Ray and I had visited Japan before so this time we avoided all the big cities and decided on 3 traditional Japanese towns - Takayama for their Spring Festival, Miyajima for the famous Shinto Torii gate and the historical Nikko, which happens to be near the Ashikaga Wisteria Flowering Garden - our main reason for this Japan trip. We flew in to Nagoya from China and spent one day there to take get our Japan Rail passes and exchange some currencies. We only had time to visit the Nagoya Castle. The original castle was built in 1532 but suffered through several demolishions and rebuilt. In 2018, they restored the Honmaru Palace with its elaborated and gold guilted painted panels. An English speaking volunteer guide took us around and gave us a good lesson about the history and cultural of the castle.
Japan Rail passes have to be purchased outside of Japan but it is a great deal for foreigner visitors. The trains are easy to use, efficient and always on time. We took the train to Takayama with 1 stop at Gero, a small town famous for its hot spring pools. At Gero, we experienced our first Kaiseki dinner -
a multi-course Japanese dinner. Small amount (about one mouth full each) of fresh vegetables, fish and meats were served in multiple dishes. You may have a whole table full of dishes but you would never overeat! This indeed is a feast for the eyes! The food flavors tend to be mild, so different from the fiery Guizhou foods in China. In each of the traditional Japanese hotels we stayed, we were provided with Yukata (bath robes). We dressed in robes and would remove it before entering the onsen (hot spring pool). The men and women pools were separated, the etiquette was to wash and clean oneself prior to soaking in the hot spring. Swim suit is not allowed.
In Takayama, we booked the hotel 'Suimeikan Karukaya Sanso' without realizing it was located 25 km from town center and would take the local bus 1.5 hours to get there. We decided to spent just two nights there and rebooked a hotel in town for the 3rd night so we could experience the festival. What a surprise when we saw our 'incidental destination' - a place surrounded by snow covered mountain peaks which happened to be in the Japanese Alps (Hida
Mountain range). We took a double deck gondola ride to enjoy the view and had a nice snowball fight. In addition to all the wonderful scenery, our hotel turned out to be 'the' top hot spring spa for best dinners in the region. The second night they served us "Shabu Shabu" which is the Japanese version of hot pot. The marbled beef literally melted in our mouth. We also had a private outdoor hot spring among rocks next to a roaring river! That was an exhilarating experience!
We got back to Takayama just in time to see the cherry blossoms all around town. Young couples in traditional dress, as well as school girls in uniform, all walking along the river enjoying the beautiful cherry blooms. Twelve elaborate carved floats (some are 300+ years old), each weight over a ton, carried by men to parade around town. It was fancinating watching these men using wooden crank, pole and small wheel to turn the float around the corners. It wasn't an easy task. Some floats have puppets on top and performed in the square for the public.
In addition to the spring festival experience, we also visit the float museum
(Yatai Kaikan) where many of the fall floats are on display. Other interesting places we visited included the old town, the Gasso (Hatch roof) Village, Puppet museum, Takayama Jinya (Edo period government headquarters) and a very interesting Teddy Bear Eco Village museum. Takayama and Gifu Prefecture is so clean and beautiful, we would recommend highly to any friends who are interested in seeing the "real" Japan.
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