If you only go to Tokyo, did you really go to Japan? I’m not saying Tokyo isn’t everything and more, but there’s something charming about Japan’s countryside; in short, it needs to make its way onto your travel itinerary.
We picked up the 7-day JR rail pass and used the train to get to Kanazawa and Takayama for the first three days of our trip. We could easily have spent more time there, but the unfortunate reality is that there’s too much to see and too little vacation time!
Both of these tiny mountain towns boast traditional Edo architecture that will have you living behind your camera lens for the majority of the day. And, on top of the charming buildings, there are countless other things to do in both locations (and so very much to eat!). I’m sharing my favourite finds below, so be sure to have a read and add them to your #JPbucketlist.
Omicho Market (近江町市場, Ōmichō Ichiba):
It’s a pretty damn cool experience to wander the stalls at Kanazawa’s largest fresh food market. You’ll want to stop for lunch in one of the tiny establishments famous for their seafood bowls and sushi. I’m talking fresh outta the water, melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Heads up, there’s a bit of a wait to get in, but your stomach will thank you for sticking around.
This was my favourite neighbourhood in Japan. “All gold everything” seems to be the motto of Kanazawa. So, live like the locals and pick up a gold covered ice cream cone and enjoy it as you peruse the old school streets. Trust me, you’ll walk so much in this town that you deserve to treat yo’ self.
If you’re into the saké scene, you can even get gold flakes in your Japanese rice wine - talk about ballin'! I highly recommend popping into a bar for a tasting or even signing up for the brewery tour. My favourite sip was the unpasteurized saké, which isn’t available in North America. So, if you’re travelling from afar, this is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
This Edo-period castle is like no other. If you visit in the autumn like we did, it’s a scene straight out of a Japanese Disney movie. I can’t even imagine the views if you happen to be travelling during cherry blossom season. And, unlike many tourist attractions, it’s completely free to visit. So that's a serious bonus.
It’s right next to the castle and it’s definitely worth popping by. Fun fact: Kenrokuen translates to “garden combining six”, referring to the six attributes all gardens should have: seclusion, antiquity, spaciousness, human ingenuity, water and scenic views. Plus, it’s pretty cool to see the locals wandering the gardens in their traditional Japanese attire.
This was the perfect place to spend the night in a traditional Japanese Inn, also known as a Ryokan. We stayed in Oyado Yamakyu, which I can’t say enough positive things about. From the spa-like bathhouse to the multi-course home cooked dinner full of local cuisines to the sleeping mats, the experience was extremely unique! In fact, I feel confident saying it was the most memorable night of my trip. Yeah, I went there.
Takayama is the gateway to the Japanese Alps, so it’s only fitting that you partake in a short “hike” while you’re there. Starting from the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine, this lovely walking tour is a nice way to get some steps on your Fitbit, truly see the picturesque little town nestled amongst the mountains, and visit a few cultural sites while you're at it.
You've probably heard of Wagyu beef and Kobe beef, but have you heard of Hida beef? Well, Takayama is known for having the best of the best. We went to a restaurant called Kyoya, which I give an A+ for atmosphere and an A++ for food. Not to mention, it was oh-so-traditional to sit on tatami mats around a charcoal fire and cook our own food. Highly recommend it for a lunchtime pit-stop.
Have you been to Kanazawa or Takayama? Share your favourite experiences below!