Japan 2015 — Day 7: Shirakawa

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The day imme­di­ately after a nation­al hol­i­day in Japan is always tricky to plan. Shops, res­taur­ants and tour­ist attrac­tions are open on the nation­al hol­i­day, unlike Australia. But in Japan, you’ll find many in tour­ist dis­tricts closed the day after the nation­al hol­i­day. With that in mind, we vis­it Shirakawa-go.

Shirakawa is a moun­tain vil­lage well known for its houses con­struc­ted in the archi­tec­tur­al style known as gassho-zukuri. We’re off to see the biggest vil­lage, Ogimachi.

Kanazawa

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We wake up to an over­cast morn­ing after escap­ing the wet weath­er for the past few days. Walking from our hotel to Kanazawa sta­tion, we get a good view of the Motenashi Dome.

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It’s a 2-hour trip by high­way bus to Shirakawa-go from Kanazawa, so we head off to the sta­tion and find Boulangerie DonQ Francaise for some food for the road.

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There are round pil­lows drizzled with maple syr­up and knobs of but­ter. Cute, but we pass.

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Instead, we take one of these slices of apple pie with lay­ers of flaky pastry for later.

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For break­fast, D goes back to his trusty curry pan only to dis­cov­er a beau­ti­fully oozy quail egg hid­den inside. Delicious!

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And, I get curi­ous about this Japanese-style curry naan. It doesn’t taste any­thing like a tra­di­tion­al naan — it’s very doughy — although the innards are spi­ci­er and less sweet than we’re used to.

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The bus stop for the high­way bus is right out­side a Starbucks Coffee.

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There’s 10 – 15 minutes to spare, so we get some caf­feine to kick­start our day.

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I get a black tea infused with freeze dried straw­ber­ries. Isn’t it pretty and so Christmassy? D gets a Dark Mocha Chip Frappucpino Blended Cream – a truly dec­ad­ent chocolaty cof­fee that I for­got to photograph!

Kanazawa –> Shirakawa

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Shirakawa is a moun­tain vil­lage loc­ated at the highest peak on Mount Haku in the Ryohaku Mountains. Being at such high alti­tudes with such wet weath­er, we’re driv­ing through mist.

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Is it mist or clouds?

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The wet weath­er causes minor delays and we arrive a bit later than sched­uled. This is the tour­ist inform­a­tion centre oppos­ite the bus stop, with hoards of less pre­pared tour­ists buy­ing umbrellas.

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To get to the vil­lage, we cross a sus­pen­ded ped­es­tri­an bridge.

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There are signs near the bridge explain­ing the flam­mable nature of the farmhouses.

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To assist, there are fire mon­it­ors through­out the village.

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The farm­houses are occu­pied by people liv­ing in the vil­lage, so we see veget­able gardens.

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The heavy rain has flooded vari­ous parts of their fields.

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Gassho-zukuri means ‘con­struc­ted like hands in pray­er’, as the farm­houses’ steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed togeth­er in pray­er. The archi­tec­ture is designed to with­stand the harsh winters.

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A stream flows next to a farmhouse.

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This is the main road through the vil­lage. It’s closed to cars between 9am and 4pm.

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The vil­lage is loc­ated in a val­ley, so there’s a moun­tain­ous back­drop every­where you look.

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This shop spe­cial­ises in pre­serving chilli, which you can see hanging from racks.

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This is the stop for the shuttle bus to the Shiroyama Viewpoint. Everything’s a bit quiet and some shops are closed due partly to the rain and partly to it being the day after a nation­al holiday.

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There’s a some sort of scare­crow dis­play at the centre of the space — I’m not sure what they’re try­ing to keep away. Isn’t the mist behind the trees just beautiful?

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There’s a souven­ir shop tucked into the corner behind the bus stop.

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We see Shirakawa-go themed Hello Kitty mer­chand­ise. Cute!

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And out­side, we see Shirakawa-go themed man­hole cov­ers. Pretty!

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Looking back, we’re about half way down the main road.

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We duck into anoth­er souven­ir store for some res­pite from the rain — though, we love souven­ir stores even in fine weath­er — and find an English sign explain­ing the ori­gins of saru­bobo, which we’d seen before dur­ing our earli­er vis­it to Takayama.

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There’s saru­bobo shaped lol­li­pops in mul­tiple col­ours. While you see the red one most often — being the most well-roun­ded in its luck — the oth­er col­ours bring luck in dif­fer­ent aspects.

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Walking to the vil­lage, you’re a world away from the hustle and bustle of mod­ern day Japan.

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There aren’t all that many shops in the vil­lage, although fam­il­ies have increas­ingly turned their homes into shops and res­taur­ants in recent years.

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This shop has ban­ners of all the col­ours of the saru­bobo and the luck asso­ci­ated with each.

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The ninja on the right is just the cutest.

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Heading into winter, the rice fields look a bit dead.

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At this shop, there are Hida beef croquettes.

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There’s a saru­bobo in the shape of a cow. Hida beef refers to beef from black-haired Japanese cattle that have been raised in Gifu Prefecture. Like Kobe beef, there’s a strict cer­ti­fic­a­tion sys­tem and the beef is high qual­ity with a marbled pat­tern not only on the steaks, but also in the fat coat­ing. We tried grilled hida beef on our vis­it to Takayama, also loc­ated in the Hida region.

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The Hida beef cro­quette is pip­ing hot with a crispy panko coat­ing and deli­ciously juicy and tender Hida Beef mixed into the potato innards.

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The rain doesn’t let up as we eat our cro­quette to the view of these farmhouses.

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A mini Totoro hauls a jar of either mints or puffed rice at the win­dow selling soft serve.

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The river we crossed from the bus stop to reach the vil­lage snakes around.

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The rush­ing sound of the river makes it unmis­tak­able from afar.

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There are fruits being pre­served out­side a house.

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Looking back, we’re a fair way down the main road.

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And as we reach the end of the main road, we see the Shiroyama Viewpoint in the background.

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Some of the build­ings look to be mod­ern build­ings built in the tra­di­tion­al style. This one has a rather mod­ern look­ing car­port behind it.

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But some ori­gin­al build­ings look to be still used as farmhouses.

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This is Wada-ke. The Wada fam­ily was one of the wealth­i­est fam­il­ies and vil­lage lead­ers of Ogimachi. Their gassho-zukuri farm­house, which is the largest in the town, is open to the pub­lic as a museum. Having been inside oth­er gassho-zukuri farm­houses in Takayama, we pass.

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The lake in front of Wada-ke (to the left of this photo) is filled with ginkgo leaves.

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The rain lets up as we reach the end of the road. It’s the edge of the town, so we spot a pet­rol sta­tion and con­veni­ence store. Before we make the steep trek up to Shiroyama Viewpoint, we eat our apple pie from the bakery this morn­ing and try a yakisoba pan (bread roll with yakisoba) from the con­veni­ence store. Noodles in bread — it’s not bad!

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The thatched rooves are really quite thick.

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With the rain let­ting up, the mist clears from the moun­tains and the tem­per­at­ure drops.

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Wrapped up in my cozy Uniqlo jack­et, we’re at the entrance to the walk up the moun­tain to the Shiroyama Viewpoint.

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There’s a device stop­ping an over­flow of water reach­ing the town from the mountains.

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There are glimpses of the vil­lage below through the trees as you ascend.

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The road up the Shiroyama Viewpoint is closed dur­ing winter as it becomes too dangerous.

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They’re mid-way to build­ing a high­er embank­ment. Here, we see each of the jig-saw pieces comes pre­fab­ric­ated and wrapped in styrofoam.

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The view as you approach the top is really quite some­thing as you get tired from the trek.

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Making the trek up the moun­tain is a must to truly appre­ci­ate the village.

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And here, we see the main road of the vil­lage, which we just walked down.

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A sign explains Shirakawa-go’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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There’s short moun­tain trail to the road below. It’s nar­row, slip­pery and steep. Dangerous!

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And we’re back on the ground after enjoy­ing the view from above.
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Closer to the edge of the vil­lage, we spot more farm­ing activ­ity and less souven­ir activity.

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Some of the smal­ler houses are get­ting ready for winter with added insulation.

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The rain has flooded this rice field.

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There’s anoth­er scare­crow dis­play near some farmhouses.

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They’re dressed in clothes with a straw dog companion.

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We stop by this store for some yuzu shichimi powder.

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And with that, we’re back at the start of the main road.

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There are a bunch of souven­ir stores near the bus stop for the high­way bus.

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A saru­bobo sits out­side the store.

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There are cute anim­als and ninja figurines.

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And a saru­bobo tak­ing shel­ter from the snow with a tatami mat.

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Behind the shops near the bus stop is an open air museum exhib­it­ing farm­houses and oth­er struc­tures relo­cated to Ogamachi to save them from destruction.

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These two sculp­tures guard the entrance to the open-air museum.

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Here, you can see the sus­pen­ded bridge to the vil­lage cen­ter. It sways in the wind!

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The sun’s set so it becomes super cold. We head back to the Tourist Information Centre to defrost.

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And, we’re on the bus back to Kanazawa.

Kanazawa

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After a quick rest in our hotel, we search for din­ner at Kanazawa Station. Major train sta­tions in Japan are built like airports.

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Tonight it’s Go Go Curry with their gor­illa mascot.

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The entire store is a palette of bright yel­low with a smidgen of black.

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D goes for the Chicken Katsu Curry. The chick­en is deli­ciously juicy and tender. The photo makes the plate look decept­ively small — it’s about 30cm wide.

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I go for a pork katsu curry with a sunny-side up egg. It’s about two-thirds the size of D’s plate. The pork is tender — though not as juicy as the chick­en — and the egg is per­fectly gooey in the middle. The fla­vour of the curry at Go Go Curry is a tad more spicy and less sweet than the curry at CoCo Ichicban Curry House, although it may be a region­al thing giv­en the same exper­i­ence with the curry naan and curry pan this morning.

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For dessert, we’re back at MochiCream. We’re quite taken with them, and hav­ing nev­er seen one of these stores else­where, we try a few more than last night.

Here, we have mac­cha (top), which is dus­ted in mac­cha, with a mac­cha cream filling stud­ded with azuki beans — the quint­es­sen­tial Japanese pair­ing. Below, we have cafe au lait with a pro­nounced and pleas­antly bal­anced sweet and bit­ter milk cof­fee flavour.

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We also have car­a­mel mac­chi­ato (above) with a more subtle cof­fee fla­vour than the cafe au lait and a mel­low car­a­mel fla­vour, and sak­ura (below) with its dis­tinct­ive flor­al notes and a subtle salt­i­ness (as expec­ted from pre­served sak­ura). The sak­ura mochi­cream was sold frozen unlike the oth­ers, which were refrigerated.

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Finally, to fin­ish off our night, we have some gold kiwi jelly, which we’d bought from the con­veni­ence store at Shirakawa-go.

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Surprise! There’s a whole golden kiwifruit hid­den inside the jelly! D and I like our jelly rather bouncy, and this was rather lack­ing in the bouncy depart­ment. But con­sid­er­ing the price of fruit in Japan Y178 for jelly and whole fruit, it’s not bad.