Takayama - mountainous region

May 1, 2010 - Grand Canyon Village, Arizona, United States

So we had a few more days in Kyoto where we followed some self guided walks around the old areas.  Then the plan as you all know was that Ed would head off to see his MotoGP race, and I would go up to Takayama and we would meet again in Tokyo.  However these plans fell through the roof when we received notification from buddy Tania over in the UK letting us know that the MotoGP had been cancelled due to the plane disruption from the volcanic dust storm.  I was absolutely dreading telling Ed as he had been planning this for nearly a year, and looking forward to it for so long.  He took it quite well considering - disappointed and pissed off as we all would be in the same circumstances, but realised that it was just one of those things and there wasn't much he could do about it.  He had a hum and a har about what he would do and in the end decided to join me and head to Takayama.  As it turned out, this was one of the highlights of the trip for him.  We managed to change his train tickets and get accommodation sorted in a short time and then headed up.

The train trip up to Takayama was fantastic.  Unfortunately it was pouring with rain the entire way, however we were still able to see out of the windows and see the stunning views of the river winding up through the gorge which we followed.  Rice paddy's and vegetable plots, little country towns, rivers, bamboo forests.  Just stunning.

We arrived in Takayama and was only a few minutes walk up to our accommodation and we found it no problems.  The accommodation was very unique.  We stayed in a buddist temple where they had converted some rooms into bedrooms.  The rooms were very Japanese, mattrices on tatami mats and beautiful paper walls.  Our bedroom looked out onto a zen garden too.  It was clean and comfortable, but absolutely freezing however fortunately our room had a heater and electric blankets.

We had a couple of days here so we choose two day trips to do (one each day) and then spent the rest of the days walking around the morning markets and old town lanes of Takayama.

The first day trip we did was caught a bus an hour away to a place called Shirakawa-Go.This area is a World Heritage (UNESCO) site and is famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old.  These farmhouses are huge and tall and have very steep thatched roofs which have been developed over the years to withstand the very heavy snowfall which they get in this region in winter.  The roofs are made without nails and are held together with twine.  They are designed so that the attic areas provide several floors of different rooms.  We wandered about this village and then went inside one of the farmhouses to have a look at it.  The one we went into had 5 levels all together each accesssed by steep ladders.  On the ground floor was a tiny little wood fire which we think must have been to heat the house and cook but neither of us could figure out how this tiny fire would heat this huge house.  They must have been freezing in winter time.  There wasn't much in the way of a chimney either so the whole ground floor was smoked out.  Must have been a hard life for the people living in them in the old days.  These days they are more modernised and have a few more mods and cons although it still must be pretty miserable in winter as it was bitterly cold when we were there.

The next day we caught a bus about 1.5hrs away in the opposite direction.  This time we headed to Shinhotaka which is up in the Japanese Alps.  There is a gondola here which takes you up into the mountains to an elevation of 2200metres - apparently it's the highest gondola in Asia, but it is also Japans first double decker cablecar.  The days before we had pretty bad, cold and wet and very low cloud.  We nearly pulled the pin on this trip as we thought we wouldn't be able to see anything.  But we were so fortunate as on this particular day the weather couldn't have been better.  When we got to the top of the gondala we could see for miles, a grand panoramic view of gorgeous snow capped mountain peaks and fairy tale like pines with a sprinkling of snow on them.  It was just so beautiful.  Again it was cold, but we had clear blue skies and not a rain cloud in sight.

There was a number of hikes all around the main building, some of them were full on overnight mountain climbs up to the summit.  We saw a few people head off or come back from this all kitted out with crampons and harnesses.  There is a hut not too far away where people stay overnight before doing the summit push.  Had Ed or I known about this we would have seriously considered doing this walk, but unfortunately for us we were nowhere near geared up for it and lack of time to even look into hiring gear.  You needed crampons for the end part of the hike and we only had our normal shoes (well actually we had some borrowed gumboots from the main building) so we tramped as far as we could before it started getting too icy and steep then turned around and came back.  We were out on the snow for probably an hour and a half and this was the highlight of our trip.  The views were insane, absolutely stunning.  We think we found it more beautiful because we were just not expecting to see this in Japan - we didn't even know about this trip until we got to Takayama and the temple guy told us about it.  The snow was just at that most picturesque point where it is still fluffy and thick, but it's like thick icing sugar coating all the pine trees.  We literally could not stop taking photos, it was just amazing.  In one way I am so glad Ed's MotoGP was cancelled otherwise he would have missed something really special. We'll get some pictures up just as soon as we've waded through them (we took thousands!).

Sidenote: Ed has since booked a second trip out to Japan in October to see the race then.

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