Takayama Shirakawago

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February 23rd 2011
Published: February 23rd 2011
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1st February 2011: Singapore – Nagoya - Takayama

I love Japan simply because the connectivity between cities is so convenient. We arrived in Centrair Chubu International Aiport, strolled to the Access Plaza, boarded the Semi Express Train which departed punctually at 8.45am. Caught the Hida Express JR and arrived at Takayama Station right on schedule. It is only in Japan where I can pinpoint exact arrival time despite having to change 2 or 3 different modes of transport.
It is wise to pre-book the return bus ticket to and from Shirakawago as some of the scheduled times require prior reservation.
We left our bags at Oyado Koto no Yume and hopped onto the Sarubobo bus which dropped us off at Hida no Sato – the open air Folk Village. We were completely taken aback at how deserted the place was – we were its only visitors. The heavy snow condition added much charm to the village, it appeared mysterious yet romantic. In fact the snow helped enhanced the brilliant architecture of the high thatched roof especially watching snow constantly sliding off the steep roof and falling to the ground. The most impressive house was the ‘Wakayama’s House’ (Gassho Zukhiri) – not just because of its architecture but also because how the layout of the house is related to the height of the roof. While the first floor housed the living/dining room, stables and living quarters; the 2nd 3rd and attic floor are all part of the roof and were use for purposes of rearing silkworm and storage.
Having toured the entire village in the cold relatively quickly, we decided to stroll back to the ryokan which was surprisingly a comfortable 30mins walk. It is almost impossible to get lost as the road back to the station was just a direct straight route.
Back at Oyado Koto no Yume, we were given some light refreshments upon check in and also a choice to pick from a variety of yukata we could wear to dinner. The room was comfortable and the heating warm, but coming from the tropics, we were still cold as February is probably one of the coldest times to be in Takayama. The only complaint I have on this ryokan- the shower smelt damped. It was quite off putting especially since I am paying top dollar to have a comfortable shower.
Dinner was very very filling and the Hida beef was tender and melts in your mouth. I am a big fan. That was probably the highlight of the dinner as the appetizers and sashimi were good, but nothing special. Though I have to say special mention should go to the salad sauce which was a mixture of olive oil, garlic and mashed anchovies – something I will definitely try experiment when I get back.

2nd February: Takayama

After a very filling breakfast, we strolled first across the yayoibashi bridge to visit the Miyagawa morning market. Having visited the morning markets in Fukuoka and the renowned Tsukiji fish market – I was honestly quite disappointment in the variety of local goods sold in the markets. Took us 5 mins to complete the tour of the market without any inclination to taste or purchase any items.

Kasukabe Folk Musuem
Essentially a heritage home where the Kasukabe family (rich merchants) used to live in 1852 A.D. The house was burnt down in 1875A.D and the current house was rebuilt in 1879A.D using the architecture of the Edo period and preserved till the present day. The house is large with a private garden. Every paying visitor was allowed a complimentary glass of ocha and rice crackers.

Takayama Float Exhibition Hall
Also known as the Yatai Kaikan, this was probably the highlight of Takayama for me as it housed several of the floats used during the actual April and October Takayama Festival. The Takayama Festival is one of the largest festivals in Japan where 300,000 people come to visit. It is a Shinto festival similar to the idea of Thanksgiving where prayers and praises are given to the Gods to show appreciation for the good harvest year.
The first float we saw was the Mikoshi or portable shrine which weighed 2.5 tons and was made of real gold and metal. This float requires 80 people to lift and has been phased out of the festival due to the difficulty in finding 80 volunteers of the same height to carry shrine. Currently, a smaller replacement float is used instead.

*• Higashiyama Walking Course – Scenic walk through a beautiful snow covered forest. Forest was so peaceful and quiet that all you could hear was snow falling from the trees onto the ground.
*• Sake Brewery - tried the hot sake or amazake (no alcohol).
*• Night setting is beautiful, peaceful and surreal. Town is spared from commercialized development and during the winter looks like a scene out of a Japan period movie. Architecture of homes are well preserved with houses dated to the edo period. It is no wonder the Michelin guide took notice of this quaint town 3 yrs ago and it is only in recent years that foreign tourists have started taking notice of this town. Hopefully the town will preserve its cultural identity and not lose it way to commercialism.

3rd February: Shirakawago

Shirakawago is about a 50min bus ride from Takayama. When we arrived, I finally understood why this place is known as the land of heavy snowfall. Besides roads and shoveled paths, the rest of the village was covered in 2-3 meters of snow. Shirakawago is basically a typical Japanese farming village with the most beautiful landscape and extremely heavy snowfall in the winter. This snowfall adds a lot of charm to area. Upon arrival, the scene in front of you while standing on the suspension bridge is like a page out of a winter fairytale book – everything is white set against a backdrop of pure nature (mountains, lakes and rocks). Even a photograph can’t do it enough justice.
The village is well preserved and famed because of the uniqueness of the Gassho Zukuri houses. “Gassho” in Japanese is the act of putting 2 hands together in prayer to God and hence the name is derived as the thatched roof of the house resembles this very particular act. The reason the roof is high and steep is to withstand weight of heavy snow. Because of the angle and height of the roof, snow often falls to the ground. In fact we noticed that houses with shallower roofs had to have their roofs shoveled during the day because of the snow collecting on it. It is a fascinating sight as the entire house and roof is tied together with just wood and thatch. Unlike any houses today, 3 out of 4 floors in the houses are in the roof. In the past, villagers used to raise silkworms in the roof attic. It should be noted that a lot of efforts goes into preserving and protecting these houses. Once every year, the entire village will get together to change the roofs as a community effort. It takes 3 days to remove the old roof and 1 day to build the new roof.
I would highly recommend a visit to the village simply because of its beauty. However, other than a walk through the town and breathtaking views from the observatory, there is really nothing much to do or see. Had I known this site had limited attractions, I would have chosen to spend an afternoon and not an entire day + overnight stay in this place. Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely an experience to stay overnight in the Minshuku to get a taste of local life – but, we walked through the entire Ogimachi in 1-2hrs and were looking for ways to pass time. We probably did so by taking excessive number of photographs and spent a couple of hours in the onsen.
Despite our efforts, we still had 3 hours to kill before dinner and we ended up retiring back to Shimizu Inn just to relax. The room is small but cosy and the electrical heater did play its part in keeping the room warm, though it was quite a pain as it had to be reset every 3 hrs otherwise it will beep away endlessly. It was freezing cold
Oyado Koto no YumeOyado Koto no YumeOyado Koto no Yume

Delicious melt in mouth hida beef
and the communal toilet which was rather clean was the coldest room in the house. The moment I stepped in to use the loo, I just felt like running out as it was unbearably cold. Personally I felt that an overstay stay at the inn was expensive for what it was. Food was average and you are basically paying for a b&b type accommodation – Japanese style. Walls were so thin, I could hear every footstep outside the room.

4th February - Nagoya

We visited the outdoor museum just before we boarded the bus back to Takayama. This particular place of interest is very similar to Hida no Sato and the other Gassho Zukhiris, and may not be worth the visit. You have to take off your shoes (in our case, our heavy winter boots) to enter the house – Given the ice cold condition and the inconvenience of taking off and putting on these heavy boots, we just did not bother exploring the houses.

We arrived in Nagoya in the evening and checked into Marriott which because of it its excellent location (on top of the Nagoya JR station) was terribly expensive!!!! And this is despite us choosing the cheapest room plan without any breakfast included.
To be perfectly honest, there is absolutely nothing to do in Nagoya. On hindsight, I should have done the Toyota plant tour – at least that would have taken up an entire day. Instead we went to the Nagoya Port area, Aquarium, TV tower and shopping. The Aquarium was a pleasant experience – it is not everyday you get to see dolphins or whales and I am just so amazed how intelligent these mammals are.

On the whole, had a great trip, I doubt I will ever tire of Japan.

Additional photos below
Photos: 36, Displayed: 28


Takayama at NightTakayama at Night
Takayama at Night

Photo does not do it justice

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