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Takayama, Gifu, Japan

Sake signs in Takayama

Located in the Japanese Alps, Takayama was founded in the 16th century by Lord Kanamori and boasts an elegant historic district called San-machi Suji. The town still retains traditional Japanese charm and architecture. The streets are narrow, clean and flanked on both sides by tiny canals. As you walk down the historic and picturesque streets, you'll notice huge cedar balls hanging from the eaves in front of shops, indicating Takayama's sake breweries. Go inside and sample the sake while watching the men stir rice in large vats. There are also a surprising number of small museums filled with historical relics of Takayama's past. In the spring the Takayama Matsuri Festival, which dates back to the 15th century, takes place. The population of the town doubles so plan ahead for lodging. Spectacular float parades, solemn ceremonies and traditional folk performances are held during this festival.