“The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists” ~ Japanese proverb.
If you have your heart set on visiting the Japan’s Gifu region, I’m about to let you in on one the area’s most stunning hidden gems – Hida no Sato 飛騨の里.
Located just 20 minutes drive from Takayama’s historical city centre, this open-air museum has yet to be discovered by the masses of tourists that Kyoto and Nara have received in recent years. Known in English as Hida Folk Village, this gorgeous open-air museum nestled in the Japanese Alps makes the perfect (and uncrowded) alternative to Shirakawa-go, its more famous sibling.
As I have a deep fascination with Japan (and written all about it here), I constantly read online travel planning groups and forums to stay up to date. When someone asks about travelling to Japan from June to September, the general consensus from responses is to NOT visit Japan during the summer months.
“It’s too hot!”, “it’s the rainy season” and “change your dates to another season” are all typical replies, implying that a summer visit to Japan is an outrageous idea that one should never entertain. After all, places like Hida Folk Village and Shirakawa-go are most popular to visit when a generous layer of snow blankets the surrounding region.
I can confirm people who have this mindset about visiting Japan in summer are dead WRONG. Here’s why!
What you’re about to see from my outing to Hida Folk Village will absolutely change your mind about holding back on a summer visit (although it would be stunning at any time of year) and detail what to explore while you’re there.
I had quite high expectations for this destination having researched it thoroughly before my trip (as I always do!). Not only were these expectations met with surprise and delight, they were easily exceeded. I just adore these kinds of Japanese cultural experiences and if you’re like me, you will too.
This guide to Hida Folk Village is included in my full 2 days in Takayama itinerary, which is part of my larger 3 weeks in Japan itinerary. Take a look once you’re done here if you enjoy sights and culture off the beaten path.
If you want to find out what it’s really like to visit Hida Folk Village (especially in summer) and why it’s a great alternative to Shirakawa-go, read on for more!
This guide to visiting Hida Folk Village will cover:
This post contains affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may receive a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Why Hida no Sato is a perfect alternative to Shirakawago
Hida no Sato is an open-air museum created in 1971 with the aim to preserve the beautiful gassho-style houses synonymous with Gifu prefecture. Some of these traditional buildings are over 250 years old, dating back to the Edo period (1603 – 1867).
You may think they have a similar architectural style to the buildings in popular Shirakawa-go, and that’s because they do.
Donning steep thatched roofs to shield from heavy snowfall, this selection of over 30 farmhouses were relocated to Hida no Sato to ensure the unique cultural heritage of this area can be passed from one generation to the next.
Because the village has been set up as an open-air museum, you can learn all about life in the Japanese Alps during the Edo period, see historical artefacts on display and really feel like you’re stepping back centuries in time.
Overtourism in Shirakawa-go
Shirakawa-go has become increasingly popular – and crowded – in recent years. So much so, issues from overtourism in Japan are beginning to affect locals in the area.
In this UNESCO World Heritage listed area, tourists are known to line up for around two hours to get an iconic photo from Shirayama Viewpoint. This elevated platform has an uninterrupted view over the valley below with the gassho-zukuri farmhouses dotted across the landscape.
Hida no Sato is a great alternative to Shirakawa-go because the experience is more intimate and there’s less crowds (especially during the summer months). This means you can take many photos without other people in them, have a go playing the old town games and enjoy entering the farmhouses without pushing past hordes of other people.
Where to stay in Takayama
Looking for accommodation in Takayama? Before I jump into my visit to Hida no Sato below, here’s my tip for where to stay in Takayama. I enjoyed my two nights at Minshuku Iwatakan guesthouse and can highly recommend it. Goodness, they sure know how to put on a feast!
With tatami 畳 flooring in the rooms, old-school common area (complete with kettle suspended from the ceiling over coals) and lovely private onsen inside, it’s the perfect place for a traditional stay in Takayama.
It’s about a 15 minute walk to the town centre and was the nicest of the traditional accommodation I stayed in during this trip to Japan.
Amazing things to see and do at Hida Folk Village
Now onto the exciting part! Everything at this open-air museum has been created to replicate what life was like during the Edo period, providing visitors with a greater understanding and appreciation for this region.
There are ladies demonstrating traditional handicrafts such as weaving and pottery in some of the farmhouses. You can even try your hand at these yourself, more on this down the page!
Master traditional Japanese toys beside Goami Pond
Immediately after entering the grounds, I was welcomed by a glittering pond expanding into the distance. It was built in 1931 and was once a reservoir to supply water to rice paddies in the area. Back in the day children would skate on it during the winter months and swim in the summer.
Under a shelter running alongside the pond are some old-fashioned Japanese toys you can play with. Have a go at the ancient stilts, kendama and spinning tops. These are childhood games locals played from this region of Japan.
Visit each of the incredibly preserved farmhouses
As mentioned earlier, there’s over 30 traditional farmhouses and buildings on display throughout the grounds. Each showcases various collections of tools used in everyday life. These farmhouses are named gassho at their steep roofs are said to resemble two hands coming together in prayer.
Hida no Sato is subtly divided into four sections. These sections are adorned with foliage that is unique to each of the four seasons. According to the brochure you receive on entry, there are 3 recommended routes you can take that cover each of the sections:
- Firstly is a wheel-chair accessible route around the pond, past a traditional family house and a store house. This takes around 15 minutes.
- The second route walks you through eleven of the 30 sights and takes about half an hour.
- Finally the third route leads you around the entire village and takes around an hour. I chose this route and really took my time, completing the journey in under two enjoyable hours.
Notable farmhouses to explore
The most notable farmhouses and items listed as National Important Folk Cultural Properties are:
- Wakayama’s House: An example of both gassho-style roof from Shirakawa and hipped gabled roof from neighbouring Shohkawa. This was under reconstruction during my visit, unfortunately. The restoration of the roof seems like a huge job!
- Tanaka’s House: A typical old farmhouse with a chestnut wood shingled roof, as it does not rot easily. To help reduce the risk of fire, ceramic tiles were once used instead of shingles on roofing. People soon realised that the ceramic tiles cracked under the extreme weather conditions during winter, so shingles became used again.
- Taguchi’s House: Large family home passed down through many generations of the head of the village.
- Yoshizane’s House: The only house in its village that didn’t collapse during a major earthquake in 1858 due to its unique forked-pillar structure.
- The 23-strong collection of sledges, some used to transport huge boulders down from the Alps on display in Hozumi’s House.
- 230 items used for silk producing, on display at Nishioka’s House.
- 989 items used as daily tools and implements of Hida, on display at Tanaka’s House, Michigami’s House and Yoshizane’s House.
- Arai’s House: Old fashioned machinery is on display here as well as a lady doing a weaving demonstration.
Climb the steep stairs to Takumi Shrine
Warning: The stairs leading to the small temple will give your calf muscles a workout! This shrine is dedicated to the skilled carpenters of the region. Once you’ve caught your breath, take special note of the lattice design of the temple’s doors.
The special Chidori lattice work was first created by a Hida local around 400 years ago. The doors’ design is said to have confused people for quite some time as to how it was put together without any nails or glue!
The name chidori チドリ is used to describe this lattice work technique as the design was once thought to resemble the footprints of plover birds.
After the temple was moved to Hida Folk Village from northern Hida, 42 local carpenters from nearby villages were invited to paint the ceiling with botanical decorations.
It’s only open one week of the year to help preserve the delicate paintwork from fading. Would you believe I was fortunate enough for my visit to coincide with the rare opening?! I felt super lucky to witness this beautiful masterpiece.
TIP: Nearby the wheel-shaped rice field, you’ll spot a stone Torii gate. Next to this gate are two massive round stones lying on the ground. With the heaviest weighing in at 70kgs, village men used to hold competitions lifting the stones to prove who was the strongest!
Events at Hida Folk Village
While I especially loved my summer visit to Hida no Sato, there are special events held year-round. See if one of these exciting events will coincide with your visit:
|January & February
|March & April
|Hina Dolls Festival
|Rice planting in the wheel-shaped rice field
|Irises in bloom
|Founding anniversary of the village
|Rice harvesting at the wheel-shaped rice field
Tips for visiting Hida no Sato Folk Village
- Be warned, due to the open fires in the farmhouses the entire village has a strong smoky smell. It’s everywhere and was a little overpowering for my sensitive nose at first, but I got used to it.
- Prepare to take your shoes on and off if entering farmhouses. Some slippers are provided if you need, otherwise bare feet or socks are fine.
- Leave yourself enough time to take a handicraft workshop. More on this below!
- Help the support the locals and their traditions by purchasing handcrafted souvenirs.
- Wear bug repellent if visiting during summer as the little biting critters are notorious in this alpine region of Japan.
- Bears are known to be spotted around the edges of the village, so keep this in mind.
Extend your day with a visit to Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Centre
Just across the road from the entrance to Hida no Sato and next to the bus stop is the Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Centre, where you can enjoy making traditional handicrafts for yourself. No need to reserve, just walk in when you’re ready. Show your Hida no Sato entry ticket to receive a discount!
Choose from 14 types of art and crafts to make, from rice crackers, key chains and sarubobo dolls さるぼぼ to wind chimes, ceramics and more. The cost will depend on the experience you select, ranging from JPY 600 to JPY 1600, and the experiences last from 15 minutes to one hour.
What’s better than learning about local culture while creating traditional souvenirs to remember your trip?
Souvenirs from Takayama
While I didn’t get the chance to go inside the Hida Takayama Crafts Centre myself, I did make sure to pick up some locally-made souvenirs from within Hida no Sato Folk Village and the souvenir store located beside the Crafts Centre.
Takayama is famous for a number of items so I selected the below souvenirs during my visit. Each have been hand-made by locals from the area so I was happy to support small businesses and keep traditional handicrafts alive:
- Soft sunglasses case featuring Takayama’s famous geometric embroidery
- Fabric mobile including lucky rabbit, bells, sarubobo doll and temari balls 手まり (Japanese handball from 7th century)
- Mini wooden gassho-style farmhouse keychain (that I’ll use as a Christmas tree decoration)
- Traditional folded paper spinning top. These were free in the traditional toys area beside Goami Pond within Hida Folk Village.
How to get to Hida Folk Village from Takayama
Address: 1-590 Kamiokamoto-machi, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture
Cost: Entry into Hida Folk Village is JPY 700.
If you’re driving, parking is available out front for JPY 300. It’s easy enough to reach without driving yourself as there’s a few options to get from Takayama to Hida no Sato:
Hida no Sato is a 10-minute bus ride from Takayama Station, cost JPY 210. You’re also able to purchase a combo ticket including entry to village for JPY 930. The Sarubobo Bus has a service every 20-40 minutes for JPY 210 per ride or JPY 620 for a day pass.
If you prefer to take a taxi from Takayama, there are three local services: Santo, Shinko and Hato taxis. You can call one directly to book a pick up from Takayama town centre.
Hida Folk Village is about a 30 minute walk 2 kilometres west of Takayama town centre.
Concluding a visit to Hida no Sato
So that’s what you can expect from a visit to Hida no Sato Folk Village in Takayama! I personally enjoyed strolling the grounds and discovering what life was like in the region a few centuries ago, and can easily say this city is one of my favourite places to visit in Japan.
I’d even happily go back to experience the village in a different season as the ever-changing foliage would create a such beautiful backdrop. It’s also a great alternative to braving the crowds at Shirakawa-go, wouldn’t you agree?
Despite my thorough research of this attraction beforehand, I learnt much more about Japanese alpine life than I thought I would. I was also very impressed with how the open-air museum was curated. It’s a great way to spend a few hours during your stay in Takayama.
Is Hida Folk Village on your list of places to visit in Japan? If it wasn’t before you read this article, have I managed to convince you? Let me know in the comments below!
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Until next time,
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