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Japan 2014 — Day 6: Takayama

Takayama is 2.5 hours away from Nagoya City, so we wake up ridicu­lously bright and early to get to the Meitetsu Bus Centre by 7:15AM.

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The sun is just start­ing to rise.

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The skies are supris­ing bright for 7AM in the morn­ing dur­ing the last days of autumn.

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Outside the escal­at­ors to the Meitetsu Bus Centre is a giant fig­ure of a super skinny Naruto.

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Whereas in Australia, you can count on a 7:30AM bus to still be there at 7:35AM, it nev­er does to arrive right on time in Japan because they are unfail­ingly punc­tu­al. Trust me, they can do a lot in five minutes — in that time, a shinkansen can arrive at the train sta­tion, unload all the incom­ing pas­sen­gers, clean and flip all the seats in all six­teen car­riages, load all the out­go­ing pas­sen­gers, and depart from the train sta­tion on time. It blows my mind.

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Highway bus is the most eco­nom­ic­al way to get to Takayama from Nagoya. The train takes about the same time, but is more than four times the cost.

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For break­fast, we have some onigiri we bought the pre­vi­ous day in Shin-Toyota. I had two sal­mon and sea­weed ones (above, left), which D thought weren’t ‘faith­ful’ onigiri as they weren’t wrapped in sea­weed. He opted for a sea­weed wrapped one with sal­mon and mayo inside.

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About 60 minutes into our trip, the bus made a stop for toi­let breaks and an oppor­tun­ity to pick up some snacks. If you ever watch ‘slice of life’ anime, the Japan depic­ted looks pretty much exactly like the one in Real Life. Yes, down to the high­way bus break stops.

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We pass Gujo on the way, which we’re vis­it­ing tomor­row, and shortly after­wards we’re greeted with a view of the Japanese Alps. Yes, there are perks to sit­ting in the front row of buses!

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And 2.5 hours later, we’re there! It’s a very beau­ti­ful day with sunny blue skies.

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After we’ve sor­ted out how to get tick­ets to Hida no Sato for later in the after­noon, we head towards the Miyagawa Morning Market.

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I love autum­nal foliage.

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Red maple leaves are the pret­ti­est.

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Many of the thor­ough­fares in Tayakama are paved.

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About half way there, we come across the cozi­est, quaintest bakery: Blue Penguin Bakers.

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It’s the quaintest bakery ever, a Japanese take on a French style bakery.

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We stop for a ham and cheese twist, and a chocol­ate swirl twist/​loaf. The items at this bakery are very well made and they taste all right too.

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We make it to the main street.

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For the first time since arriv­ing in Japan, we come across a phar­macy that actu­ally sold more drugs than it did cos­met­ics. And it was guarded from a cute frog with a band­aged foot and tummy.

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The sun is shin­ing ridicu­lously bright, a day more akin to early than late autumn.

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After passing this plant lov­ing build­ing, we reach the river.

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We cross over one of numer­ous bridges.

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The water is crys­tal clear.

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Not all the bridges accom­mod­ate ped­es­tri­ans, but cars gen­er­ally give way to the numer­ous tour­ists.

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And we arrive at the Miyagawa Morning Market.

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The mar­kets run every morn­ing of the year.

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It’s lined with stalls selling tiny trinkets…

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…while oth­ers sell fresh pro­duce.

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But people were mostly inter­ested in the stores in the build­ings lin­ing the oppos­ite side.

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We come across a store selling sake fla­voured soft serve, which is supremely nov­el, so of course we try one.

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We didn’t come across it any oth­er time in Japan, so lucky we did! The taste of sake is very subtle here, but I think it works bet­ter that way.

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And next to it, is a store selling man­ju (the remind me too much of char sui bao for me to ever really want to eat them), and then a store selling fla­voured nuts. I love that stores in tour­ist dis­tricts offer samples of everything, and unlike Australia, don’t inflate the prices so ridicu­lously high. In fact, I often found that souven­irs cost the same in tour­ist dis­tricts and in more loc­al areas.

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The morn­ing mar­ket is set up along the rocky river. There are many large koi swim­ming around in it.

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At the oth­er end of the mar­ket, is anoth­er bridge designed in a dif­fer­ent style.

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We bump into a liquor store on the corner. Just out­side, is a large per­sim­mon tree with a gen­er­ous har­vest of fruit.

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Smaller water ways run adja­cent to the main river.

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After the morn­ing mar­kets, we walk towards Takayama Old Town, but before walk­ing past a ‘gar­age’ for a fest­iv­al float (left) and a wooden pub­lic toi­let.

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Takayama Old Town is a beau­ti­fully pre­served old Edo peri­od town lined with shops.

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Many sell food, skew­ers of the loc­al Hida beef, a type of wagyu.

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Others sell souven­irs carved in wood.

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And still oth­ers sell cloth­ing, rather mod­ern goods in a tra­di­tion­al set­ting.

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And men pulling rick­shaws entice couples to take a ride with them around the city.

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We would see Kawagoe near Tokyo later, which is also an old Edo peri­od town, but both are dif­fer­ent in their tra­di­tion­al charm and appear­ance.

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We indulge our curi­os­ity for mit­arashi dango. I prefer my dango sweeter and chew­i­er (and less authen­t­ic!). These were rather bland, though, and the soy sauce glaze did not help. I have a hard time recon­cil­ing salty dango with my impres­sion of dango as a ‘sweet’. So, we prob­ably won’t try these again any­time soon.

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Walking through the streets, if it weren’t for the numer­ous oth­er tour­ists, you’d believe you were trans­por­ted to a pre­vi­ous time.

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Some add a pop of col­our to the oth­er­wise brown front­ages with fresh foliage.

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There’s a store selling sen­bei (rice crack­ers). They make some on the spot. D had been after some­thing hot and spicy after his luke­warm exper­i­ence with the Calbee chips from the pre­vi­ous day, so he gets this sen­bei lathered in shichimi (a Japanese spice mix­ture con­tain­ing 7 ingredi­ents). The spi­ci­ness of this sen­bei com­pletely blows him away and leaves his mouth burn­ing. He insists I have a nibble, and my rather sens­it­ive tongue is left burn­ing too!

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Further down, we find a store brew­ing soy sauce and miso paste. They give out samples of hot miso soup — I can ima­gine this store being a huge hit in the winter.

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And then we find a store brew­ing sake. The store also offers sampling for a reas­on­able price.

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The sake store has a stone foun­tain.

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We walk back towards the train sta­tion in search for lunch.

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It’s a dif­fer­ent bridge from the one we crossed earli­er.

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Some of the trees have felt the ongo­ing cold more than oth­ers, los­ing all their leaves early.

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Such a beau­ti­ful view, less rocky than fur­ther down the river.

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We have hida beef at a res­taur­ant closer to the train sta­tion in mind.

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These mod­ern build­ings are a world away from Old Takayama.

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We pass by this beau­ti­fully man­i­cured garden.

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Hida beef is some­thing to try in Takayama. It’s a wagyu right up there with kobe, I’ve read. We had our sights set on a fam­ily-run res­taur­ant, but being a nation­al hol­i­day they were closed. So we walk around and find anoth­er fam­ily-run res­taur­ant that has Japanese seat­ing as well as Western seat­ing.

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We get dir­ec­ted to the Western seat­ing (as do oth­er Japanese tour­ists).

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I ordered the hida beef kushiyaki teishoku 1,750).

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D ordered the hida beef yakiniku teishoku 2,220).

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D got to cook his meat on a stove with a piece of cow fat (ah, how meta!), and the meat from both sets was deli­cious — very melt-in-your mouth juicy and tender. I would say it’s some of the best beef I’ve tasted.

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After lunch, we spot a fire engine…

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…before head­ing off to Hida no Sato by catch­ing the Sarubobo Bus. Getting the com­bin­a­tion bus tick­et + Hida no Sato entry tick­et togeth­er, gave an over­all dis­count of a couple of hun­dred yen.

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Across from the bus stop for Hida no Sato is the world headquar­ters for Sukyo Mahikari, a reli­gion that aims to ‘foster the abil­ity in people to devel­op a world of true peace by under­stand­ing and prac­ti­cing light energy and the uni­ver­sal prin­ciples in all aspects of life’. It is a very opu­lent build­ing, and eas­ily iden­ti­fied by its gold roof.

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And Hida no Sato! This is, without a doubt, the defin­ing view for Hida no Sato that is seen on any inform­a­tion (online or off­line) of the place. And rightly so, because it is really quite breath­tak­ing.

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Hida no Sato is an open air museum exhib­it­ing over 30 tra­di­tion­al houses from the Hida region.

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The cent­ral loc­a­tion of Takayama in Japan means that autum­nal foliage is near­ing its end due to the cool­er tem­per­at­ures.

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But that’s all right. There’s noth­ing like an autum­nal sun­set.

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The sun­light is abso­lutely beau­ti­ful against the land­scape.

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These build­ings are very well kept. You can see the tra­di­tion­al build­ing tech­niques up close.

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Many of the houses fea­ture gassho style rooves that insu­late against the heavy winter snow in the Hida region.

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In some build­ings, you can climb up into the ceil­ing to see how the gassho style rooves are con­struc­ted.

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The rooves are very thick, but also highly flam­mable, and peri­od­ic­ally recon­struc­ted.

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A cross-sec­tion­al scale mod­el shows how they’re con­struc­ted.

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Most of the rooms are empty, but their slid­ing rice paper doors remain in tact.

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The museum also runs craft classes (such as weav­ing) through­out the day.

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As in the earli­er days, they keep the fire place burn­ing to keep the wood from rot­ting.

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The sun sets pretty quickly, with the tem­per­at­ures drop­ping dra­mat­ic­ally.

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Many of these highly flam­mable struc­tures have fire hydrants nearby.

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This is the Toguchi House.

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Some of its rooms have a shrine in the the corner of one of their rooms, like in some Japanese house­holds.

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Some rooms are lined with tatami, while oth­ers are exposed pol­ished hard­wood.

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A pile of fire­wood sits behind the house, ready to be fed into the fire.

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Other res­id­ences are con­struc­ted from more mod­ern roof­ing tech­niques.

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We come across a rather quaint shel­ter for a water fea­ture.

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Back towards the lake, the gift shop has a rather spec­tac­u­lar roof.

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Looking across the pond, we see the Japanese Alps in the back­ground.

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What a spec­tac­u­lar, unob­struc­ted view of the Japanese Alps from Hida no Sato!

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After we’d explored the town, we headed back for a chocol­ate crois­sant like pastry.

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Back near Takayama Station, we head back to this store that sells gyuutama.

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Earlier in the morn­ing we’d seen these and thought they looked like takoy­aki but with beef instead of octopus. They didn’t look to have any for sale then, and they still didn’t seem to when we headed back in the after­noon. We tried our luck any­way, and it turns out they have them premade behind the counter. The gyuutama were a luke­warm, alas. Lukewarm or not, though, we prefer takoy­aki! These were rather doughy.

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A couple of doors down, there’s a store selling warm amaza­ke.

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D’s always been curi­ous about it, but this has to rate as one of the worst drinks we’ve had in Japan (but still bet­ter than the tofu from the pre­vi­ous day).

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Back at the train sta­tion we have anoth­er hour before our bus at 5:30PM, so we settle into a cafe for a cafe au lait and an iced tea.

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D’s cafe au lait was quite dis­ap­point­ing — it always is when they pour the cof­fee out of a jug, rather than make it using a cof­fee machine.

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3 hours later (the return trip took longer because of traffic on a nation­al hol­i­day), we’re back at Sakae. This is a view of Nagoya TV Tower.

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It’s loc­ated in the centre of Hisaya Oodori Park, which is dec­or­ated with Christmas lights.

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After an exhaust­ing day, we tuck in to CoCo Ichibanya Curry House. This was to become one of our favour­ite places to eat!

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I ordered a cream crab cro­quette curry. These cro­quettes are some of the best I’ve had (so creamy!)

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D ordered a fried pork and veget­able curry. The fried pork was deli­ciously juicy and tender. And potato in curry — need I say more? Yum!