Taka = high + Yama = mountain. Yup, that’s where we are alright!
Rather than just head up to Takayama for the day we decided to leave Nagoya today and spend the next couple of nights up in the mountains, enjoying more epic scenery and cute village settings. Yesterday’s Kiso Valley trek has whet our appetite for more of the same, so here we are!
Takayama is a medium sized town in the Central Alps of Japan with a long history as a centre of arts and crafts; this was where many of the master carpenters and craftsmen, who built the temples and palaces of Kyoto, lived and worked. The town today remains a centre of traditional Japanese crafts, with the daily arts and craft markets attracting tourists from all over Japan (and the rest of the world – e.g. Shane and I!). Our plan is to spend a couple of days here exploring the craft shops, sampling sake at the many traditional breweries in town, and taking walks through the alpine forest.
To reach Takayama we caught a local train up from Nagoya, which, whilst slow going, meant we got to really enjoy the changing scenery. We quickly left Nagoya and its high-rises and suburbs behind, winding our way through rice paddies and farm-land, until finally hitting the mountains and gradually climbing through the Central Alps to our destination. The photos below, taken from the train, give you an idea of why we spent the 2.5 hours train journey pressed up against the window, slack-jawed with wonder.
The only bit of sightseeing we did around Takayama today was the Hida Folk Villlage. This is a constructed “village” that contains 30 original wooden houses, dismantled and transported here from various sites around the Hida alpine area to create this open air museum. Each house has been restored to original condition and many of them contain displays showing how Japanese people would have lived in this remote part of Japan hundreds of years ago. It was a bit too touristy for our liking, but was all very educational. One of the big things that struke me was how smokey the houses were – this was apparently done intentionally because the smoke helps keep bugs away in summer, and obviously having a massive fire burning is essential in winter given how much snow they get here (up to 2m!).
The best display of all at the Hida Folk Village though were the gassho-zukuri (translation = praying hands houses). These thatched houses have rooves pitched at sixty degrees – a steep slope designed to cope with the heavy winter snowfalls. They are HUGE – about 3-4 stories tall and an internal area of about 600 square metres; the large size was necessary because multiple generations lived in the same house. Few of these houses still exist as functional homes in modern Japan, but there are apparently a couple of small villages higher up in the mountains where people still live in gassho-zukuri.
We’ve spent the rest of today doing boring “housekeeping” stuff like laundry and banking, and trying to get our mobiles to work. Shane is with Telstra and I am with Optus and would you believe that, even though we both went to see our respective phone companies before we left Aus, global roaming wasn’t set up right for either of us! Stupid mobile phone companies. Shane’s phone is operational now, mine still isn’t, which is a pain in the bum. Anyway, should have that sorted this week hopefully.
Dinner was fun, we went to a local yaki-mono place (translation = place that sells grilled meats and other cooked stuffs), and had our second (more successful) encounter with the Japanese vending mahcine style of dining. Basically what happens is you walk into the restaurant and you put your money into the vending mahcine, press the buttons that correspond to the food you want, the machine spits out your order tickets and you hand these directly to the chef who is standing on the other side of the serving bench, at his grill. Easy right? Sure, if you can read Japanese (which luckily Shane can, but slowly – like a 5 year old). Took us solong to place our order that the chef came out form behind his grill station to give us a hand. This time was way more successful than breakfast on Day 1 though – gyoza (dumplings), edamame (boiled soy beans), karage-tori (friend chicken in Japanese spices)…Mmmmmm – yummy…..