Shirakawa-go


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Asia » Japan » Gifu » Shirakawa-go
September 9th 2014
Published: October 19th 2014
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We were up at the crack of dawn again today! Today was our only chance to see the farmers' market, that happens every morning in Takayama. The market started at 6 am, which was a bit too early for us, but we got there around sevenish and had a good look around. The market is along one side of the river bank. There were quite a few different stalls, selling a variety of stuff, not just fruit and veg, but also artwork and other stuff to entice the tourists. We also found out the reason why all the shops close so early, they are all open at 6 am, to coincide with the market. We wandered around the market, I didn't really buy anything, only this interesting food item, which we tried when we were waiting for the bus. It was kind of like an eggy marshmallow, okay, but I wouldn't buy them again.

We had assembled in front if the train station at 8 o'clock to meet up with our tour. The bus arrived and we promptly departed at 8:10, we stopped once, to pick some people up from their hotel, and then we drove to Shirakawa-go. Our guide was lovely she introduced herself and then went round the bus, so everyone could introduce themselves. The drive to Shirakawa-go took fifty minutes, we had done the route a couple of days ago, when we went to Kanazawa. We drove through quite a few tunnels, one was massive, I think it is one of the longest in Japan. Our guide was saying that this route to Shirakawa-go had only open fairly recently, I think within the last ten years. Before that the old route took several hours and if there was bad weather, it was impossible to travel. Also I think that the really long tunnel we travelled through took about seven years to build. Our guide also handed out a map of Shirakawa-go and outlined our time frame for the morning. She also mentioned about five or six places, that we should try and visit. We, then, decided amongst ourselves which of those we really wanted to see, and came up with our plan.

Our first stop was the viewpoint, up the hill, where we could look down on the whole village. The view was beautiful. We could see all the gassho houses in the valley below, the mountains surrounding the village, and some pretty flowers that were growing by the viewpoint. We spent about twenty minutes there. The weather was gorgeous, it felt like summer, not autumn. There was a warning sign for bears there, I don't know if it was a joke or there are bears n that area, too. Back on the bus, it was a ten minute drive down to the car park. We were given about an hour and a half, maybe a little longer, to look around the village.

We crossed the suspension bridge above the Shokawa river. We had decided to head to the Myozenji temple and museum first. We passed the Akiba shrine on our way. I couldn't get over how cute this village was, it was just so gorgeous. Even though it is a major tourist attraction, the village wasn't too busy and felt really calm. It had a really peaceful relaxed vibe to it. It was definitely a 'slow village' and the map that our tour guide had given us, had 'let's walk slowly in Shirakawago' written on it. Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it was given this title in 1995. The village is famous because of the gassho style of construction that the houses are built in. The 'gassho-zukuri' translates as prayer-hands construction, as the steeply slanted thatched roof resembles two hands joined in prayer. This design is very strong and along with the way in which the roof is thatched, it allows the houses to withstand and shed the large amounts of snow that fall in the winter. The thatched roofs are up to a metre thick and are constructed without any nails. It is all done with wooden beams, thatch and straw ropes. Impressive stuff! Also the roofs have to be re-thatched every twenty years (I think that was what I had read, my memory is a little hazy) and the whole village joins in to repair the roofs. We saw some cool pics of the villagers all up on the roof of different houses repairing them.

We looked around Myozenji temple, but as all the doors and windows were shut, there wasn't too much to see. We headed next door to the museum, after taking off our shoes and leaving them at the door and paying our 300 yen entrance fee to a monk (at least I think he was), we were given an information leaflet in English and told to go upstairs first. Myojin temple and museum were constructed about 200 years ago. It is 24 metres long and 13 metres high. It has 5 stories and is said to be the largest gassho house in the village. The temple is a Buddhist temple and the monks not only earn their money from donations to the temple, but they also have a farm and raise silk worms to produce silk cocoons. I was surprised at how big the house was inside, the look a lot smaller from the outside. There was a lot of old fashioned farming machinery on display and there was information explaining what it all did. There were a couple of blokes on one of the floors with a camera set up, and they would take your photo and give you a mini copy for free. Well, when we saw the mini photo, we decided that we all wanted a full size one, since it is our last holiday altogether, it made a nice memento. After buying our pictures we headed back downstairs, and the monk directed us towards the temple. Call me skeptical, but this must be why all the windows and doors are shut, so that you have to pay the entrance fee to see inside. It was a bit strange being in the temple, as it was all shut up. There were some cool pictures on the wall, they were in a different style to the usual artwork that adorns temples.

We took a slow walk around the village, taking about a million photos, everything is just so pretty! There were so many beautiful flowers, I was surprised by the amount of sunflowers that there were in the village, so gorgeous! We visited Kanda House next. The name Kanda house comes from the family that owns and inhabits the house. Wada Yaemon, who was the second son of the Wada house (you can visit Wada house, I think it's the oldest in the village, but we didn't have time) located himself in the region and decided to change his family name to Kanda as there was Kanda attached to the Ubusuna Hachimangu Shrine. Kanda means divine rice field. Kanda House took around ten years to build and it was built by a Miya daiku (shrine carpenter) from Ishikawa prefecture. It is different from the other gassho style houses as the carpenter adopted new techiques to make improvements to the building, while retaining the original gassho style.

The Kanda family specialised in making nitric acid, which is an ingredient needed to make gunpowder. This was a lucrative job, as it meant they earned hard cash, which was rare in those days. The house had four floors, the ceiling were low, and even me, a shorty, hit my head a couple of times. The house was kind of similar to Myojin museum, in that it lots of exhibit on display. Some of the tools on display were pretty scary looking. After looking around we returned to the ground floor, where green tea was on offer. We helped ourselves to a cup, but we couldn't linger there for long.

We were running short on time, so we couldn't visit any more of the houses. We took a walk around the village, we saw some men collecting up the crops, bundling them up, and putting them in a truck. We also passed Wada House but we didn't have time to go in. We walked back towards the bus, but instead of walking along the main street, we took a smaller street. That street was so cute, it was filled with guesthouses and they all had their laundry out drying in the sun. We made it back to the bus on time and we soon left the village. I really enjoyed the tour, however it just wasn't long enough. It gave us a good glimpse of the village, but I would liked to have spent longer there, and visit all the different houses and museums. I think if I make it back there in the future, I would like to stay in one of the guesthouses.

We arrived back in Takayama in time for lunch. We were all starving. On the bus, our tour guide had pointed out a restaurant, Kisaku, that she recommended. She said that they have a special daily menu for about 1,000 yen, maybe a bit less. We headed to the restaurant and found that some of the others from the tour had already beaten us there! We were shown to a table. There were loads of choices on the menu, and it was difficult to decide what to have. However, I finally made a decision. It was a toss up between the sashimi set or the Hida beef and baked miso. I reasoned that I can have sashimi any time, but can only get Hida beef here, plus I never buy beef in Korea as it is too expensive.

First up came our starter set; this contained some mini sweet potatoes, a little bit of sashimi (yay, I still managed to get a raw fish fix!), and some scrambled eggs. We were also served a bowl of udon soup in a cold broth, very refreshing, and a side salad that was drenched in dressing. I enjoyed eating my starters they were nice and filled the time as I waited for my main meal to cook. The main meal was interesting, the waitress had put a small ceramic burner on the table and had lit a candley type fire inside of it. My meat and miso paste were placed on a leaf (I'm guessing it was a Magnolia leaf, as I saw similar sets for sale later in the day and they had Magnolia leaf written on them) on a grill on top of the burner. I didn't really have a clue what I to do, whether I should just leave it to cook or mix it around a bit. I decided just to let it cook, and then mixed the beef and the miso paste together at the end. The beef was delicious and it was really nice to mix it with the miso paste. Totally scrummy, I wish that the portion had been bigger, as I could have happily ate loads more of it. As part of our set meal, dessert and a drink were also included. We had a nice little bit of cake and I washed it down with an iced coffee. People always say that Japan is expensive, but compared to western Europe, it is pretty cheap. My set cost 1,800 yen (£10.50), which I feel is superb value for all the delicious food we were given.

We were happily full as we left the restaurant, and decided to go for one last wander around Takayama. We headed over the bridge and found this cute little part of the old town. We could have happily spent longer there wandering around the old fashioned streets, and looking in the shops, but we had to head back to the hostel to pick up our backpacks and head to the bus station. At the station we were in a momentary panic, when the ticket lady made it seem like there would be no seats left on the bus. However there were still seats available. We were going to take the train back, but when we found out that the bus was half the cost and took about the same time, it was a no-brainer. The bus left on time, well a minute, early at 2:59, to whisk us off to Nagoya, for a night of noreabang/karaoke.


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