We left Perth at 4 pm, a much more pleasant departure time than for our previous overseas trips, however it meant we had to travel through the night to reach our destination, Kansai Airport near Osaka. Nina and Sharon came to the airport to see us off. Olive had been looking forward to the flight and having her own personal video screen, though the options for young kids was a bit disappointing. Fortunately, we were also prepared with games on our smartphone. On the second leg of our flight from KL to Japan, there were only about sixty people on the plane rather than the few hundred that the plane can carry, meaning there was plenty of room for us to lay out and we all got quite a bit of sleep. We needed it as our first day in Japan involved a bit of train travel to reach our destination.
Travel to Takayama
Once we arrived in Japan at 7.15am the travelling did not stop, we still had many hours of train travel to do before getting to Takayama in the Japan Alps region. We picked up our rail pass, then easily found our train. It left right on time, as we were to find out was the norm for Japan Rail. We had to take three different trains, meaning finding our way around three train stations and getting to the right platform each time. Surprisingly it all ran very smoothly. We had a stop over in Nagoya for lunch, as easy set menu of coffee and sandwiches, and also bought some ‘ekiben’ (sushi tray) to eat on the train. Rob even bought an Asahi beer (cheaper than australian prices!) from the trolley girl on the final journey. The last ‘wideview’ train was spectacular and unexpected taking us inland along a valley into the mountains to Takayama.
Our first impressions of Takayama was of a quiet relaxed town, just what we wanted for the first few days of our trip. There were no crowds as we walked off the train and took the short walk to our accommodation, but we were greeted by young friendly faces. At the reception there was a line up of stuffed Australian animals, what a welcome. Actually the Japanese love Aussie animals were were to find out.
The girl at reception recommended a great noodle place.
Walk up the hill
We decided on breakfast of sweet cornflakes as it is cheaper to self cater, and it is something we know the kids will eat to start the day on the right footing. The traditional Japanese breakfast would include rice, but many tend to have a more western start to the day now with coffee and toast.
We started out tour at the famous Takayama morning markets held along the riverside, with lots of local food and crafts. We nearly bought a monkey doll that is everywhere (we’ll get one later) but tried a few new foods. We spent the rest of the day discovering more of the town. It is small enough to walk everywhere. We went to a unique puppet show and sat at the front of rows of empty seats, a clear sign of the lack of tourists around. From there we followed a windy road up a hill overlooking town. We took it slow, and admired the houses.
At the touristy café at the top of the hill, unfortunately, there was not any Japanese food on the menu, though it all had a Japanese twist. We had pilaf and German cheese rice and cheap coffee. There was a little playground next to a cemetery with great views of snow on the mountains in the distance. That would explain the chill in the air. On the walk back, we stopped at a rest house, and the girls ‘enjoyed’ another fancy toilet – all automatic and with a seat warmer – mmmmm.
Back at our hostel we rested while Olive watched some Japanese cartoons. In the common room there was a warming table. We found another great place to eat and had yakisoba and gyoza. The girl at reception has been great with kids and very helpful with directions. It was a tiring walking day, and Jetson is a little sick, hope it does not get worse.
Hida Folk Village
Rob woke during the night to what he was sure was a small quake, though no one else belived him and there were no reports that we heard of. The building definitely shook, but he felt safe that the Japanese building design was up to handling such a wobble.
After a western breakfast of cereal we jumped on a bus for a ten minute ride to the Hida Folk Village, comprising examples many old traditional houses with large pointed roofs that have been moved here from elsewhere. We were one of the first to get there so we enjoyed the lake filled with carp and a white swan and we able to look through the historic buildings without the crowds. Highlights of the village were feeding the fish, riding the flying fox, and ringing the bell. We had lunch across the road and tried a few Japanese fried snacks before bussing back
When we returned to town, we dropped in to see an old temple with a tree over a thousand years old, though the highlight was the public toilet which was spotless and was fully automatic, including a bidet. The toilets have been a source of amusement for us – there is such an array from squat toilets to western seats with heated seats and personal touch panels to clean your bottom! Rather intrusive actually. Wherever they are, they are always very clean. On the walk home we discovered a bakery with yummy French bread which Rob could not resist, while across the road Clare found a shoe shop she could not resist either. While everyone else rested and did the washing, Rob was given the wrong information by the girl at reception and walked for an hour to find a pair of PJs for Olive. One positive was that he was able to explore more areas of town. For dinner we walked to the centre of town for some local Hida beef dishes.
Take me to Takayama
We visited the other morning markets in town which were much smaller than the one we went to the other day. A nice stranger out of the blue gave us a voucher for 500 yen, we were not sure why, but it was very welcome and we used it to buy a Sarubobo ‘baby monkey’ doll which is a traditional craft here in Takayama. There were also some local ladies selling some unusual fruit and vegetables which is always interesting to see. Unfortunately the language barrier prevented us from asking any questions about what we saw.
Right behind the markets was Takayama Jinya, a former local government office from the Tokugawa shogunate period, which we toured around, the highlight being the torture chamber and Olive’s excellent navigation following the arrows. We were very surprised at this high ranking office building had very sparse rooms, basically no furniture and no decorations on the walls. We had to carry our shoes with us throughout the building, which was much better than having to take them on and off each time we went in and out of each room. Just nearby (everything is close in this town) was the area of old merchant houses, which mostly now are shops selling items to tourists. It is not as tacky as it sounds, the buildings are in beautiful condition and are selling quality wares.
We had a Japanese pancake for lunch. Olive has been prey pretty fussy with her eating lately, but for a 4-year-old she is doing prey well we think. For a treat for the kids after lunch, we took them to a park (which are few and far between) for a play. Olive made friends with a couple of Japanese kids and also a couple of old men who were at the park – as always she is comfortable around new people. Clare went shopping for some sushi snacks which we cannot get enough of. For dinner, we went to a bar/restaurant to sample Hida beef stick.
As we continue our journey around Japan, tomorrow we take a long train journey to Hiroshima.