Japan day 7: Takayama - The real Japanese adventure begins


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Asia » Japan » Gifu » Takayama
May 12th 2019
Published: May 19th 2019
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We left our Tokyo hotel at 9 am and got the free shuttle to Shinagawa station where we caught the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagoya. The ticketing system is quite something else. You put all your tickets (in this case two) into the machine together and one gets stamped and they both get returned to you. The bullet train journey was 1 hour 37 minutes and it was exactly on time. At Nagoya we put all three tickets into the machine and it spewed out the two that we needed to continue on the scenic railway to Takayama.

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The scenic railway began by following the Aichi route. On the way we passed Inuyama Castle. This is said to be the oldest castle in Japan. Building commenced in 1440 and was finished in 1537. For some distance we followed the route of the Kiso river. The river is permanently full and is fed by the snow from the snow clad “Japanese Alps”. Along the river were paddy fields. Then as the railway climbed we could see in the ravine potholes which have been designated a UNESCO site. The potholes were formed from stones being thrown up by whirlpools and wearing down the rock formation.

We left the Aichi route and now followed the Hida river. We traveled through quaint Japanese villages or modern industrial areas. The vegetation was lush and very green. As we neared our destination the train left the banks of the Hida and followed the Miyagawa river.

We arrived at Takayama and wanted to get the shuttle bus to our hotel. However, we had to phone for it and we decided to walk instead. In theory it was a short walk - just over a kilometer. At least it should have been but we had left the station from the wrong exit.

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We walked along but couldn’t find the hotel - Honjin Hiranoya Bekkan - so we went into the local information office, and much to our surprise they said it was next door! We are actually staying in a ryokan. This is a Japanese inn. No beds, we sleep on futons on the floor. When we checked in we had to book the time for dinner tonight, breakfast tomorrow and dinner tomorrow. Dinner will be served in our room tonight. Our room has a little table with legless chair-seats on the floor. I asked for a chair and Saki, our attendant, brought me one about six inches off the floor. Saki introduced us to the house kimono called yakuta. And he showed us our pyjamas whilst we drank green tea.

In the hotel lift there was a poster with newspaper article in Japanese, picturing a man holding a bottle. The man is CEO of a local brewery whose business is also related to our hotel and its sister hotel across the street. The poster had an accompanying summary in Engish, partially copied here:

"Kosher Japanese Sake - Kosher Certification

After seeing an influx of Israeli visitors in recent years, Hiroki Arisu, CEO of Funasaka Sake Brewery, decided to attain Kosher Certification for the sake he produces at his brewery. Such a sake is rare even in Takayama where there are many sake breweries. Please take this opportunity to try it. Funasaka Sake Brewery is a sister company of Honjin Hiranoya."

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We then went for a walk through the town. Takayama is a preserved town. Unfortunately most of the houses are now used as kitsch stores, restaurants or food and booze shops. We did not try any sake, kosher or otherwise, but we did each have an ice cream.

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We were trying to find the archaeological museum but the map and the streets didn’t seem to line up. So in the end we gave up and walked back towards the hotel. We stumbled across a building we thought was the local shrine but in fact it was Takayama Jinya. Takayama Jinya was the regional office of the Edo Bakufu (government). It was the government office from 1692 to 1868. It is a national historic site and the only building of its type in Japan.

The warrior government wielded supreme power during the Edo era and the Tokagawa Shogunate ruled for 15 generations. Edo is the old name for Tokyo. The Bakufu directly ruled about sixty domains. The Takamaya Jinya exhibit focuses on the period of approximately 176 years until the Bakufu lost its political power in 1867 and the emperor Meiji returned to power.

The building is huge and we saw the offices, reception rooms, living quarters of the governors, their wives and their servants. We also saw the kitchens, meeting rooms and storerooms. The serfs had to pay a tax to the shogun of sacks of rice. One sack holds 60 kilograms of rice. Then of course there was the room that prisoners were received and tortured. The prisoners were made to sit on a plank and had large stones placed on their knees. The Japanese sit in a kneeling position so the pressure on the knees must have been intense. There were several uprisings but they were quashed and the leaders either jailed or executed or banished.

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After walking around the building we returned to the hotel. Don decided to use the public bath in the hotel. However, I had experienced that in 1985 and decided not to repeat it.

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Then at 7 pm it was dinner time. There was a knock on our door and our attendant Saki arrived with small portions of food. We were sceptical as to whether or not this would suffice to satisfy our hunger but after eight courses we were ‘stuffed’. Here is the menu:

"Welcome to Honjin Hiranoya Bekkan - Dinner menu May, 12, 2019

Aperitif Appetizer - Some Japanese seasonal foods are on a plate Red snapper, tomato, japanese ginger, spinach with vinegar jelly + Japanese ginger sushi, broad bean, bamboo shoot with miso (soybean paste), sweet potato.

Food steam-bolled In an earthenware teapot - Maitake mushroom, wax gourd japanese dry baked wheat gluten

Sashimi - Greater amberjack, tuna

Grilled Fish - Baked salmon miso grilled

Chef's present - Food cooked separately but served together on one dish - Taro, pumpkin, split pee

Food cooked in a small, light pot - Mushroom casserole

Beans and rice, Japanese soup, pickles

Dessert - Orange, cherry muscat bracken-starch dumpling

Honjin Hiranoya Bekkan Chief Chef: Sekine Seiji"

(Did you spot the English typo?)

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After dining in our room we went down to the lounge to write-up our blog. Meanwhile Saki cleared our dinner service, rearranged the room and assembled our futon beds. We came back up for an early bedtime.

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