Japan 2015: Takayama and around
Continuing on from our Japanese Summer trip, we took one last stroll around the magnificent Matsumoto Castle before catching a bus to Takayama in Gifu prefecture. This is a very mountainous area of Japan and so a train ride would have been very circuitous and expensive, the cheapest and fastest option was to travel by bus, the bus station in Matsumoto was very conveniently located across the road from the train station with buses running pretty much every hour to Takayama (two hours or so). Travelling by bus in Japan is almost as easy as travelling by train, not as comfortable, but certainly not horrible, not bad.
We stayed at K’s House Takayama which is a hostel style accommodation but booked private rooms with private bathrooms so that we were basically staying in a low-end hotel. We stayed at K’s House Kawaguchi-ko last time which was nice but maybe was easier considering that it was just the two of us. This time with a little bundle of joy it wasn’t as easy, but the room was big (the bathroom was small though, even by Japanese standards) with plenty of space to throw all of our junk. No breakfast (and no convenient bar fridge) but a convenient kitchen to prepare any meals and common area/small dining room makes up some for that. The room was reasonably priced and it’s very close to the station as well as the attractions in town. We had two nights in Takayama but weren’t too sure about what to do other than visit the antique street, and the temple walking course (unfortunately cut short by the little baby not feeling it). We also decided to head to Shirakawa-go on a half day trip (small, remote village that use traditional housing).
Sannomachi street is only a few blocks away from our accommodation, ten minutes walk or so just past the river/canal and is full of souvenir shops, sake shops, and other food and beverage establishments. It’s very pretty with the old antique buildings and all the usual Japanese adornments, we didn’t buy much other than a couple of souvenirs but I would have like to pick up some sake, but then we’d be carrying it with us for ages.
Shirakawa-go is about 50 minutes by bus from Takayama, we decided to just get a guided tour which would be a little rushed but then we’d learn a bit about the place and where we could go, there is not much English spoken/written in the area. We went in the morning when you would hope that it would be a bit clearer, but it was a rainy day and nothing was going to clear up for us so we made do with what we had, a moody, misty morning. It is a very windy trip through mountains (mostly through tunnels though) which cuts the journey time down considerably, but also takes away from the scenery a bit too (I guess). There is a lookout point which provides a good view of the whole village (would be especially good at sunrise/sunset I would imagine) where the tour bus makes it first stop before dropping us off across the bridge from town. A short walk across the bridge and we were free to wander around the village and its assorted museums, souvenir shops, and miscellaneous other curios.
The tour guide recommended we visit Kanda house (神田家) as the main museum/house to get a feel for how the locals live (and lived) as well as a sake shop which we unfortunately didn’t have time to meander around. We only had an hour and a half or so in the village so didn’t really have time for much other than strolling around admiring the village architecture before having to wander back to the car park. The village is very picturesque and would make for some amazing photos with the right light and season, an overnight stay would perhaps be most worthwhile if you have the time, if not just so that you could sample some of the special local sake!
Afterwards we went back to Takayama for a little rest before attempting to visit some temples along the Higashiyama walking course, but unfortunately it’s not very pram friendly and the weather was against us, as well as a certain little cranky bum. We did see a couple of nice temples, or at least the exterior of a couple which included the ubiquitous moss and pond.
One of the local specialties is hida beef, a fatty, marbled beef like wagyu, and somewhat comparable to kobe beef (but not really), we enquired at the hostel about where we could taste some of this delicacy and found out about Maruaki, which is a restaurant where you cook your own food basically (similar to Korean BBQ but not quite). We arrived at about 6.30pm only to be told that it would be a fifty minute wait, which we agreed to (before wandering off to run some errands), we returned to see that we hadn’t lost our place in the line but that fifty minute wait eventually turned into almost two hours before we finally got a seat. It was a little frustrating for all the people waiting, a bunch of tourists mostly, and their frustrations were in turn frustrating my emmy.
Anyway, we got in finally, and ordered a reasonably priced set meat and veg, rice, salad, miso soup along with some Korean style rib cuts (because emmy was afraid the set wouldn’t be enough) as well as some locally brewed beer. I’m a sucker for wagyu, fatty, marbled beef, and this was no different, the fat was cooking, and dripping, and the flavour, texture, and tenderness were all melting into my (and emmy’s) salivating mouth. The beer was pretty nice too, a good match for this fatty beef (maybe some hot green tea would’ve been better afterwards though), and in the end, it was just too much meat, let’s just say that it didn’t end well for me, I had to take the full brunt of the extra meat after all. I’ll just say that my tummy didn’t get to enjoy all that fatty goodness for too long, eww.
Our final morning in Takayama was spent at one of the daily morning markets, Miyagawa morning market which is along the Miyagawa River in the old town (apparently this is the bigger one). It’s not very big and mostly the stalls are just selling local produce, and maybe some trinkets, there was one stall selling custom yukatas so that was something, but they weren’t cheap. Apart from the stalls there are other souvenir shops and what not along the street, among them was this chopsticks shop, we were definitely on the hunt for some good chopsticks as the set we bought last time we were in Japan were such high quality that we’re still using them with only the slightest hint of deterioration, meanwhile we’ve had several sets of lower quality chopsticks wilt and fall by the way side.
The chopsticks in this shop were a bit more expensive than similar ones that could be purchased elsewhere (Tokyu Hands hello!) but they also provided a free engraving service on selected items. We picked out a pair each (including one for wormie) and got them engraved with our English names as well the katakana versions. They can also do kanji as well as hiragana, but we just left it at that, but if you get four-edge (as opposed to round) chopsticks, it’s definitely an option. I don’t remember the name or have any cards or anything from that shop but it would be pretty easy to find, it’s the only chopstick shop along that street, some very nice chopsticks indeed.
And with that we were on to our next destination, the relative highlight (or so I thought) of the trip, Toyama, near the northern Alps of Japan, we’d finally be seeing some real mountain scenery, my favourite kind! I’ll be back in a couple days to recap that one, should be a long one.