As my train pulled in to Takayama, my heart sank. It was raining. Although I am not disposed to a bit of atmospheric light drizzle, showers in this area of Japan tend to be a massive hindrance. My plans to visit Shirakawa-go went out the window, along with my hopes of seeing the Shinotaka Ropeway and hiking the Kamikochi mountains.
“You could always do the Higashiyama Walking Course”, my hostel owner told me. At only five kilometres, this route through Takayama’s Temple Town and hillside park seemed like a reasonable alternative to the longer hikes I wouldn’t be able to do. In spite of the quick approaching dusk, I set out for the path that lies on the outskirts of the city.
Lined with pretty oak trees and dotted with temples, this is as scenic as walking paths get. The route has been so well looked after that it is easy to forget just how much history surrounds it. In the 1500s, the medieval warlord Kanamori Nagachika took up residence in Takayama, but missed his former home, Kyoto. When he had completed construction on his castle, he thus decided to create a series of temples on the eastern part of the town in order to mirror that of Kyoto’s own Higashiyama area. The Kanamori castle was destroyed in 1695 when the family lost control over the Hida area to the Edo shongunate, but thankfully the series of temples was left untouched. The castle ruins remain at the entrance to Shiroyama Park, where the walking course begins, and from here one begins a pleasant two-hour walk through the park and on to the Higashiyama temple area.
Although the path is well sign posted in English, I took a wrong turn and wound up deep in the woods, leopard-crawling under fallen trees in order to get back to the road (trust me, I couldn’t make that kind of misfortune up). Once back on the path, however, I was transfixed by the abundance of beautiful old temples stacked beside one another. Although I knew nothing about their religious connotations, it is easy to appreciate their great beauty and peaceful atmosphere. The hilly section of the walk was a gentle challenge, and the surrounding forest made for a beautiful distraction.
I completed the course just as the heavens opened and the sun began to set, and was thankful I missed both changes in the day. The path is slippery when wet, so do wear good shoes if you embark in the rain, and the woods get dark very quickly. Perhaps do not walk it alone at dusk if The Blair Witch Project scared you as much as it did me…
If you don’t have enough time to conquer the Japanese Alps, or if Mother Nature is not giving you the best hiking conditions, this Walking Course is wonderful alternative. Packed with pretty natural sights and loads of historical value, I would mark it as a definite must do on your stop over in Takayama.