We arrived by bus in Takayama and easily found our ryokan. Once again we have been fortunate with our booking, because the place is absolutely lovely. I find that these blogs I currently write are over-enthusiastic, but I can’t help my excitement from experiencing the wonders of the Japanese Alps.
The room is traditional, but unlike in Hirayu, we’d ordered Western style beds/madrasses and it is great to get a few nights sleep off the tatami mat.
With the wonder of our new accommodation and the in-house onsen, it took us a while to get out and discover the town. Around 8 pm we decided to find a place to eat. My boyfriend had made a whole lot of research on Takayama restaurants, and we’d already scouted out one or two.
But here is the lesson of the day, and something which I am surprised we did not realise earlier. Japanese restaurants close down for the night between 7pm and 9pm. I imagine that people from Southern Europe would be even more confused than we were walking around searching desperately for food. We’d started off with great hopes and lots of ideas, but we ended up at a ramen diner with only the bare necessities, slurping each our bowl of ramen.
Fortunately, the ramen was excellent and it was fun to experience the not so touristy part of dining out in Takayama. But we’ll definitely go out earlier for dinner tomorrow.
A full day of sightseeing
Any good day starts with a great morning meal. At Hodakaso Yamano Iori we were presented with an absolute masterpiece of a Japanese breakfast with all that it includes. The table was constructed around a fireplace with a pot of miso. We were given a plate with rice and several small bowls of fermented vegetables, grilled fish, pickles, tofu, salad and natto, which is fermented soybeans to eat with the rice.
And off course green tea which was served on both knees by the waitress.
Our first stop after the delicious yet very unfamiliar breakfast was the Miyagawa morning market from where we slowly made our way through the town following the Miyagawa River.
The name means tall mountain and thus it is not the only one named such on Honshu. It is therefore often referred to as Hida-Takayama for the old Hida Province. Settlements in the area can be traced back to the Jomon period which ended in 300BC.
The Hida area has for centuries and even millennia been known for its carpentry and during the Nara period people from Hida paid taxes in the form of carpenters to work on the palaces and temples of the capital.
The city of Takayama, however, was build around the Takayama castle which was constructed by feudal lord Nagachika Kanamori from 1588 to 1600. Surrounding the castle the town was organized with Samurai residences on the elevated ground and merchant homes in the lower town, which is present day Takayama’s old town.
As a fun fact Takayama has eaten up a lot of smaller villages and townships and is today the largest city area extending approximately 81 km from east to west and 55 km from north to south with an area of 2,177.67km2 which is close to the same size as the Tokyo metropolitan area, but while Tokyo is full of skyscrapers and houses – 92.3 % of Takayama is covered in forest.
We enjoyed slowly strolling down some of the main thoroughfares of Takayama. The centre of the old town is full of craft shops offering beautiful lacquer wares and wood craft. By the river we discovered several shops selling miso paste and other Japanese delicacies.
Walking through Takayama feels like walking through time. The city centre is so well preserved and though modern commodities are a plenty, the atmosphere makes you think of the old Japan – of the time of the samurai. It also makes you want to shop till you drop. If only I could bring back all the treasures of Japan.
Hida No Sabe
Not far from Takayama centre by bus lies the Hida no Sabe folk village which is an open-air museum showing off the famous gassho style houses and original living conditions of the people from the region.
Despite having planned visits to Shiragawa-go and Ainokura, which are both UNESCO protected villages similar to Hida No Sabe, we decided to take a trip to the museum. And I am mighty pleased that we did.
The heat and humidity was close to killing me off and for large stretches there was no shadow. For that reason I was extremely happy to have borrowed a paper umbrella at the entrance as we walked through the village layout of Hida No Sabe.
It is a beautiful place with a clear village lake in the centre of it all, which reflects the colours of the season. It is also a place where you can learn about the spinning of silk and touch a silkworm. Yummy! Despite not being a family of four with kids that needed to be stimulated we thoroughly enjoyed visiting the museum and I can’t wait to see real life villages with similar design and to sleep over in a gassho style house – as long as there are no more silkworms.
But our time in Takayama is far from over. After yesterdays experience with closed restaurants we are heading out for that Chinese restaurant which my boyfriend has read so many good reviews about.
Three words are synonymous with Japanese summer: hani, yukata and hanabi.
I had managed to buy a yukata in Nagoya and we had been offered a free commercial hani (fan) in several places, all that was missing was hanabi.
Hanabi is the Japanese word for fireworks and stems from the words hana = flower and bi = fire.
Unlike in the Western world fireworks in Japan are something which belongs to the hot and humid summer months.
We were lucky enough to reach Takayama for the last weekend of July which offered the yearly Hanabi show. We got to watch the spectacular fire flowers from the shore of the Miyagawa River which flows through the centre of Takayama.
It was the absolutely charming hostess at the homey Chinese restaurant Heianraku who told us about the Hanabi show. She and her husband the chef gave us an unforgettable dining experience at their counter. Once again, I was blown away not only by the regions culinary options, but also with the friendliness of the locals.
Before leaving, we added our home to the atlas of the hostess. She made everyone visiting from abroad write their names circling the place they came from. It makes me exceedingly happy to know that our names are also present in her book, leaving a small memory of us in Takayama.
Tomorrow awaits another great breakfast before we head off to Shiragawa-go and Ainokura.