Running down the spine of Japan’s main island Honshu, the Japanese Alps include many peaks which tower above 3,000 feet: trek, ski and hike their valleys and summits in the Japan National Park, before unwinding at a traditional Japanese onsen which makes the most of the region’s abundance of natural hot springs. In the shadows of the mountains lie beautiful cities like the historic gem of Kanazawa, where the spirits of the samurai and geishas still linger in the streets; the hillside shrines, ancient inns and temples of Takayama; and the historic village of Shirikawa-go, whose traditional farmhouses are a living museum of a bygone era.
As an international tourist destination, Kanazawa is still in the shadow of Tokyo and Kyoto. However, this city is a popular holiday spot among the Japanese, and for good reason - the city is a hub of history, culture and cuisine. Although Kyoto is renowned for its own cultural significance, Kanazawa offers something different in the samurai and geisha districts, the castle garden of Kenroku-en and the many temples and museums, all easily accessible in this small city. Kanazawan cuisine is famous throughout Japan and, due to the combination of hot and cold sea currents that meet there, the delicious seafood is well worth a try.
Takayama is a quaint little town in central Honshu, which has managed to preserve the spirit of traditional Japan. The city dates back to the late 16th century when it was established as a castle town and today the streets are peppered with old inns, lively morning markets, sake breweries, shrines, museums, galleries and exhibitions of traditional folk craft and architecture. One of the appeals of Takayama, especially if you've just come from one of the big Japanese cities like Tokyo, is that the city is small enough to explore on foot or bicycle. Must-sees include the old city area of Sanmachi, where you'll find little wooden shops and sake breweries; the old government building, Takayama Jinya, which dates back to the times of the shoguns; and the Kusakabee Heritage House, an old merchant's home from 1879.