Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Japan 2017 Days 5&6: Shirakawago and Takayama

When Tomoko invited us to visit her in Kanazawa, she wanted to show us some of the special places in this region of Japan, so she arranged a 2-day bus trip for us to the World Heritage Site of Shirakawago & the nearby town of Takayama, both deep in the mountains south of Kanazawa. So we packed our backpacks for an overnight stay, & after a cafe breakfast in the hotel, we met her at the bus station that's attached to the Kanazawa train station.

"Morning Set" breakfast

Very soon we could see the mountain ranges growing outside the bus windows (the funny tint in the photos is due to the bus window). Ears popping, the tunnels got longer and longer, the mountains higher & higher, & the snow deeper & deeper. It was so beautiful!

After a little over an hour's ride, our first stop was Shirakawago (the name means "White River Beloved Home"), which is a small village deep in the mountains where there are many, many traditional homes, most of them with families still living in them. They have thick thatched roofs that are steeply pitched to keep the snow from caving them in.

They also build the traditional snow houses there, called "Kamakura" that are the Japanese version of igloos.

There were so many beautiful views. Loads of other tourists, too.

And funny sights.

There were shops selling gifts, and I bought some yummy preserved tofu, along with some souvenirs. We had to catch our next bus right after lunch, but so many of the small restaurants were full of other tourists that Charlie & Tomoko ended up eating street stall corroke (fried potato & ground beef patties) and I had some zenzai (sweet red bean soup) with mochi for lunch.

We got on the next bus & rode for a little over an hour to the town of Takayama ("High Mountain"). Tomoko had made a reservation for the night at a beautiful Ryokan (traditional-style inn) called "Oyado Koto no Yume".

At a ryokan you take your shoes off at the door and are offered slippers to wear during your stay, except on tatami mat rooms, where you take the slippers off. We were welcomed with tea and Japanese sweets made from red bean paste and chestnuts. Then we chose kimono to wear, which were wrapped in a cloth (furoshiki) for carrying and then we were shown to our rooms. There was a main tatami room, with a table & chairs made for sitting on the floor, where Tomoko would sleep on a futon, and also a bedroom with a bed (for me & Charlie, as I don't do well sleeping on the floor any more). There was also a sitting room around a non-functional traditional fireplace, & an ofuro (shower & bathing room).

The inn also had two, large public ofuro for guests' use as well, which Tomoko did use. Charlie & I did the regular shower thing :) After settling-in we decided to walk around town until dinner time. A few blocks from the ryokan there was a section of town with narrow streets & old shops, where you could buy all sorts of gifts. When Japanese people travel it's expected that they'll bring home gifts, usually food, for their friends & family (called "omiyage") so these shops provide the omiyage- all local specialities like pickles, crackers, & sweets. We also stopped by the Takayama city hall- such a beautiful building!

We had asked for a dinner restaurant recommendation from the ryokan staff, & so after walking around for a while we found our way to Suzuya, a restaurant specializing in the local tradition of cooking food on hoba leaves. Hola leaves are large & dried & maybe even smoked before they're used for cooking. They are set on tin foil over charcoal braziers (right at the table), covered with miso paste, & then that's covered with vegetables and meat or tofu. We were told to wait 3 minutes, then start to stir the food with our chopsticks, until it was cooked through.

It smelled really good while it was cooking!! Charlie is not fond of miso paste, so he had Hida beef slices (Hida beef is a local delicacy) & vegetables to grill to his liking. Everything was served with rice & miso soup. It was sooooo good!!!

After dinner, we walked back to the ryokan & decided to dress in our kimono for a photo shoot. The ryokan had a lady on staff to help us dress in the kimono. I had never done this before, so I was kind of nervous & excited. The kimono were "short-cut" style, so didn't have as many layers or complicated pieces as is usual, but it was still fun.

After dressing-up, Tomoko headed to the big ofuro, & I had my shower before bed time. It had been such a full day & we were really tired!

Next morning we had breakfast at the ryokan. Charlie had a western-style breakfast, and cooked his eggs over a skillet right at the table, which were followed by weiners & bacon. Tomoko & I had a traditional Japanese-style breakfast, with rice, miso soup, fish, pickles, and 2 braziers each- one with hoba cooked meat & veg (I gave mine to Charlie :) and one with oden, which is various boiled vegetables & fish-products in broth. It was great!

We had a couple hours before the bus back to Kanazawa, so we walked around Takayama a bit more (the ryokan held our backpacks for us after we checked-out). We found a Shinto shrine nearby that had a 1200-year-old tree on the grounds. There was a little Jizo statue right in the trunk of the tree.

Charlie had been thinking about buying an omikuji fortune at a shrine, but neither of us can read Japanese well enough to know what it says, so he asked Tomoko if she'd help him. The fortune costs only 100¥ (about a dollar) and you pick one randomly. The tradition is, if you get a bad luck one, you can erase the bad luck by folding the paper & tying it to a nearby rack or tree. Fortunately, Charlie got a good luck one!

Pretty soon it was time for our bus & the 2-hour ride back to Kanazawa. It was kind of nice to sit for a while after all the walking :)

We went back to our hotel until dinner time, when we met Tomoko at the train station to take the bus downtown to dinner. She had a reservations at a little place she really likes, that serves fresh, locally-grown vegetables in season. It was delicious!! Among the dishes we shared was a pesto & potato pizza, & for dessert, ice cream made from sweet potatoes!

We said good night to Tomoko at the bus stop. The plan is to take the bus to her apartment tomorrow morning for breakfast with her, & then a tour of Kanazawa University & lunch with the head of her department & some colleagues. 

1 comment:

  1. The mountains are wonderful! Looks like Charlie enjoyed that western breakfast!