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Published: November 24th 2011
Japan is renouned for its beauty any time of year, but there are two seasons in particular that attract a lot of attention. While we were unable to time our visit with the spring cherry blossoms this time around, we were very excited at the prospect of seeing the Japanese maple in all of its autumn glory. Kawaguchiko is one of the most popular places to view Mt. Fuji due to its acessability and beautiful natural setting. As luck would have it, we arrived just in time for the final two days of the Autumn Leaves Festival. In the afternoon we rented bicycles and rode around to the North side of the lake where the festivities were taking place. It was a crisp fall afternoon with a mix of sun and cloud. Unfortunately it was also quite windy and being the end of the season, many of the trees had already lost their leaves and the rest were coming down quickly. It was still a fun, small-town festival atmosphere with a few rows of food stalls and plenty of joyful Japanese tourists. We never did see the top of Fuji-san as it was covered with clouds. Day 2, it poured rain
all day. We tried to make the best of it by renting bicycles anyways and we got soaked for our efforts. Thank goodness for the warmth of the nice minshuku (traditional guest-house) that hosted us and their private hot-spring baths. A perfect introduction to the Japanese onsen experience.
Next, we took the train to Matsumoto which is best known for its stunning castle. We had a fun afternoon wandering around the castle and that evening we ended up at a very fancy hot-plate restaurant with no English on the menu. We stumbled through it anyways and had an enjoyable meal eating one dish at a time over the course of about two hours since we were clueless on the portion sizes that we were ordering.
The following day we took a scenic bus ride winding through many tunnels across the Japanese Alps to Takayama. Along the way we saw the temperature drop to -4C and encountered a snow storm. This is the first time we've seen snow since last year at Son-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan. I suppose this is nature's way of preparing us for the cold weather we will be flying home to in December.
Takayama we stayed at another nice Minshuku with it's own hot spring baths. It's a nice complement to the business style hotels we've stayed in elsewhere and the included meals are a great way of trying foods we might not otherwise order in a restaurant. Takayama is known for it's traditional style buildings that are preserved in the old town. It's a nice atmosphere and we enjoyed strolling the streets. We also encountered some of the most beautiful fall colours we've seen here when we wandered up to the site of the old castle. One other thing that Takayama is known for is its Hida Beef. Kobe Beef may be more well known internationally, but many Japanese especially those from this region believe that Hida is better. Our favorite snack was steamed fluffy buns stuffed with Hida Beef and on our final night we splurged on a steak dinner that was melt-in-the-mouth. I say this with all due respect to our Alberta Beef producers, but that was some of the best beef I have ever tasted.
Next we make our way to Kyoto, the cultural centre of Japan.
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