Another early start to the day after a rather uncomfortable first night in a ryokan...
Ryokan are Japanese guest houses, with bedrooms consisting of a tatami-mat floor and futons rather than beds. These are usually folded away in the day time and meals are served in-room, before the beds are made in the evening whilst you are out or bathing, by your maid.
Having opted for a slightly more budget option, the higher-end Ryokan being very pricey, our experience didn't quite match expectation, but was nonetheless authentic and memorable, and as seems to be standard in Japan, the staff at the Ryokan were incredibly polite, helpful and even drove us to the train station as we were a fair distance from town!
Despite otherwise being basic, our Ryokan did have its own Onsen. Hot-spring baths form an integral part of Japanese culture, and are strictly for relaxation, not for washing. The routine is that you enter the bathroom, get starkers, then wash using either a bucket of water or shower before entering the communal Onsen bath for a relaxing soak. Our ryokan had separate male and female baths as well as a family bath, but the slight surprise, having no en suite bathroom, was the lack of a private alternative. Fortunately the guest house was quiet during our stay, but as it had a capacity of 100, I'm not sure this would have made for a very relaxing bathing experience!
After a Japanese breakfast of pickles, vegetables and soft boiled egg with miso and rice, we walked a short distance to the Hida Folk Village, Hida no Sato, a collection of traditional vernacular houses which have been moved from different parts of the Hida region and assembled as a quaint village around a lake, with spectacular views over to the snow-capped Japan Alps. For those staying in the centre of Takayama, the easiest way to get there is by bus from the bus terminal, where a return ticket and entrance fee can be purchased for 900 yen. The houses and workshops have been restored to give visitors a glimpse as to what life would have been like in previous centuries and how the houses were built to withstand heavy snowfall. There are several walking tracks which can be followed, and we were glad to have arrived as the village opened at 8.30am, having the place to ourselves aside from a few members of staff and some keen photographers, as from 9.30 onwards the coach-loads of tourists began to arrive.
A five minute walk from the village, and well worth the detour before catching the bus back, is the Hida Takayama Museum of Art. Although perhaps not the genre of museum you would expect to stumble across in a historic Japanese alpine town, this beautiful collection of Art Deco and Art Nouveau furniture and glassware, housed in a spectacular glass-fronted building with views over the town and mountains, was well worth the 1300yen entrance fee. After ambling around the exhibitions, we whiled away a couple of hours in the manicured gardens reading our books and enjoying the local specialty of Hida beef, mine braised in red wine, his in a rich bolognese-style sauce with salad and crusty bread.
In the afternoon we decided to walk into the town and explore Shiroyama Park is the Higashiyama walking trail, where ruins of the old castle and temples are hidden amongst the thick vegetation.
Takayama Castle town dates back to the late 16th century when the Hida region was conquered by a feudal lord known as Nagachika Kanamori. During his reign, Takayama castle was constructed on the higher ground, surrounded by samurai housing, and merchant housing located on the lower ground. Temples and shrines were either built or relocated to the area, and roads were constructed. When control of the region was obtained by Tokugawa Shogunate in the late 17th century, the castle and samurai housing were destroyed, but the merchant housing remains today as it was centuries ago.
Having made it to the castle ruins without too much difficulty, our further exploration of the park was hampered by an inadequate map, swarms of biting insects and snakes! Ok, one snake. And a small, green fairly innocent looking snake at that. But given that John had seen a much larger, more ominous looking one on his early morning run, together with our lack of deet, meant that we made a hasty retreat back to the safety of the town for a much needed ice cream.
Having initially planned to travel on to Matsumoto via Kamikochi by bus, we have decided due to the time and expense involved we are getting the train straight to Matsumoto early tomorrow morning.
Until then, lots of love xxx
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