Well, after a day's break of wandering around shops, it was back to touring the land of the rising sun.
While I'm a big fan of Japanese games and Anime, I was also interested in Japan's culture thanks to all the TV programmes I grew up watching such as documentaries and travel programmes so I decided we should go visit a rural village while we were in the country.
I was kind of torn between Shirakawa Village (AKA Shirakawa-go) or Gujo-Hachiman. Gujo-Hachiman was actually closer to Nagoya but it wasn't a World Heritage site so I thought I'd be missing out on something if I didn't visit Shirakawa.
On the other hand, I read Shirakawa was more commercialised - houses were more like fronts for shops. Whereas Gujo-Hachiman was an actual village where people still lived. Not just built like a movie set.
In the end it was Shirakawa because we could go visit the nearby Hida-Furukawa that had a lot of buildings built during the first capital.
That was the plan anyway ^^;
So early morning at 7am, we left for the very first Hida "Wide View" Limited Express train to Takayama which is covered by the JR Pass but it's reservations only.
There were no green seat carriages on the early morning Hida, just either a regular reserved or non-reserved carriage. Started off quite empty but filled up with quite a lot of tourists along the way. The reserved carriage was so noisy with people talking away loudly.
Must have annoyed the native Japanese people who are very quiet on trains most of the time ^^;
The train ride is around 2.5 hours long while the coach from Nagoya can take you there in 1.5 hours but less scenic.
However, the main problem was there weren't many buses that come in and out of Shirakawa so I wanted to get there early to give us plenty of time to explore.
No automated ticket gates here at Takayama... We are officially in the rural countryside =P
Despite the bright sunny day, it was cold! I only had a shirt with me to wear on top of my t-shirt. Forgot Takayama [High Mountains] was high up so I should have expected it to be cold =/
There was still a 50 mins coach ride to get to Shirakawa Village. Seems empty enough so thought we'd go in and get something to eat.
Again just like at Nijo, everyone seems to line up for a staffed counter instead of using the ticket machines...
Turned out it was a big mistake not lining up early when there was no one around... Look at the queue now after everyone's got their tickets! It was so long it extended to all the other bus stops!
By the time the coach arrived there obviously weren't enough seats. Luckily for us there was a group that didn't want to be separated so we got the last seats ^^;
And we were there!
They had a cute little mascot outside the stalls.
Wanted something to eat as soon as we arrived and despite the cold, I ended up buying an ice-cream because they had interesting flavours... Soba or chestnut flavoured.
I went for chestnut and got the Japanese pronunciation wrong. I read "木の実" as "Ki no Jutsu" using the Kunyomi (Japanese reading) but it was actually, "Ki no Mi". Was a bit embarrassed. The girls next to me seemed to have thought of the wrong pronunciation too so, didn't feel like I was left in the spotlight, lol.
Tasted quite nice. Don't know why I went for an ice-cream when it was so chilly up on the mountains here ^^;
Then it was time to pile across the bridge. You could feel it swaying a bit but with so many people crossing at once I'm surprised it didn't collapse, lol.
Even in Shirakawa the manholes had their own unique designs.
Rural houses around here are 250 years old so quite recent. At least, built when Tokyo had already become the new capital rather than when Nara was the capital.
It's also where the brutal, gorey Anime Higurashi no Koro ni "Higurashi When They Cry" is based. Never watched the visual novel based show but from the screenshots I've seen, it does look quite the psychotic thriller ^^;
Houses were built in the "Gassho" style which basically resembles a monk pressing their hands together in prayer.
In the touristy pics I saw while researching this place, it looked like the roofs were loosely put together but they're actually compacted quite tightly. All to withstand the heavy snowfall they get in winter.
We probably wouldn't have seen any paddy fields if we chose to go to Gujo-Hachiman instead. I was in China once but never went to the rural areas so never saw any in real life.
There are inns around here to stay and it's supposed to be a completely different atmosphere during the night. Usually is with any place like I learned at Fushimi Inari Temple...
Not sure if they have internet access but mobile networks worked out here so you could still use Google Maps... to a certain extent. The maps are quite vague so the best you'd probably want to do is mark the bus stop before walking around. There aren't many signs around pointing where everything is.
Despite being a World Heritage site, people do still live here and if you wanted to really experience life around this place, there were families you could stay with too AKA home stay.
Hmmm, think I've seen this raccoon somewhere before... Apparently it's a symbol of good fortune for businesses. The larger its balls are the more money the business will get ^^;
There were public baths too if you were so inclined. I was too shy to go in naked with strangers which was the custom in Japan. Go in naked with a small towel to cover your private parts, go wash yourself before dipping into the hot baths.
Only been in a hot spring in swimwear before ^^;
Toilets here were the traditional squat style complete with sliding doors but there were newer ones in other parts of the village.
I wouldn't go as far as saying Shirakawa whisked you back in time because there were too many modern day items around for that kind of atmosphere but, it's quite an exotic place like rural places usually are.
On the other hand, if you've been to other rural parts of Asia, seeing this kind of scenery isn't that uncommon. Except of course, Shirakawa had its Japanese style architecture and has also been approved as a heritage site.
And these canals didn't stink like in rural Hong Kong back in the days when the land was still undeveloped. The water was so clear and full of Koi fish.
We were looking for the viewing point which was a bit hard to find on the paper map they gave out... They didn't use indexes so you had to scan the map with your eyes carefully then match the direction. Google Maps wasn't much help but eventually spotted lots of people climbing a hill and decided that was the way we should be going. It looked really far away...
We were trying to see everything before the next bus left which was 1.5 hours after we arrived so, we tried to walk up as fast as we could under a blazing sun. Sun was welcome with the cold temperature.
It actually turned out to be a 15 minute hike up. Everyone was taking turns snapping photos here. Then you walked round the side and found another angle where there wasn't anyone trying to fight for their turn.
Looks quite a small village, doesn't it? Maybe because the buildings aren't so densely packed together like in the city or the mountains in the back makes it look like that.
There was this boarded up shrine at the viewing point too. A few of the other visitors were examining it like I did but it was covered up too well to see what it was ^^;
Then next to was a gathering spot... with ashes. Maybe for festivals or something.
Not quite sure what these red cube things were in the ground. I was thinking they were something to hold the loose earth together to help minimise landslides.
A sign pointed this way as the way back. It was high up and this narrow path didn't have any barriers...
One wrong step and you could seriously injure yourself rolling down the side. Probably why it was so quiet. Most people probably walked back the same way they came!
Good thing it was dry today!
So this was Oote Path, an alternative way up to the viewing point. There were signs to be wary of falling stones ^^;
Really was a lovely day even though it was chilly. The hiking warmed me up a bit.
Not sure why but the Koi were hiding underneath the plank there. Some shade from the sun?
Since we still had time, we decided to drop into one of the houses.
Forgot that the combo ticket we bought at the Nouhi bus station doesn't cover them all. It didn't cover this Wada House we visited.
This fireplace was actually on although I'm not sure if it was an electric one for display.
Oil lamps from the old days. Not Japanese probably but still cool.
It was shoes off so these wooden steps were quite sore to walk on because they had these little protruding ridges.
I think this is where they bred silk worms and used the silk they made to make cloths.
It looked like a typical loft underneath the Gassho roofs but more rope than screws and metal joints.
Then there was dried food. Very similar to the rural areas in Hong Kong although you won't see many rural places like this any more since everywhere is being developed with modern day buildings.
Asia had a lot of things in common really. Any Asian country that used Chinese characters were referred to as Sino.
Not a bad view from in here. Wonder what it was like at night...
Now this rectangular light and sliding doors just reminded me of Anime set in rural Japan such as Totoro.
You can't see from this photo but these carvings above are preserved in glass.
After a short tour of the house, it was back out towards the bus stop.
Something to steam Manju buns with. Reminds me of Hong Kong again ^^;
Ghibli reaches far and wide... Especially Totoro, lol.
One Piece too...
Staying around here would probably be the equivalent of staying in a cottage house back in the UK, away from all the city hustle and bustle.
If you really had the time you could relax in a traditional tea house.
There were lots of souvenir shops near the bus stop. All the souvenirs seem to be hand crafted because if you take a closer look you'll see they're all different and doesn't seem to be painted by the precision of a mass producing machine.
They even had dried spices... I was more interested in the wind chimes. Something I always see in Japanese media when it's summer time!
Paper umbrellas were beautiful. I'm sure you could find them in Kyoto if you looked but don't know if they would be hand crafted.
Japanese Sake Kit Kat... Only in Japan. Didn't get any though because I thought we'd be able to get it elsewhere. Turns out they're actually quite hard to come across in the city ^^;
Kind of wanted a cup but had lots of mugs in the house already...
Then back outside there was another symbol of Japan - flying carp streamers! Well, they would be if the wind was blowing when I took this, lol. They were supposed to symbolise children growing up strong, overcoming obstacles because carp likes to swim against the current.
We didn't stop for any food because the next bus was going to arrive soon and if we missed it, it would be another 1 hour before the next one and by then, we wouldn't have much time to explore Hida-Furukawa.
Or at least, that's what we had planned...
We got lucky queuing for the bus back again. Got the last two seats before the queue had to be cut off and wait for the next bus. We even queued extra early just in case there was a huge queue again like back at the Takayama bus stop as well and there was... ^^;
Had the ham and mayonnaise sandwich I bought at the bus station. Very nice and the bread was sealed together instead of left open so you can't actually see any of the filling until you bite into it. Means no mess too and has a happy face on it, lol.
I actually wanted to visit Hida-Furukawa where a lot of the buildings were built when Nara was Japan's first capital but, the only train station in the area seemed to be closed.
Or at least I thought it was because I wasn't reading the signs... Google Maps pointed us away from the station so we followed the directions but ended up at some construction site.
Don't follow Google Maps blind, lol.
So, we headed back to the station and it was open again with trains heading to Hida-Furukawa but we were too late. It wasn't until another hour before there was another one and by then it was too late for us to get the last Limited Express Hida train back to Nagoya. So, we decided to just walk around Takayama instead.
This traditional Ryokan inn had this rest area where you could sit and cool your feet. Not sure if non-guests were allowed to sit here though.
Liked this house with the sun shining through the wooden grill.
Manholes of Takayama ^^
Inns looked like a nice place to stay. Originally wanted to stay in one but they all had public baths so you had to wash naked with other strangers... Like I said earlier, too shy for that but definitely looked like nice places to stay ^^;
Fortune telling by blood type. Apparently Japanese believe one's blood type can tell a lot. This stall was another example of how honest people can be in Japan. Drop 100 Yen in and take your fortune. No one watches over the spot.
There were merchandise of a 2012 Anime show named, "Hyouka" which I haven't seen before. Any avid Anime fan will recognise the character designs had KyoAni written all over them, lol. Original works seem to be a light novel set in Takayama so there must have been a lot of Anime fans around here doing their "Anime pilgrimage" here back then.
Will have to be a show I watch once I'm back in the UK just to see how good it is. Will be weird recognising any of the Takayama locations, lol.
Lots of merchandise featuring the mascot of Hida, Sarubobo. Apparently it means "Happy Baby Monkey". Doesn't look like a monkey to me... It's cute but, reminds me more of a pin cushion ^^;
Always use mainstream Anime characters if you need attention... Don't know if these Doraemon, One Piece collaborations are official or not. Should be since Japan is such an honest country.
Wooden sandals, "Getas". Reminds me of the weapons Kitaro uses.
Even the restaurants featured posters of Hyouka.
This place was completely empty which was partly why we chose to sit in. There wasn't much English but menus had photos in them as usual.
I ordered a tofu udon and wasn't expecting the tofu to be this big, lol.
Wasn't very fulfilling so ordered some yakitori [skewered chicken] to go with it. Food tasted better than the local Japanese restaurant back home even though this place was completely quiet in comparison ^^;
The place seemed to be run by an old couple. Didn't even know it was closing time... They never rushed us out or started pulling down shutters like shops in Scotland do.
It was getting dark outside so, time we headed back to the station.
Didn't realise it until now but the Western style toilets in Japan seemed to have handles that controlled how much water is used. You can use little water or a lot of water depending on er... What pops out. Very efficient!
This hotel was actually called, "Best Western Hotel Takayama"... Somewhere you could stay if you don't like the traditional (and expensive) Ryokans.
Dropped into a local conbini and they had Sarubobo blueberry pie. Cute, eh? It's like, "Buy meee!"
Ice-cream vending machine. Only in Japan I think.
"New Product" Corn and Cheese drink... I hate to think what it tastes like, lol.
I got some hot herbal tea from the vending machine instead. The drinks feel really hot but when you open them to drink, they're actually just warm enough to drink.
Back at the station I spotted this map where people placed a sticker on the country they were from. Most were from Taiwan or natives. And UK...?
Well, we stuck spots on for UK ^^
Time for us to head back to Nagoya. For once I was actually looking forward to our "sauna" rooms because it was so cold ^^;
The last express train back had a green seat carriage. Nice and peaceful. We were the only ones on it by the time we reached Nagoya,
Not quite as fancy as the Shinkansens but still lots of leg room.
Another interesting thing was every time the conductor came in to check for new passengers and their tickets he would bow. How's that for customer service?
Actually bought some souvenirs this time because Shirakawa isn't an easy place to get to! Not to mention they had wind chimes! ^^
So, here are some tips if you were decide to visit Shirakawa while in Japan...
- Queue Up Early
Queue up early if you're taking the coach at Takayama because there are loads of people who want to visit Shirakawa. So many that the single coach isn't enough to fit everyone on so queue up early or be prepared to wait for the next coach and they can be more than an hour apart.
- Bring Something Warm
Take something warm with you no matter how warm it looks! Shirakawa is quite high up so it's a lot colder than in the city. I was wearing a flannel shirt on the day and was feeling very cold. Everyone else was wearing light down jackets...
Luckily it was warmer inside so I tried to stay inside whenever I could and bought hot cans from vending machines to warm up. No hot canned drinks back in Scotland. Would be amazing if we did because it's so damn cold there ^^;
- Have Cash Ready
IC cards like the Suica that you can use for public transport and pay in shops can't be used here so bring cash. We bought a round (AKA return ticket in the UK) trip ticket which also included the fees needed to visit most of the houses.
- Takayama Train Station Only Opens When There Are Trains
Takayama train station closes its gates whenever there aren't any trains due but re-opens them maybe 30 mins before they arrive so, don't think it's closed for good like we did ^^