Everyone who visits Takayama wanders the famous historic downtown district, but few venture up into its temple town area, or Teramachi. Takayama was full of tourists on the day that I visited, but with the exception of a couple of locals, I had the entire Teramachi to myself.
Takayama's Teramachi consists of over 10 temples and shrines, all within minutes walk of each other. None are large, but they are all very well kept and contain many historic buildings.
Start at Takarabashi Bridge on Yasugawa Street. Walk away from town and take your first right, then your first left. This will put you at the bottom of a narrow stone path leading uphill. At the top is Unryuji Temple and its lovely gate tower, which was originally a structure within Takayama Castle.
Next is a long narrow slope leading up to Higashiyama Hakusan Shrine. Built in 720, it is the oldest in Takayama. Daioji Temple sits below the shrine, but at the top of Yasugawa Street. The grounds contain a number of impressive structures. Along this section of the route, you will also pass three smaller temples, Kyushoji, Eikyoin, and Tounin.
Cross over Yasugawa Street and into the second half of the Teramachi and Sogenji Temple. This temple, and most of the others, were founded by members of the Kanamori Clan. The next shrine, Higashiyama Shinmei Jinja, also sits on a hill above the temples. It is tucked into a quiet, green forest.
For those who would like to stay overnight within a temple, Tenshoji is the home of a youth hostel. Hokkeji Temple, built in 1558, possesses a stone Buddha that is believed to help worshippers recover from illness. However, in order for its healing powers to work, it is necessary to wash the Buddha in the place where your own illness exists.
When an appointment is made in advance, Zennoji Temple offers visitors the opportunity to experience zazen, or zen meditation. And, behind a majestic wall built of stones moved from Takayama Castle sits Soyuji, the final temple within Takayama's Teramachi.
Throughout Teramachi are signboards in four languages (Japanese, English, Korean, Chinese) identifying each temple and shrine, and pointing visitors to their next destination. The walk is actually part of the longer 'Higashiyama Walking Course', which continues on from Teramachi to a few less central temples and shrines, then into Shiroyama Park, which is the former site of Takayama Castle. Unless you plan to be in Takayama for a few days, skip this section of the walk as it is rather lengthy and is not as impressive.