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Takayama
September 12th, 2009 by Kate

We left Nagoya in the early afternoon on a train bound for the small city of Takayama in the Japanese Alps.  My plan was to take some motion sickness medicine and sleep for the two hour train ride as I had been warned it was very curvy.  But just as I was settling in the train conductor got on the intercom and said “blah blah blah blah (but in Japanese) famous river”.  I looked out to a scene worth of the Canadian Rockies – our train was on a narrow ledge high above a deep mountain canyon with a crystal clear river, beautiful rock formations and lush green forest.  We went from a dense urban jungle to a deep green lush pine forest in less than 15 minutes!

 The rest of the train ride was just as beautiful as the first moment I looked out the window.  When we weren’t on the canyon edges, we were closer to the valley floor which afforded me great views of rural backyard gardens – which were even better than the city backyard gardens.  Most of the veggies and fruits I recognize – eggplant, tomato, beans, cucumbers, onion, garlic, leek, green onion, a few beets here and there, potatoes, squash, apples, pears and Asian pears.  There are a few really funky looking cucumbers (I think they are cucumbers) that are covered with spikes and a fruit with spikes that smells really really bad but apparently tastes really really good (I will try it a soon as I can and report back).  And there is a TON of rice.  The rice fields are everywhere.  All of these gardens make me yearn for my little plot of land!

 The Takayama train station was a piece-of-cake and we found our hostel (J-Hoppers) easily.  The city was a little bigger than I thought it would be, but our hostel, the old town, the morning markets and the local craftsman’s shops were all in a concentrated area that we rarely needed to leave, so it ended up feeling like a small town to us. 

 

Market treat - frozen Mandrain Orange on-a-stick

Market treat - frozen Mandrain Orange on-a-stick

We rented bikes on our first full day and hit the morning market that runs along the river.  There were about 30 stalls of fruits & veggies, local crafts, flowers, and lots of pickled veggies on the side of the street that ran along the river, and small stores selling baked goods, dry goods, miso, sake (there are 9 sake breweries in Takayama) and more local crafts on the other side of the street.  We sampled everything we could, bought a bunch of it, and feasted on our market goodies the rest of the day.  Our favorite market treats were the fresh grilled sake marshmallows (see photo of recipe if you want to make at home – and good luck with that!), little glass bottles of very rich fresh whole milk (it may have been more towards the half & half side of the milk-fat content – but we don’t know for sure cause we couldn’t read a thing – oh so good), and these little rice sugar cookies that we are hording in case we can’t find again.  The fresh veggies weren’t too shabby either.

 

Marshmallow stand

Marshmallow stand

Marchmallow Recipe... Natascha - please have this perfected for us when we get home!

Marchmallow Recipe... Natascha - please have this perfected for us when we get home!

On our second day in Takayama we went on a fieldtrip with one of the guys that worked at our hostel.  He brought us to a roadside waterfall that was pretty darn amazing, and then a bit further brought us to this massive volcanic mountain that we hiked on for a few hours.  Our final destination was a series of waterfalls with giant pools that we could swim in.  Oh… but the water was so darn cold.  I mean like glacier cold.  I never saw the glacier, but that water was so freezing I am sure there was one up there.  It just didn’t seem right though not to go in since we had worked so hard to get there, so eventually (with lots of squealing and yelping) we all managed to brave a short dip.  Our guide had goggle with him, and Tess and I swam over to the bottom of the waterfall and looked under – it was really a sight to see.  Almost worth the hypothermia that you started to feel after about 60 seconds in the water.  As we started to swim away from the waterfall we both got sucked back towards the falls by some current, and that, mixed with our muscles getting freaky from the cold made me a little bit scared.  But we made it. 

Takayama hike

Takayama hike

 

Hypothermia Falls with J-Hopper Takayama friens Ryo, Kenji, Monica & Ben

Hypothermia Falls with J-Hopper Takayama friends Ryo, Kenji, Monica & Ben

We warmed ourselves on the rocks, ate the bento boxes we brought with us, and then took the short way back to the trail head (oh sure, make us walk up the hard part and back the easy way!).  We were rewarded with our first to an onsen – a traditional Japanese bath house.  This one was extra special because it is famous for its natural hot spring that is filled with minerals.  I’m going to have one of the girls write about their first visit to an onsen, but I will say that we really enjoyed it, and now just a week later, with more onsen visits under our belts, we are onsen pros.

 On our last full day in Takayama, we went back to the markets, fed koi and were attacked by pigeons (see Tessa’s post), window shopped a bunch more, learned about the local wood carving crafts, and then rode up a giant hill (okay, pushed our bikes up a giant hill) to visit the Hida Folk Village Living Museum.  Here there were 25 authentic rural homes; some dating back to the 1700’s, that had been relocated here from other parts of Japan.  Each house had an interesting background, a unique architectural style that was specific to an area based on the area’s climate, and inside each had a display that taught about some aspect of rural Japanese life over the past 300 years.  Just ask Phoebe about silk worms and spinning silk – she will tell you everything you ever wanted to know.  The Village was really neat, we all really enjoyed it, and we are for sure counting it towards “homeschooling”. 

 

Hida Folk Village

Hida Folk Village

Takayama has definitely been my favorite part of Japan so far.


One Response  
Chad Schneider writes:
September 14th, 2009 at 12:04 am

I bet you wish you were back in the WARM Williamsons Lake in Sunny Revelstoke B.C.! I just went swimming behind the dam here yesterday, that was probably the same temperature! Polar bear swim! we also got our first snowfall on the mountains last week, and the snow is staying! but the days are still 30 degrees (80-85ish?) Can’t wait to try your Marshmellow Sake Recipe!

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