After a few days in Tokyo, we were ready to head out and explore. For a complete change of pace, we headed out to the tiny town of Takayama in the Japanese Alps. This area is loaded with outdoor hot springs and was one of our favorite parts of the trip.
Day 1: Travel day from Tokyo to Takayama
We spent most of our morning in Tokyo shopping for dry clothes and shoes. Even though it’s supposed to be “dry season” it rained pretty much every day we were in Japan. After the fun shopping spree we sadly said good-bye to Tokyo and hopped on the 5 hour train ride to Takayama in the heart of the Alps. And yes, Kevin LOVES his new shoes! He’s ready for the mountains now.
We arrived in Takayama late – so decided just to grab a bite to eat. It’s a small town so basically everything (besides restaurants) was closed after 9 PM. But you won’t be disappointed because Takayama has something called “Hida Beef,” a brand name of beef that rivals the much better-known Kobe. We stopped by Tenaga Ashinaga, which is right in the middle of town and serves just about any variation of Hida Beef you’d ever want!
Day 2: Markets, mountain tops and outdoor spas
The following day we woke up at 7 AM to do some shopping at the morning market, which runs along the Miyazawa River. There are technically 2 markets in town, but this one is a lot better! Located in the heart of old town, most stalls sell local crafts, snacks (free samples!) and a wide range of vegetables (including these tiny eggplants that were about the size of a golf ball). The market is open from about 7 AM to noon every day.
After eating our way through the market – and buying some erasers shaped like sushi – we headed to the bus station to buy our tickets out to spa country. I wanted to go up to the top of the Shin-hotaka ropeway. Opened in 1970, the line climbs to the hillside of the Hida Mountains’ Mount Hotaka, the third tallest mountain in Japan.
We boarded the bus and took the 90 minute journey through what can only be described as fairy-tale Japanese villages — most with Japanese inns that had their own spas. We arrived at the ropeway and let’s just say, we didn’t have great expectations of some great views from the top. In fact, it was pretty foggy at the bottom!
Going up and up!
And what a view!! Okay, or not!
And even if you don’t get a view – they’ll snap your photo at the top of the world — with what the backdrop might look like.
We did some hiking – though it was actually pretty cold up there! We were ready for the next part of the trip — settling into one of the hot springs. Picking a hot spring is an overwhelming experience. I ended up going with a place called Hirayu No Mori, which I highly recommend. It’s located right next to the bus station — giving you the maximum amount of time at the spa. Plus, there is a shop that sells the most amazing Hida beef buns, which is a must eat!
Before entering the spa, you will do the very Japanese experience of using a vending machine to get your toiletries, including towels and passes.
The spa is separated into a men’s section and a women’s section. There is a rustic lodge with hot baths and a cold bath inside as well as several pools of varying degrees outside (from burning hot to HOLY MOLY, I am going to burn my skin off… hot!). The spot is like out of a Japanese movie – it’s really a well maintained spa.
It was a long day! But such a fantastic mix of exercise, getting off the beaten path and relaxation. We got back in town and Kevin settled onto the couch at his favorite coffee shop in Takayama called Coffee Don.
Could the day get any better? How could I ever top the spa and all that excitement? But after walking around I found the only thing that could… Three words: Hida beef pizza! Done!