Saturday, July 24, 2010


Today we left Kyoto for the mountain range that runs along the middle of the island. 

We packed most of our belonging into two suit-cases that we sent directly to Tokyo. The Japanese hotel have baggage service to ship baggage to your next destination (hotel or private address, and even flight terminal) so that you don't need to travel with large suitcases. This allowed us to travel with a small carryon luggage and a backpack with my computer and camera equipment.

We took the Shinkansen to Nagoya, and there switched to a regular train to Takayama. This train-ride took about 2 1/2 hours. The train started in the Nagoya outskirts that were very urban, and slowly moved into country side of villages with large rice fields, and then started climbing into the mountains. We crossed streams on multiple bridges. The views were very impressive.

We reached Takayama, a relatively central town in the mountain district known as Hida. The town is well known as a show case of old-style japanese town, and is a popular destination for Japanese tourists. We were hoping that the mountain climate will be also more hospitable to us. When we came out of the train we realized that it was just as hot here as in the plains. It was, however, less humid which made it easier to get around. 

We walked to our hotel which was few blocks away from the train station. This was a mix of japanese and western styles. The guests took off the shoes after checking in, and there was a shoe locker down stairs. From that point onward everything was tatami mats. Since our rooms were not ready, we left our baggage and went to explore the time.

The main part of town was very close and so we got there by foot. We went to a restaurant specializing in local food that was recommended by the guidebook. When we got there the place was empty which was a bit worrisome. However the menu looked promising and were hungry....

The promising lunch set was local beef (Hida Beef) served on grill. We were served ceramic block that had a grill on top and candles below it. The food was sitting on a large leaf above the fire and was cooking slowly. 

The waitress told us to wait about a minute and then stir the food to get it evenly cooked. Once cooked it was to be eaten with rice (that was served separately). I had some sea-food.

After lunch we went to tour the old town. 

This area is marked for conservation, and so the building are left in their original shape. However, many of them changed function from living quarters to stores that specialize in local goods and tourist-oriented sales. 

A riksha-like tour guide on a break in the heat

Some of the buildings are rather large and so going into one store you find yourself in an inner garden surrounded by rooms, each containing a different businesses. 

Few of the houses contained sake-browing houses (which I believe served this function of many years). They had tasting of different sake styles.

We went down to the river that runs through the town. The water was very clear and cold. We could see large koi fish (carp). 

We returned to hotel to check in. The rooms were small but very tastefully designed. There was a western style bed, and japanese furniture. The hotel was very proud of its roof-top Onsen - a bath house. I switched to the supplied "house cloths" and took the supplied hand-basket with towel and went to enjoy the japanese treat. The onsen was built like a top-rated SPA, with black marble, and dark wood. It contain outdoors hotbaths as well as sauna and indoors hotbath.

This was my first onsen experience and I found it a lot of fun. You feel very clean and refreshed afterwards.

After the bath and some rest we went to town again. 

Sunset from our hotel room

The tourist information told us there is a festival taking place in the main street of the old town. When we got there we saw that the street was closed to traffic and concentration of people. 

It turned out that the festival involved different teams, each dressed up in costumes that marched around in a circular parade. In the center of the street there was a stage where several hosts were talking in japanese over loudspeakers, and then they put on dance song all the teams danced their steps as the marched around in the circle. 

This was very different than the formal traditional festival we saw in Kyoto. It had more relaxed and humorous atmosphere.

After we had enough of the festival we went to search for dinner. The guidebook recommended a Ramen place next to our hotel and so we decided to check it out. It turned out to be a really small place with a cook and a waitress. The English menu was hilarious. Usually we when we got an English menu it had reasonable although terse language. This menu looked like it was run through google translate.

We were not sure whether to go with "Miso becomes dull and pick you up; a deep frying gyoza (260yen)" or with "The ramen which entered in various ways (630yen)" as our favorite entry. In the drinks section "carbonic acid juice (180yen)" was the clear winner.

Aside from the menu, the food was simple and good. We shared fried gyoza and had ramen soup.

No comments: