Day 4

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December 11th 2010
Published: December 12th 2010
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(This entry typed on 11th December but posted on 12th December - dates have been adjusted accordingly.)

We traveled via the JR Takayama line to Takayama today. It was quite expensive, almost 4000yen. I think at this point I should point out that P and I are getting pretty good at navigating through the various train lines and companies. Basically we figured that there are two types of train service – the local service and the supposedly inter-state ones. The local service is called the subway, and the inter-state service is operated by several companies including the JR company, the Meiteitzu company and the Kinetsu company. The JR pass does not cover the Meiteitzu and Kinetsu lines, so unless you are pretty sure you will be traveling via the JR lines a lot, it probably isn’t cheaper, as in our case.

The scenery along Inuyama to Takayama was quite beautiful although I did not have much time to appreciate it as we met another English-speaking passenger on board the train and he was pretty keen to chat (I suppose he was quite bored), and my numerous hints to indicate politely that I would like our conversation to end soon by casting many furtive glances to the Sudoku puzzle in my hands, did little to deter him. P is also not one for much social conversation so she adamantly refused to be dragged into our conversation despite my many futile attempts to nudge her in the ribs with my elbow.

When we arrived in Takayama, we were pretty surprised to find that there was snow on the ground. It had snowed the day before. Immediately, I felt the biting chill, and had to rummage through my duffel pack at the station itself for my thick winter jacket. I am embarrassed to say that my jacket was very dusty – a small cloud of dust billowed out when I tugged my jacket free from my bag. I was also surprised to note that the jacket fitted me well despite last wearing it when I was sixteen, a good eight years ago. We kick started our introduction to Takayama by first visiting the Kokubun-ji Temple (the oldest temple in Takayama) before heading to our accommodation to deposit our bags, and then onto Takayama Jinya (remains of old government offices in the Edo period complete with a small torture chamber), Hida Minzoku Kokoban (a former Samurai house converted to exhibit Hida region’s archaeological and historical artefacts) and the Old Private Houses (houses from the Edo and Meiji periods that have remained largely untouched and now used as merchant shops). Happily, all the attractions we visited today are all in the city centre and all within walking distance from one another.

Kokubun-ji Temple
Kokubun-ji temple was like many of the other temples I have seen so far in Japan. Sadly, although I visited it only this afternoon, I do not recall much of it except that there was a large bell at the entrance. And I only remembered it only because of a movie I have seen before – it reminded me of the bell that was used to sound the danger of the end of the world or something like that. I still prefer the Tagata Mae temple since that was more fascinating with the statues of penises.

Rickshaw Inn
Our accommodation at Takayama was at the Rickshaw Inn, our most expensive accommodation for the whole trip although it was strangely under the budget hotel section of the Lonely Planet guide. The Rickshaw Inn is incredibly near all the action of Takayama so that is very convenient. We were given a Japanese style room with an attached private bath as requested. I am very satisfied with the place although the Japanese bathroom still needs a little getting used to. The toilet and the bathroom are separate with the sink in the middle room. There is also a rather spacious lounge and a small kitchen that are shared by the guests. Guests have to take off their shoes and place them in cubby holes, swapping them for indoor slippers provided by the Inn before they can even enter the reception area. It helps in keeping the place clean I suppose. And of course how can I forget the one facility that will earn the place instant brownie points from me – free fast internet? There’s free wireless and cable internet provided in all rooms and in the lounge. A cable is also provided. They even rent out laptops (100yen/30 minutes 9am-11pm) if guests did not bring one of their own. The other facility they have is laundry service. 100yen for 40 minutes of wash (no adjustable settings), and 100yen for 30 minutes of dryer use. The dryer is not very efficient, so 1.5hours is recommended by the staff, and tried and tested by myself for a small load of laundry. They also sell small packets of detergent, 50yen per pack which is much cheaper than buying the smallest bottle of detergent you can find from the supermarket.

Takayama Jinya
The Takayama Jinya is remains of old government offices. I was actually more interested in the torture chamber and was visualizing having to attend a dungeon. Really, I must be stark mad letting my imagination run wild. An English-speaking guide was provided free of charge on request and she gave us a tour of the compound. I highly recommend this tour as it was very informative and she pointed out many details that would have been lost on us had we just walked through the place ourselves. For example she pointed out the subtle difference in tatami mats in each room which signified the different in ranks of the room occupants, she demonstrated the basic but effective lock systems used on the doors and windows and explained the significance of the designs and layout of each rooms. The torture chamber is more a place to punish prisoners than to torture them and really just consisted of piling heavy logs on them when they are kneeling, making them kneel on stones and whacking them with bamboo canes. Look out for the chops in the lounge. I have to say that chops (or stamps) are common in Inuyama and Takayama.

Hida Minzoku Kokokan
I was interested in visiting the Hida Minzoku Kokokan because I thought it has something to do with samurais. I am interested in learning more about the samurais. Unfortunately the connection with samurais ended at the structure. Other than being a former samurai house, nothing else bear significance to them. It is a really old house with many exhibits. A lot of glass counters showcasing pottery, stones and various other knick knacks that only interest me mildly when I gave all of them a cursory glance. Not the best place to drop by if you are running short on time.

Old Private Houses
I would highly recommend visiting the Old Private Houses. Basically they are just three streets of old houses from the Edo and Meiji periods that have been maintained and converted into shops. There are all types of shops – food, restaurants, snacks, souvenirs, sake and other bits and pieces. Very fun to browse if you are interested in flea markets, trying out new snacks and stuff like that.

Other than that, we spent the rest of the time looking for restaurants to eat our dinner. Hida beef is apparently very famous and if you come to Takayama, you need to try the beef. And so beef has become our staple meat for the whole day. Personally I can’t taste the difference because I am not fussed about food, but if I happen to try a Hida beef steak tomorrow, I may be able to provide a more accurate opinion!

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