Trip Start Mar 15, 2004
Trip End Apr 16, 2005

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Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Hello again!

We are on our last day of the Golden Week vacation. Back to work tomorrow! On Monday and Tuesday Kyle, Chris, Joel, and I went on a little road trip to Takayama. It is sometimes called Little Kyoto because it has a lot of traditional appeal. In my opinion it is far better then Kyoto. I thought I should come to the Manboo to send through some pictures of our little vacation. This is hopefully the last time I will have to visit this establishment (Kyle and I should be all set with Internet at home as of Monday and I can`t wait!). When I got to my booth the man across the way was listening to his porn at full volume. How disgusting is that? I mean, I know I`m in a foreign country and everything, but isn`t it a universal type of politeness thing that one should listen to their porn quietly when in a public place? I went to the front desk to ask for a new location, but ran into a bit of a language barrier. They just couldn`t understand why I didn`t find my assigned seating acceptable, and I couldn`t communicate `the porn next door is too loud`. I returned to my booth and when the next spicy scene came up I got a staff member to come over and listen with me. He ended up knocking on the man`s door to ask him to turn down the volume. Rather than put the supplied headphones on, the man turned the volume down a bit. So, I was able to upload my pictures in relative peace. Gross. Anyways, back to the trip.

We rented a little Honda at 6am Monday morning, picked up some friends and headed for the Japan Alps. Takayama is about 185 kms away from Nagoya. That seems pretty close, but considering the speed limit on Japanese highways is about 50 kms per hour it took a while to get there. We jumped onto the elevated highway and got caught up in this ridiculous circular loop. THE RING as the loop is called does not serve a function that we can understand. We went around and around and then returned to the regular streets for the rest of our trip. The drive was exceptionally smooth considering the backwards driving they do here (right hand drive, turn signals on the opposite side, and driving on the opposite side). We only drove on the wrong side of the road one time (while trying desperately to locate a bowling alley in Takayama ... more on that later) and ran one red light. Not bad huh? Kyle did an amazing job driving while I slept in the back seat. Highways in Japan have a lot of interesting features. Such as a helpful highway owl that appears at some intersections. Its eyes light up alternately. We didn`t understand, so we just assumed that it was keeping a watchful eye on all of the motorists. How nice.

We spent the first few hours in Takayama touring the Hida Folk Village. At least we think that`s what it`s called. Sometimes they spell it Hida Fork Village, but we didn`t see too many forks around. We were expecting this area to be packed with hordes of tourists, but none seemed to want to show up. We were told to not travel anywhere in Japan during Golden Week. Everyone in Japan has the same week off, so tourist areas are extremely crowded. Perhaps the rainy weather kept people away. Anyways, this village includes several old style Japanese homes. All houses have been preserved so we can understand the way people lived way back when ... when you ask? Your guess is as good as mine. A very long time ago is the best answer I can provide. All the homes were original and very beautiful.

We walked back through town and decided to hop in the car and try to find a skyline road that wraps around the mountains and apparently offers spectacular views (this was the first time our friend Joel had ever been in the mountains, so he was very excited about ... everything the whole weekend). We were not able to find the specific road we were searching for, but it didn`t matter because the road we were on was amazing. It twisted and wound its way through the mountains. We went so high we found snow which was neat. The landscape is wonderful. The trees are of mixed types so everything is a patchwork of various tones of green and brown. So pretty.

We ended up in a little hot spring resort town - Hirau Spa. Apparently taking a bath in some local hot spring was part of the plan, but I missed that part. In Japan, people go to bath in hot springs together and naked. Just to clarify, that means public bathing and public nudity. I had packed my bathing suit just in case, but I was banking on the fact that the hot spring thing was not high on our list of sight seeing priorities. My mistake ... it was. My objections fell on deaf ears. We found an area that was still open and asked the ticket person if we were allowed to wear bathing suits. The lady said ok, but apparently there was a communication failure because I was definitely not allowed. We hung out outside of the undressing areas waiting for someone to show up and tell us which was the boys side and which was the girls. Some friendly people from Tokyo came by and the women ushered me into the undressing area. Panick attack! Yikes I have to take off my clothes. I gave it one more try and pointed to my swim suit. The women couldn`t speak any English at all, except for the word `NAKED`. These women being prepared for the bath had brought about a zillion towels with them. Me? I had not a single one. So I got naked and proceeded to the pre-rinsing area. This is the part where you hunch over and douse yourself a few times with buckets of water. Presumably this is for sanitatary reasons, but since there is no soap involved and the water you douse yourself with just goes right back into the bathing area I just didn`t understand the need to prolong the naked expsoure. I sat in the spring and didn`t move for the next 30 minutes. Women all around me were talking and swimming around. Not me. I moved as little as possible. Every now and then women would hop out and scrub themselves down or wash their hair. Not me. I didn`t want any unnecessary viewing of my Canadian insulation. That being said, it was actually a lovely experience. I am kind of glad I didn`t have to be naked around any friends, but I do wish that there was someone I could have had a nice chat with. So the time came when I had to leave the hot spring. I jumped out and ran over to put my clothes on, which was a challenge considering I couldn`t dry off. I stretched the hell out of my clothes, insisting they go on over my soaking wet self.

We wandered through town a bit. It was similar to what a ski resort is in Canada. Just a quaint little town with people strolling around, everyone on vacation. Except here everyone strolls around wearing the exact same robe and slippers and everything smells like sulfur. In Canada people go away for sports or sight seeing. In Japan people get away to bath in public and walk around town wearing robes and slippers. They stop into local shops and eat eggs. Not bad. We ate some ramen and hopped into the car again to find a place to sleep.

Being the cheap skates that we are we had agreed to sleep in the car to save some money. We drove up the mountains and found a lovely spot to park for the night. I had just about the worst sleep of my life. Chris in the front seat kept reclining his seat so my legs were trapped under the seat back, and Kyle kept wanting to sleep on me (can`t blame him, his legs are so long!) so I was totally confined. I started to get claustrophobic, then a mosquito flew in and eventually bit me, then I had to go to the washroom, then it started pouring rain. Since we all had our windows open to avoid intense humidity in the car, the rain was pouring in all over me. Joel was in the driver`s seat and the windows were automatic so there was no way for me to put my window up. Oh well. I was able to sleep while Kyle was driving the next day, so I was fine.

The next morning we were up at 5am and headed back into town. We spent the day visiting the morning market and touring around Takayama. It is one of the nicest places ever. There aren`t many concrete buildings ... everything is just very old and traditional. The town itself is quite small, so travelling around on foot is very reasonable and there aren`t any buses or subways to ugly things up. There are rigshaws and twisty winding streets and street that are so steep and skinny we thought the Honda wouldn`t make is sometimes. We can`t figure out why, but there were hardly any foreigners or tourists around. Maybe something was going on that we were not aware of. We hiked up a very small mountain to visit the Takayama Castle ruins. Too bad there weren`t any ruins at all. No so much as a busted up stone wall. Nothing! It took us about 30 minutes to walk through a forest up a hill in the pouring rain and all we got was a plaque written in Japanese! We are convinced this is a trick they play on stupid tourists who can`t read the Japanese that says `don`t bother going up there`.

Next we went on a temple and shrine tour. We saw a good portion of them and then decided that we were too tired and wet, and that the rest of Takayama could be enjoyed via a driving tour. Kyle had accidentaly left the headlights on in the car, and drained the AA sized battery. Luckily there were about 20 men working the parking lot so they pulled a car up and gave us a boost. From the top of a hill we had noticed a giant bowling pin on the top of a building on neighbouring hill, so we decided to find it and have a game. So after much navigation difficulty we located Park Bowl and had a game. Japanese bowling alleys are about the same as Canadian, only they serve fish instead of fries and all the bowling shoes are identical (except the ones Kyle and Chris wore because their feet are of the unusually big sort).

After that we headed home.

And that is the end of our trip. I hope this message wasn`t too long or boring. Emjoy the pictures. As I was uploading them I see that there are a lot of pictures that are of similar things. Sorry!

Hope everyone is doing well.

Talk later,
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