers for their grand-daughters as amulets for good marriage, smooth birth, happy home & general protection. Sarubobo dolls also are said to prevent sickness and accident, due to the phonetic pair “saru,” which means both monkey and prevention. Traditionally Sarubobo has a red face like baby monkeys but nowadays you can buy them in many different colors: each one offering different form of blessing and protection.
Some other amazing items we tried while at the morning market were steamed buns, hida beef on skewers & hida beef nigirizushi! Everything was absolutely delicious. By the time we were done with the morning market it was lunch time so we decided to go out for some ramen followed by a stroll around the picturesque town. Takayama is definitely a tourist hotspot – if you want to see the most famous traditional street semi-empty I’d recommend coming early in the morning. Despite all this I think it’s absolutely worth visiting! Most of the side streets are just as charming as Sanmachi Suji but void of the crowds and tourist traps so make sure to take the time to just walk around and enjoy!