Tales of Takayama

Trip Start Oct 03, 2011
Trip End Dec 25, 2011

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What I did
Took in a few museums and a heck of a lot of temples

Flag of Japan  , Gifu,
Tuesday, October 11, 2011

From Hakone we travelled 4 hours west with our JR passes through gorges and mountainous scenery to arrive at Takayama. Although our rail passes can get us pretty much anywhere (including Metro systems and ferries) we can't use it on certain faster Shinkansen (bullet trains), the Hikara train we did get managed to do an impressive 282 km in 72 minutes however. The bullet trains all have different names (think turbo-charged Thomas the Tank Engine), which have made it easy to navigate so far!

The hostel is a short walk from the train station, which took longer as we answered a questionnaire for the local tourist info centre; for her troubles Amy received a touristy Japanese fan. The hostel is great and our double room is akin to the ryoken we had just left. They also offer a 300-yen (3 quid!) Japanese fare for dinner. Determined not to miss out we set off on a walking trail and aim to be back for the "Oden party". We navigate the main tourist street which seems like Takayama`s version of The York Shambles, sampling some pungent Miso broth on the way.

Our walk then takes us to the top of the forested hill overlooking the small city where Takayama castle once stood. Fleeing from the midge swarms we head downwards to the next point on the route, a working Buddhist temple. And then another temple. And then another one. And then another. Then another. And again. And again. And again… Don’t get us wrong, we like a good ol’ temple as much as the next, but it seems Takayama has more than enough. We manage to hit all 9 (or was it 11? I lost count. At one stage three ran into each other) of the temples on our recommended tour, beautiful in the twilight despite their number. We still had a bit of time and so inspired by the religion around us set off to find our own holy grail: the next days breakfast for Amy!

Back at the hostel we are looking forward to our Oden. “Is it vegetarian?” Amy asked the guy at the counter. He implies you can choose the bits you want and avoid eating meat. In reality Oden is a big bowl of watery soup in which all manner of things (mainly meaty) are cooked together. Amy is offered some of the veg in a meat flavoured soup, which she declines. Michael tucks in to what he describes as party sausage soup with other as yet undefined rubbery bits. All is not lost as rice is served and Amy gets a veggie alternative, finally followed by boiled eggs. Hoorah! We later learn the rice is bought in from Fukashima to help aid the flagging sales of local farmers. Rest assured as we are told it has met all stringent safety tests. Gulp!

During the meal we talk with other guests of the hostel and bond over the helpfulness encountered from friendly natives. We do however hear a story of an encounter with a species not thought to be in existence: a rude Japanese person! We also discuss something that has been worrying us since our arrival in Japan: the toilets. You can find western loos pretty much everywhere but sometimes they come with a side panel that looks like you could set up your Sky plus from it. Some brave souls around the table had played with it. Emboldened, we might give it a go. I won’t keep you posted. Even worse than the gismo-loos are the traditional style ones, or as I think of them: a porcelain hole.

Anyway… The next day we head out to the morning market to poke around the blend of tourist tat and curious foodstuffs. Afterwards we head to the museum housing the Hida region’s traditional floats that parade around the street twice a year to celebrate the harvest (we just missed it). The floats are impressive: old, intricate, massive and covered in gold and bright colours, a few even have puppets built in. We’ve spotted some tall garages around town that store the floats that are not on display. The heaviest float is the portable shrine that needs two 40-strong teams to carry it around. Unfortunately, the blurb to the side of it reads, they don’t use it anymore, as they can’t find 80 volunteers of the same height to balance it on their shoulders while carrying it round! Our ticket also lets us into another building which houses detailed replicas of the shrines and temples we visited in Nikko, which took 15 years to make. A quick look round another nearby temple ensues (where, to cure illness, people chew paper then throw it up at a cartoon goblin on a part of the roof) before we head to the museum next door. Here we are entertained by a show starring the puppets from the floats above. The puppets are amazing! One walks apparently unaided from pole to pole, another performs impressive acrobatics. Amy gets involved as a clockwork character brings her a cup of green tea (she DRANK it boys and girls!) it then instantly turns and heads back as soon as the cup is replaced; finally we receive a souvenir poster as a puppet demonstrates it’s calligraphy skills. We look around the museum’s parade lion heads before setting out to grab some lunch. Not put off from the previous night we try some rice dumplings on a stick and rice crackers. Amy is shocked to feel herself longing for fruit and vegetables.

We spend the afternoon at the Hida folk village, a collection of traditional houses from the region plonked together around a carp filled lake. Most include ridiculously thick thatched roofs to stop the heavy snow getting in and give a good indication of life from about 120 years ago. Michael’s highlight is ringing a prayer bell (as if it was a competition to see who could ring the bell the loudest), Amy’s highlight was being loaned a Japanese sun parasol to stroll around the ground with. The only drawback is that to enter each house you have to take your shoes off and replace them with the slippers by the door. We overhear a woman complain that by taking them on and off so much her trip to Japan is ruining her shoes. We can relate! I think in order to be pure you have to remove your shoes to enter temples. This then also applies to the museum houses we are visiting, as well as proper houses, hostels and guesthouses. Returning to an earlier topic: you enter a building and replace your shoes for their slippers, you then nip to the bathroom where you replace the slippers you just swapped with the communal bathroom slippers. It all seems a bit too much!

We top off our day in a Japanese attempt to replicate an English pub, drawn in by the cheap food, English menu and the quality of cheesy 80’s inspired J-Pop coming out of the stereo. The attentive waitress impresses us, but we definitely do not enjoy the challenge of eating noodles with chopsticks.

Tomorrow brings an early start as we head off to Hiroshima.
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Mum & Dad A on

Wonderful pictures and as usual a very interesting update on your adventures, hopefully Amy is coping without her Weetabix!

Catch up with you soon.

Love M&D

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