Central Gems of Japan

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on to gifu Moving inland from Ishikawa is Shirakawa-go, a jewel of a village that seems to have sprouted from the imagination of an old-school Disney illustrator, with farmhouses of “praying hands”-style thatched roofs tucked away in a quiet valley by the foot of Mt. Hakusan. This is where a Japanese Heidi would live, if one existed. This UNESCO World Heritage site is also home to hot springs and a ski area, and we can’t imagine an “ugly” day here—it must be glorious in the spring and summer, but even as rain turned to snow before our eyes, its beauty took yet another direction. Have clients visit Wada House, the largest typical abode in Shirakawa, for a closer view of the architectural details common to the village.

Not far from Shirakawa-go, also in Gifu Prefecture, is Hida Takayama, a great representation of central Japan’s feudal past. The old part of town is the main event here, with elegant, easy streets for walking and shopping, structures showing off its fame of craftsmanship and sake breweries, some of which have been a part of the city for centuries. A walking path along the canals of the Enakogawa River reveal many small bridges that have a bit of an Amsterdam feel to it. Other interesting stops including an open-air museum of traditional housing known as Hida Folk Village, as well as several local museums and temples.

The Takayama Festival takes place twice a year and is touted as one of the prettiest, with fancy colorful floats and thousands of spectators about; this year, they take place on April 14-15 and Oct. 9-10. Should clients miss it, the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall displays several of the showy floats. Hotels fill up fast for these events, so make sure you book rooms well ahead of time. Our money would go to Hotel Associa Takayama Resort, which offers inspiring views of the snow-capped peaks of the Japanese Alps from every room, a divine spa and indoor and outdoor hot spring baths to be enjoyed amid crisp cool weather on the fifth and seventh floor. Rooms start at $232 per night.

Another choice for enjoying the region: Artisans of Leisure’s Traditions of Japan, which visits Kanazawa, Shirakawa-go and Hida Takayama, as well as other “musts”: Mt. Fuji, Tokyo and Kyoto. The 12-day private tour is priced at $20,665 pp dbl.

To reach this region, clients’ best bet is to fly to Noto Airport (NTQ), easily accessible via Narita Airport and others throughout Japan.