There are a number of sites to see in Takayama, from the photogenic streets of the Sannomachi area to the shrines and temples that line the eastern mountains. However, one sight truly stood out in my mind on my last visit to this town in the central mountains and that was the old government building of Takayama Jinya.
When the Tokugawa shoguns came to power in the early years of the 1600s, they set out to subdue the provinces and bring the whole of Japan under their control. The land that Takayama Jinya now occupies once housed the summer estate of the local ruling lords, the Kanamori family. As the shoguns tightened their grip on the country, the Kanamori were, ahem, encouraged to relocate to northern Honshu (Akita Prefecture, to be exact – a banishment in those days). Their residence was taken over and turned into administrative offices.
The current building dates from 1816 and is quite the imposing edifice. Standing just back from the river, it’s entryway is divided by class – samurai would enter through the yawning main gate, while commoners coming to submit petitions, pay taxes, or serve out punishments would enter through a door on the gate’s right side. Inside, colored lines between the tatami mats mark where men of different ranks would sit.
As with many Japanese buildings, a good portion of the property is marked by a large garden. In the fall, this includes beautiful maple trees with fiery leaves. Come in the spring and you’ll be treated to seasonal flowers and the occasional plum and cherry tree.
The back of the property holds a kura, a storehouse once used to hold rice (the tax payment of the area’s residents) that now contains a small but interesting museum. There are a few labels in English about notable uprisings and a few historical incidents but I found the old maps of Japan and the Hida region in particular to be the most fascinating part of the exhibit.
Takayama Jinya is cold in winter and you’ll be expected to take off your shoes and carry them with you throughout the buildings. Wear thick, warm socks and don’t forget a hat. An English brochure is provided at the reception window but if you’re interested in learning a bit more, there is usually at least one staff member who will happily give you an explanation, a tour, or both in English. Just ask at the ticket counter.
For more on visiting Takayama Jinya, you can pop onto the website run by the Hida Region.