April in Japan – Into the Japanese Alps

0311 + 0517 = 0404 Shirakawa-go and Takayama

This is a blog post about our day on 4 April in Shirakawa-go and Takayama, written on 11 March and 17 May (before and after the trip). 11 March is in black. 17 May is in red italic.

Today we’re moving cities again, by coach towards the Japanese Alps. We will stay over in Takayama, stopping at Shirakawa-go on the way.

Screen shot 2015-04-17 at 22.33.06e

The coach got filled up quickly and we left rainy Kanazawa behind in the morning. I was able to fall asleep on moving vehicles within minutes by now. At one point of the journey, when I was drifting into sleep, there was  a sudden and collective gasp in the coach after we merged from a long tunnel. Andy touched my elbow and pointed to the snowy mountain under the blue sky.

© 2015 Rong Fu, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com

Shirakawa-go must be not far now. I presume Shirakawa-go is like Pingyao in China, a well preserved historical village with local people still living and working in it, but heavily tailored for tourists. The most popular time to visit Shirakawa-go is a few certain days in winter, when the whole village is lit up at night usually in the snow. The accommodation in the village and the transport get booked up months even a year in advance for these a few days.

It was a clear and sunny day. It felt really good to be able to wander around the village without luggage in hand. We decided to travel light for a couple of days and left our suitcases in Kanazawa Station – lockers in Japan are great. But if you’re traveling with luggage to Shiragawa-go, there are lockers in the tourist information office as well.

Because it’s tucked inside the Japanese Alps, the cherry blossom flowers later than other places on the same longitude. The branches should still look bare at the beginning of April. So without “light up” or cherry blossom, I don’t expect Shirakawa-go to be over crowded. To be honest, Shiragawa-go was one of the most touristy places. Tourists were moved in and out by busload. However, it still worth a visit for a couple of hours if it’s on your way.

The ground was still largely covered in thick snow and the snow was melting away from underneath. We walked past typical local houses aimlessly with black sesame ice cream in my hand. The sun was warm on us. It suddenly felt very different. Osaka and Kanazawa were a world away.

© 2015 Rong Fu, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com© 2015 Andrew Shaw, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com

We’ll have a walk to the viewing platform, take some pictures of the classic view. Here it is:

© 2015 Rong Fu, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com© 2015 Rong Fu, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com

Come back down to the village and have a look inside one of the original houses. The roof hid many floors inside surprisingly and it looked very interesting.

© 2015 Andrew Shaw, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com

I plan to stay in Shirakawa-go for about 3 hours. Afterwards, we’ll take another bus to Takayama where we stay the night.

Our visit to the local house was a rush and we had to savour the introduction of Hida beef while running towards the bus stop. Even so, the queue was long already. The bus arrived on time in 15 minutes. The queue moved along slowly and people ahead of us disappeared into the bus. When it was our turn, the bus driver stopped us at the door, opened one page of a ring binder book and pointed to a sentence in a flow chart  saying “the bus is full” in four languages. This was the only bus journeys I didn’t book in advance, because it wasn’t bookable! And then the driver pointed to another sentence calmly in his flow chart: “another bus is coming”. Within 5 minutes, a second bus appeared and parked in front of our eyes, and we were on our way to Takayama right on time.

Takayama is the transport hub for the Japanese Alps. Many people come to Takayama because they can’t avoid it. I read about mixed views about this city. Some say there’s not much to see. Others are shocked in response and warn people that  a few days are not enough to enjoy this place. As soon as we stepped off the bus, I was captivated by this little place, not only because of the Hida beef bun, which reminded me so much of home and my childhood.

© 2015 Rong Fu, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com© 2015 Andrew Shaw, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com

Takayama is in Hida area of Gifu prefecture. Hida area is famous for its beef. So this is our second encounter with Japanese premium beef. Since we will (hopefully) have a PROPER multiple course Hida beef dinner in the hotel tomorrow night, we’ll just try some street snacks today. Takayama has some old and beautiful streets. I look forward to wandering around with different and tasty food in my hands. But is eating while walking bad habit in Japan?

We arrived at about 2pm. Without much time to waste, we dropped our bags in K’s House Takayama (highly recommend) quickly and headed towards Takayama Jinya. It was a former local government building, including a whole range of functions and facilities. I wasn’t particularly interested at the beginning, but it was right in the middle of the town, so we went in. It was a wonderful building complex. I loved the architecture.

© 2015 Rong Fu, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com

© 2015 Andrew Shaw, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com

© 2015 Andrew Shaw, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com
Notice the plastic bags everyone carries with their shoes in.

© 2015 Rong Fu, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com

Before it went dark, we headed towards the old district Sanmachi. The first thing that leapt out at me was the famous Hida beef sushi.

© 2015 Rong Fu, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com

April in JapanThe sushi was served on a piece of rice cracker, which was brilliant. Because bins are a rarity on streets, if even the plate is eatable, it would be the most convenient. The beef sushi seemed even nicer than the kebab from Shirakawa-go and the bun earlier. 

There was also something called gohei-mochi, which was a sticky rice cake with savoury sauce on top. Looking at the photo now, the menu says they sell Hida milk too. I didn’t notice it! To be honest, there were so many things right in front of my face, I felt like a kid in Disneyland.

© 2015 Rong Fu, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com

© 2015 Rong Fu, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com

There were many shops along the streets. Japanese rice wine factory shops were  filled with tourists. Our first souvenir of the whole trip was a bag of miso. We also warmed up a bit with a small paper cup of miso soup.

© 2015 Rong Fu, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com

© 2015 Rong Fu, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com

This was the restaurant we settled in for dinner. Also highly recommend. Dishes were all in size L and tasted wonderful. There was a specific waiter who kept the banter going even without speaking customers’ languages. The seats, the lighting, the dynamic between staff and between customers, all felt comfortable.

© 2015 Rong Fu, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com
See the stand with a piece of paper in front of the door? The right thing to do is put your name down and wait outside to be called.

© 2015 Rong Fu, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com

© 2015 Rong Fu, All Rights Reserved. andyandrong@gmail.com

If there’s another chance to visit Japan, I would skip Shirakawa-go and spend more time in Takayama. A lively town with historical sites is more attractive than a touristy village, in my eyes.

 

 

 

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One Comment

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  1. Agree to spend more time in takayama , a new town

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