Hida Takayama, Day 2

I woke up early on my next day in Takayama to hit the famed morning market, where local vendors sold food and crafts.

The morning market takes place along the river, and also in the big open lot in front of a Buddhist temple. After browsing around the handmade candles, wood carving, and local foods, I went to check out another HappyCow recommended vegan / macrobiotic restaurant tucked just behind my hotel.

As you can see from the layout, the “restaurant” is essentially you, sitting in an old lady’s cozy living room, where she makes food for you. The menu consists of one or two set meals, and reservations are required for dinner so she knows she should be on hand to make food. My Japanese was not so great at the time, but I enjoyed chatting with my chef / grandma for the day as much as I could. She was really sweet and lovely.

After breakfast, I trekked out to the preserved thatched roof houses that had been collected about a 30 minute walk from downtown Takayama. The houses had been historically used in the region, as for various reasons they’re quite clever for heating and insulation in the winter months, but I believe the ones collected in this little historical village have been taken from various places around the region for preservation and sightseeing purposes. A bit like a zoo but for houses.

The area had a lot of excellent historical info available in both Japanese and English, and I enjoyed geeking out about human cleverness before we had silly things like electricity. For example, the three-story thatched roof houses were made in such a way that they contained the heat from the central fire pit you see above, while venting (the worst of) the smoke it produced. The ground floors were also constructed such that animals were housed in indoor stables, because damn it was cold outside.

Also fascinating were the various kinds of sleds on exhibit, all designed for different loads, different powering methods (ie human-powered, horse-powered, dog-powered), and different types of snow and terrain (long distances, inclines, etc). Humans are clever, y’all.

Next up, the adorable omiyage of Hida Takayama, my confusion over these promo posters for one particular anime that kept showing up, and my last day there, aka the actual day of the Sanno Matsuri.

Hida Takayama

Almost a year ago now I hopped a bus from Shinjuku Station to the mountain town of Hida Takayama. I scheduled my visit to coincide with the spring Sanno Festival, one of the three largest Shinto festivals in Japan.

Takayama has done a lot to preserve its historical buildings and quaint mountain town feel, but at least to me it managed to do so without feeling excessively touristy. I still wove my way around a lot of white folks for a remote Japanese mountain town, but especially trekking through historic districts in the early morning and making the half hour walk a bit out of town to where old style thatched roof homes were preserved, I could also feel like I had the place to myself.

After hopping off the bus, I dropped my things at the little business hotel where I was staying just outside the station, and then, camera in tow, walked around the “historic house” district of the city just up the street. Takayama is quite small, so walkers like me can easily get anywhere on foot within about half an hour, and spend a few hours slowly circumnavigating the city.

The sky started to clear up a bit later in the day, and I headed up the hill toward the collection of old timey temples I had heard were clustered up there.

Afterwards I came back down the hill and hit a vegetarian restaurant that HappyCow guided me to. It was very tasty, but…

I bought myself a celebratory chu-hi (MILDLY alcoholic and sweet, like ginger ale with booze) and got so sick it’s not even funny. I curled up in a fetal position in my hotel room for the rest of the night. Haha awww.

Thankfully the next two days of my three-day trip went well. Stay tuned for the next installment!

A Brief Aside: Italy! (Part 1: Rome)

Last summer, at some pre-dawn hour in the Doha International Airport:

Me: How much longer until our flight leaves for Italy?

Friend (checking watch): Well, we got here half an hour ago, so… 19 1/2 hours.

Me: We’ve made a huge mistake.

But hellish layover aside, Italy was a blast. My friend, a philosophy PhD student at Keio University, had a conference to go to in Pisa – but what a waste, she said, to go all that way from Japan and not travel around! I agreed, her logic was very sound, and so when conference time rolled around we were headed to Rome. There we’d grab a train to Pisa, and after the conference, another train to Florence, then another up to Venice, and finally fly back to Tokyo.

As trips go, it was just the right length of time and the right amount of exhausting. The only thing I’d change is the layover. What were we thinking.

I took about a million and one pictures of our trip, ate my weight in cheeseless pizza, pasta, and vegan gelatto, and walked until my legs were pretty much ready to fall off. That’s a fair summary of every day we spent there, so I’ll leave you with that, rather than boring you with the nitty gritty.

And as for the picture deluge, let’s begin with Rome:

Looking back, I think I remember Rome more fondly in pictures than I did in reality. I sympathize with the people who live there, and especially the ones who work in the tourism industry. Service industry work in general is pretty thankless (so to all of you who were kind and polite even though my incompetent fifteen year old self gave you regular Coke instead of Cherry at the Harkins Shea 14 movie theater – bless your hearts). I can only imagine it’s compounded when you’re in the service industry in one of the most popular international travel destinations in the world, bombarded by out-of-towners who don’t speak the language (guilty) and are in a hurry to squint at each and every historically and culturally significant relic (not guilty – we were very leisurely about our relic-squinting schedule). Thanks for being cool, guy at our hostel, and nuns in the Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli e del Martiri, and sush-ers in the Sistine Chapel.

Next time, Pisa and Florence!

Hot Spring Vacation in Shibu Onsen (2 of 3)

The Goddess of Mercy for World Peace

So this is embarrassing. Right after I’d returned from my December jaunt to Shibu Onsen I made the first of three posts about my trip.

And… now this is the second one.

You will not have to wait another half a year for the third and final post, I solemnly swear.

I really enjoy traveling by myself. Shibu Onsen in the first weeks of December was an ideal solo travel location, as the little hot spring town was still quiet, preparing for the late winter boom, but small and friendly enough that I could navigate without disappearing down some side street to never be found again.

A+++ to the ryokan I stayed at, where my second day was met with another vegan breakfast prepared in house. I ate breakfast in the downstairs dining room, where the older woman who staffed for the family of owners served and chatted with me when she figured out I spoke any Japanese.

After a good steam in the in-house onsen, I set out to wander aimlessly and enjoy the quiet beauty of the snowy mountain town. There’s a lot to be said for lack of crowds, and I wandered the streets for hours feeling like I could be the only person left in the world.

I eventually found my way to a famous Buddhist statue, “The Goddess of Mercy for World Peace,” near the base of the mountains in Yudanaka. Yudanaka is the next little town over from Shibu Onsen, about a fifteen minute walk away. By the time I reached her the sky had cleared, and she cut a striking figure against the blue sky and the setting sun.

Afterwards I hiked up the mountain behind her. I had the idea that there was something at the top, so I just kept hiking, and hiking, and hiking… finally I noticed it was starting to get dark, and that this was usually the point in horror movies where I yelled at our naive protagonists to stop pushing into the empty, creepy woods and go home already.

So I went back. My evening consisted of visits to each of the seven famous hot spring baths in Shibu Onsen, each corresponding to a particular ailment they’re supposed to heal. I don’t know about that, but I do know some of them were painful hot. I made friends with a young Japanese woman, also traveling alone, as we attempted to get into a bath that felt on the brink of literally boiling. The old ladies who came in right after us hopped in without trouble, and then left again, and we just muttered to each other, むり、むり (impossible, impossible).

While I’m normally not an onsen fan, there’s something to be said for near boiling oneself, then stepping out into the crisp winter night and drinking under the moon.

Shibu Onsen Omiyage

Hello all, apologies again for the lack of posts. I’ve gotten back into a regular and part-time schedule, which should go a long way toward my being productive outside of work.

Last week, between the end of my full-time internship (more on that later) and my part-time job (also, later) I spent a few days in Shibu Onsen, a hot spring town about three hours from Tokyo. Enjoy this little snippet I recorded about the omiyage, aka souvenirs, that I brought back, and stay tuned for more soon.