Japan is secretly filled with a number of perfect winter wonderland destinations. Perhaps the best of these would be the Japanese Alps. But maybe not how you know them.
Most people who visit the Japanese Alps are there to ski some of the best resorts in the country. Having just spent a week at Niseko snowboarding the countries best powder, we opted for a different mountain experience. 4 days exploring some of the most beautiful towns in Japan. Our route took us through snowy mountain hikes among ancient evergreen trees, samurai and geisha villages and castles, experiencing a slow, relaxed way of life not seen in the big cities.
For any visitor to Japan in winter I highly recommend the below Japanese Alps itinerary to experience a whole new side to the wacky and wonderful country of Japan.
4 Days in the Japanese Alps
Day 1 – Takayama
Our journey started with two trains and two buses to get us from the beautiful Mt Fuji to Takayama. We were greeted with a soft layer of white everywhere we looked.
We started our day with a visit to Takayama Jinja, the old governmental houses from the Edo period, which was so fascinating! Entrance fee: 430Y
After coffee, we took what we though would be a nice walk, which turned into a short hike through the hilly Shiroyama park. Hiking through the snow was definitely more challenging, but was worth it for the beautiful views of the snowy peaks of the Alps and the castle ruins we found.
After, we spent the afternoon exploring the old town. The old town is a beautifully preserved district of old merchant houses, tea shops and sake breweries. It was seriously like we time warped back to the Edo period.
Our day finished with a quick visit to the Sakuramahachimangu shrine.
We stayed at Guesthouse Tau. It’s an easy walk from the station, reasonably well located and the staff are great. We were also lucky enough to be there for the Takoyaki party where we learnt how to make our own Takoyaki balls!
Eats & Drinks
For lunch we had a great feed of ramen, hida beef and gyoza at Kajibashi . We also had a great dinner at a surprising burger house located in a beautiful old merchant house in the old town called Centre 4 Hamburgers. After dinner drinks were at the dusky and intriguing YU bar.
Day 2– Shirakawa-go
A 50 minute bus ride from Takayama is the historical town of Shirakawa-go. The day we visited was unfortunately was a mix of rain, sleet and snow, but still definitely worth a visit. We stored our baggage easily at the bus terminal, grabbed a map and went out to explore for about 4 hours before jumping back on a bus bound for Kanazawa. The view of the town from the top would have been absolutely beautiful. However, when were there all we got was a wind broken umbrella and a wet camera. Of course it started to clear up when we got on the bus.
We stayed Tokyu Hotel, Kanazawa. If you are lucky enough, a stay in a traditional ryokan in Shirakawa-go would be an amazing experience and you could view the town from the look out at night time when it is all lit up. Unfortunately there isn’t lots of accommodation in Shirakawa-go and it sold out before we decided to go. Book early guys!
Eats & Drinks
We tasted a variety of different quick street food style eats as we wandered around the village. Dinner in Kanazawa was a small pizza place near our hotel. Days 3 & 4 – Kanazawa
Our first stop on our first day in Kanazawa was the old Geisha District. The beautifully preserved suburb just over the river is now full of tea shops, galleries and local designers.
We visited Ochaya Shima. Ochaya literally translates to ‘tea house’. Geisha entertained upper class merchants in tea houses. Ochaya Shima was constructed nearly 200 years ago. It remains the same as when it was originally built. You can spend hours wandering from shop to shop, drinking matcha and photographing the district.
After the Geisha district we skipped along to the Ninja Temple. When the temple was built during the Edo period, building were not permitted to be more than two stories high. While it doesn’t look it, the temple is actually 4 stories with 7 layers. The temple has many pit falls, secret passageways, hidden staircases and tunnels for escape in case the temple was ever attacked. There were no photos allowed in the temple. I highly recommend a visit. It was seriously one of the coolest things I have seen. Just be sure to book!
After a quick walk around the Samurai District we tried to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is meant to be the best in Japan. However, we arrived to discover that it was closed that particular day. One sad Jaime!
The next day we were blessed with the largest snowflakes I have seen in my entire life as we visited the Kanzawa Castle and the Kenroku-en Gardens. Both were exceptionally beautiful in the snow. The gardens are the third best gardens in all of Japan and that’s seriously saying something! Oh and I am moving in to the castle.
Tokyu Hotel, Kanazawa. The hotel is great value for money and in a great location. The two buses that go to all the attractions top just outside the front door. There are heaps of shops and restaurants around too!
Food & Drinks
Breakfast was at the Starbucks downstairs to get our daily coffee fix. Lunch was on the go while we were out exploring. We enjoyed dinner at an amazing little Nepalese/Indian restaurant called Aashirwad in the street behind the hotel. Some of the most amazing Indian food I have ever had.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my castle in the Japanese Alps!
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