Discovering atmospheric Takayama, the setting of Hyouka

Note: As stated in previous reports, I’m basically clearing my backlog of writing reports for old pilgrimages. This visit happened way before the pandemic.

I would say that there are two types of anime pilgrimage destinations. There are those that are otherwise rather ordinary, but where an anime being set there adds new meaning to the place, creating fresh appeal. I hope people won’t mind if I name Nishinomiya (Haruhi Suzumiya series) and Hamura/Mizuho (Clannad) as examples. I enjoyed these locations, but I have to admit it was mostly just for the anime connection. Then there are places that have a lot of their own appeal, where anime is the draw that gets fans to discover these destinations that are also wonderful in their own right. This would apply to Numazu (Love Live! Sunshine!!) and to Takayama.

Granted, Takayama is not that “off the beaten track,” at least for domestic Japanese tourists, but it did get on many more people’s radars thanks to Kyoto Animation’s 2012 “everyday mystery” anime Hyouka (氷菓; alternative romanization: Hyōka), where the setting really adds to the ambience of the show. Takayama, also known as Hida-Takayama for extra clarity, is a modestly sized town of under 100,000 residents in Gifu Prefecture, surrounded by mountains and thus a bit isolated from other population centers. It is most famous for its preserved Edo period old town and one of Japan’s top festivals. However, even though Hyouka is unambiguously set in the real Takayama, in the anime, the town is called “Kamiyama” (spelled with the kanji 神山, not the more intuitive 上山 even though some people mistakenly use that).

Since Takayama is located in Central Japan, it is not close to either the Tokyo area or the Kansai region, and it isn’t located conveniently on the major Tōkaidō route between the two either. It is a bit of a way north from Nagoya. Thus, getting to Takayama most often involves getting to Nagoya first. From there, there are special JR lines up north, but timetables might be a bit more limited than what you’re used to, in terms of fewer trains and shorter operating hours. Even with Shinkansen and express trains, reaching Takayama from the two aforementioned regions generally takes 3.5–5 hours.

With my Takayama visit in September 2018, I was too cheap for Shinkansen, and my solution for still being able to spend a full day in Takayama was to stay in Nagoya and do a day trip from there to Takayama by bus, taking the first bus in the morning and returning in the same evening. Taking off from Nagoya at 7.30 in the morning, I was in Takayama a bit after 10, and had time until 19 (7 pm). For the record, I had planned it such that I could do sightseeing in Nagoya itself the day after. So that’s an option as well, and it worked out well for me.

The pilgrimage

I hadn’t slept too much in the nights before my Takayama pilgrimage on 1 September 2018, and I tried to snooze a bit more in the bus from Nagoya. Emerging from the bus at Takayama Station and seeing Takayama’s streetscape, however, reinvigorated me right away. It wasn’t actually my first time there: I’d dropped by the town briefly in November 2017 on a trip to several destinations that my university organized for international students. However, I hadn’t really had time for anything back then. Thus, seeing the streetscape reminded me of how pretty the town is and got me excited about being able to actually explore it this time. First things first, I walked to the town’s obligatory river, the Miyagawa.

Making my way south along the river, I walked past Takayama Jinya (an old government office that is a tourist destination) and to the southwest of that location. Only a short way away, there was a crossing that appears in episode 11 when Oreki is on his way home from a coffee shop meeting with Irisu-senpai.

On this street is also the Ipponsugi-Hakusan Shrine (一本杉白山神社), which is the shrine near Oreki’s home in the anime. However, the building that is used as the model for Oreki’s home is not here in reality.

After the shrine, I walked back up to the river, crossed it, and proceeded to the Sanmachi (三町) Traditional Architecture Preservation District on the eastern side.

Along this alleyway is also Café Hifumi (喫茶一二三) from the anime. In real life, it’s called Katsute (喫茶去かつて). This is where Oreki and Irisu-senpai meet to discuss the movie in episode 10.

I’m hearing the place is famous and a bit on the expensive side as well. In any case, I didn’t try Katsute, since I was just about to go to another café. This was Bagpipe (バグパイプ), a British-style café just a short walk away.

To me, Bagpipe is possibly the most memorable Takayama location, since it was featured prominently early on in the show. Chitanda and Oreki meet there to discuss the first mystery in episodes 2 and 3. In the anime, it has the rather hilarious name “Pineapple Sand” (パイナップルサンド; note that in Japan, “sand” is short for “sandwich”).

It was pretty quiet at this time of the day. Naturally, I took the corner table that Chitanda and Oreki sat at in the anime. I sat on Oreki’s seat, against the wall, so that I could have a good view of the café interior.

I had a small lunch here. The café also had a table with some exclusive Hyouka merchandise on sale and a pile of official Hyouka tourist maps for Takayama. I picked one up; the map was actually quite useful, since it included screenshots from the anime unlike the custom Google Maps map I was using on my phone. This made taking pictures for comparison shots easier in the included locations.

After Bagpipe, I returned to the western side of the river, to the street Honmachi-dōri along which many anime spots lie—the maneki neko from the first opening, for instance.

Apparently what’s displayed on the pedestal changes depending on the time of the year or something. I had luck and saw the maneki neko, but some pilgrims have seen other statuettes.

On the other side of the street, you can get a shot of the sidewalk that Oreki and Satoshi walk on their way home from school in the first episode, and continuing northward, you can retrace their path. (Why are they walking northward though? Their school is to the northeast from here. They should’ve never come this far south only to go north again…)

The Kajibashi crossing—Kajibashi (鍛冶橋) is the name of the nearby bridge—appears numerous times in Hyouka.

The restaurant facade used to look more similar to the anime in the past. See for example the fifth comparison pair here (photos from 2012).

The Kajibashi itself appears, too. I walked back south to Yanagibashi to take a picture of it.

If you look closely at the photos, you might notice that while the weather was beautiful and the sky clear earlier, it was starting to get more and more cloudy now.

From Yanagibashi, I went west rather than returning straight north, to grab photos of one spot further away from the river.

My task there done, I returned to Honmachi-dōri (the major street on the western side of the river) and continued further north than before. A shot from here appears in the first opening.

Here, I also spotted a mainstay of pilgrimage towns—a tobidashi panel of Chitanda!

Chii-chan from up close.

Continuing north, I reached the level of Yayoi Bridge (弥生橋). This is where the scene with Oreki and Satoshi walking home from school in episode 1 starts. It does, however, beg the question of how they were this far up north first, then appeared a long way to the south and walked northward again.

Looking south from the bridge, you see this view:

The water feature that looks like steps in the middle of the river is the same one that’s shown in the first opening. I went down to the river banks to take a closer look.

You can also get a view of the Yayoi Bridge from down here. However, the little pedestrian bridge going under the Yayoi Bridge was missing! I don’t know which natural disaster it was damaged by or what happened.

I was close to the Sakurayama Hachimangū (櫻山八幡宮), a shrine with an associated exhibition hall about the famous Takayama Festival. While the festival shown in the anime is a different one (the Hida Ikibina Matsuri), I wanted to see the hall out of general interest. I also needed to take a break and go somewhere indoors, since the weather situation had worsened and it was now raining and uncomfortable.

I spent surprisingly long at the Hachimangū. After finishing, I decided to head straight to Hie Shrine in the south next in order to be able to get a seal there before the standard shrine office closing time at 17 (5 pm). (For context, you can buy seals consisting of a calligraphic design and a stamp at most shrines and temples in Japan. They do them onto a piece of paper or your seal book if you have one; it’s a cool thing to collect.) Thus, I had no time to spare for the anime spots left to check closer by, and resolved to check them later on.

As I neared the shrine—it was almost a 30-minute walk, and the rain continued for most of that—I realized that I’d made a dumb mistake. This shrine was in fact the same one that we’d visited on the university trip the year before (one of the approximately two places we did visit), and I already had the seal from there. I just hadn’t made the Hyouka connection back then, so I didn’t put two and two together. Well, even if I’d known, I would’ve wanted to visit again for pilgrimage photos, but I wouldn’t have needed to rush there.

Anyway, the place still was pretty!

The Hie Shrine (日枝神社), named Arekusu Shrine (荒楠神社) in the anime, is where the Classics Club spends their New Year in episode 20. In addition, it briefly appears in the second opening.

I tried to find the shed that Chitanda and Oreki get stuck inside in the episode, but try as I might, I couldn’t. It’s been taken down.

After Hie Shrine, I was to take a long way back north and beyond the Hachimangū to reach the model of Hyouka‘s high school. There were some other spots on the way there, but it was a comparatively long way to reach even those. Bottom line is, if you’re visiting Hie Shrine, time it better than I did so that you don’t wind up walking the same routes back and forth.

Once I got back to the city center, or the old town vicinity, however it should be defined in this town’s case, I picked the east side of the river this time to catch some of those spots that I hadn’t done yet. The first of these were the pillars separating steps leading to the Miyagawa river banks from the street, close to where the Miyagawa morning market (a Takayama staple) would be.

Another was a water level observation post a short way to the north.

Further to the north, past the Kajibashi and past the Miyamae Bridge, there’s the pedestrian-only Fudō Bridge (不動橋). This bridge is where Oreki confronts Satoshi about avoiding Mayaka in episode 21, and it also appears in the second opening.

Continuing northward for 10 minutes, the school came into view.

While it’s called the Kamiyama High School (神山高等学校) in Hyouka, the real name of the school is the Gifu Prefectural Hida High School (岐阜県立斐太高等学校; interestingly, Hida is spelled 斐太 and not 飛騨 as in the name of the region). They even have a little English section on their official website, with the obligatory Message from the Principal translated and all, so you can go check that for more context. Apparently they’re fostering global perspectives, so that’s the reason.

When I was walking towards the school, I passed two students who were apparently going home from school (despite it being a Saturday—club activities or similar, possibly). Seemingly a little confused, they greeted me by nodding just to be sure, which was kind of funny. In general, I was surprised by how you could just freely walk the paths crossing the school area, for example between the sports field and the buildings. Only the buildings themselves and their small front yards were fenced off. The area felt welcoming compared to some other schools that have appeared in anime, where you might have strongly worded signs already on the way there or the kind of awkward atmosphere I mentioned when talking about the Haruhi school in Nishinomiya. The Hida High School was even on the aforementioned pilgrimage map from the Takayama tourism board. (With that said, reminder that even if they seem to trust us more, rules have to be adhered to, so don’t enter where it’s forbidden like beyond the fences, no photos of students, and it’s best to visit when the school is not in use.)

This building, possibly the main building of the school, isn’t even featured in the anime. It’s always the orange one.

Now that I had seen the school as well, all of my main goals for the pilgrimage were fulfilled, though I still had more than two and a half hours left until my bus back to Nagoya. I made my way back to the central areas, thinking to still check some minor spots that weren’t too far away from everything else.

On Honmachi-dōri again, I noticed this small rest spot where Oreki sat in episode 11. I’d missed it before. It’s across from “Sushi-Dining Nob.”

For my last location, I walked to the southwest and dropped by the Hanasato overpass (花里跨線橋), which passes over the train tracks to Takayama Station on the southern side. This is where Chitanda and Mayaka talk about Satoshi’s mean trickery in episode 21, mirroring the similar scene between Oreki and Satoshi on the Fudō Bridge.

After the overpass, I grabbed some dinner and then went to wait for my bus at Takayama Station. My tiredness hadn’t completely worn out under the excitment, either, so I wasn’t going to keep active until the very last moment. However, even with the slight hiccups, it had been a very nice day. I had been able to see the town properly this time as well as to recognize again what a pretty town with an air of its own this Takayama is. It would be worth the visit even for non-Hyouka fans, and as said, it is indeed visited a lot, even if it’s not one of the top names you hear overseas tourists speak of.

This concludes my sixth and final full-scale pilgrimage report (I still did a Numazu pilgrimage after Takayama, but that’s detailed here as a part of my Numazu series). I’ll possibly be putting up smaller posts, however, along with other content.

Resources

For those looking to visit Takayama sometime, or wanting to see more…

  • The custom Google Maps pilgrimage map I used (in Japanese). It doesn’t have integrated pictures, but it does have descriptions and links to detailed blog entries for each spot. By fujisyuu01.
  • As amazing as it sounds, there’s an English-language page about Hyouka locations on Hida-Takayama’s official tourism website. You can even download the official tourist map there, although that’s only in Japanese.
  • MikeHattsu’s archive of posts tagged with Hyouka. Covers many locations in separate posts.
  • For more scenery, there are a couple nice English-language reports as Imgur albums. However, neither of them have anime screenshots to compare to. Here’s one by /u/Dr-cereal from 2019 and here another by /u/KinnyRiddle from 2017. The latter is actually what made me aware of Takayama.
  • Takayama’s page on Japan Guide, for the non-anime-related sights in town. The access section has detailed information on how to get to Takayama from a number of locations within Japan.
    • The “side trips” section points this out anyway, but the normally very remote village of Shirakawago, a major tourist destination and related to the Higurashi no naku koro ni series, is closeby. Good chance to visit if you’re interested.

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