We took some pictures of the floats that were on display in the museum. But Takayama is quite a lovely town to visit by itself. The wooden houses in the historical center are under a protective law. Therefor the center keeps its characteristic charm. As the town is mainly visited by day trippers the town kind of shuts down after 5 pm. All shops and even restaurants close. But before 5 pm you can visit the museums or like we did sample some of the sake in the local breweries. In the restaurants that were open we tried the local dishes like buckwheat noodles and grilled meat in miso paste. So far no complaints about the food.We also went to a folk village where they actually have quite a good overview of all the typical houses that were used here in the region. It is a sort of an open air museum but nicely set up with most information about the different houses in English as well. On the way to our next stop Ton decided to find out how honest and helpful the Japanese are by leaving his small backpack ( with laptop and camera) on the platform at the train station! Well I can tell you the Japanese are very honest and helpful. At the first possible stop we went back to the station where we left the backpack and went straight to the station manager and voila there was Ton's backpack.
So 1.5 hour later then planned we arrived in Magome in the Kisey Valley. We went to Magome to walk a part of the old post route between Tokyo and Kyoto. Only a small part of the original cobbled stone road still exists. It is the part between the villages of Magome and Tsumago. These villages also retain the characteristics of that era with old wooden houses, watermills and shrines. Like Takayama these villages are only visited during the daytime but here literally everything is closed at 5pm. Not one single shop or restaurant is open after 5pm. So you either have to bring your own food or eat in the guesthouse you are staying. But when it gets dark the paper lanterns, which every house has outside, go on and that is when the real charm of these villages comes alive. You really feel like you went back a couple of centuries in time. In Magome we stayed in a regular Japanese guesthouse. As we didn’t bring our own food we had the dinner that the guesthouse served. What a good choice that was. We had an excellent dinner with a small fish (trout), different kinds of tempura, raw horse meat with ginger, vegetables, steamed egg, miso soup, fried tofu and a steamed meat / vegetables / mushroom dish (freshly prepared in a pot on the table). Breakfast was only a smaller version of dinner! The walk to Tsumago was lovely. Nice Mountain views, a pleasant stop at a local house where an old Japanese man served tea for a small donation, a couple of small waterfalls and some Shinto shrines. In the afternoon we arrived in Tsumago. Again a village where it looked like time stood still. We wandered around town a little and tried to find somewhere to stay the night.
The woman at the tourist information was very helpful. But as it is low season some of the guesthouses were closed and the rest were fully booked. But she found us a place to stay in a village nearby. It was a kind of home stay in a traditional Japanese house run by an elderly couple. The lady of the house prepared a delicious typical Japanese dinner for us. Made up our Futon beds in our bedroom and in the morning we had a delicious Japanese breakfast. She even brought us to the train station for the next leg of our journey. We planned to go fist to the 5 lakes of Mt Fuji and then on to Kamakura. But it turn out that it is a long weekend for the Japanese so everything is fully booked around Fuji so we decide to go to Kamakura first. But when we arrive in Kamakura most of the hotels are fully booked or too expensive. So we decide to take Yokohama as a base for the next days. This was quite a good alternative. Yokohama is the second city of Japan and we expected it would be just another busy city, but the port of Yokohama has a beautiful skyline, big shopping malls and many different areas with all kinds of restaurants and bars ( Yokohama is the beer city of Japan) and even an extensive Chinatown. We actually quite liked the city. So from Yokohama we made two day trips. The first one was Kamakura. Kamakura is a coastal town where you find the most important Zen Buddhist temples in Japan. They all have a specific layout with gates,several halls, shrines and gardens. They are situated against the green hills and are still in use as well. We visit two of the major ones. Even though it is Saturday and quite busy you can still feel the serenity, tranquility and peacefulness of these temple complexes. It probably has something to do with the attitude of the Japanese themselves as well.
The Japanese, in contrast to most westerners, walk around quietly, no yelling or shouting to each other, no running and always friendly. The second day trip was to Hakone. Hakone is a hot spring resort area where you can hike, go to the hot spring Onsen (baths) and enjoy the view of Mt Fuji. We knew it was Sunday and that it is a popular spot for the Japanese but we didn’t expect it would be SO busy. On the train to Hakone we already realized it was going to be busy, but when we got to Hakone it was packed with people. We wanted to take a train to the lake for a view and a hike but it was packed with people and people were still queuing. As it was so busy we decided not to go to the hot springs as well because we knew that it was just going to be too crowded. We took a bus to the lake as that wasn’t too crowded. But we got stuck in traffic! It took 1,5 hour to get to the lake. We walked around the lake a bit. We luckily got a bit of a view of Mt Fuji and decided to go back to Yokohama for the afternoon and realized that going to Hakone on a Sunday is definitely NOT a good idea. We ended up having a great late afternoon in Yokohama’s Chinatown.
Our final stop before Tokyo is the 5 lakes area of Mt Fuji. Unfortunately the weather changed dramatically, a typhoon was approaching Tokyo, so we changed our plan of hiking for 2 days. On the day of arrival we walked along lake Kamaguchiko where on a clear day you can see Mt Fuji reflecting in the lake but we only got to see the base of Mt Fuji. The next day it was pouring with rain so instead of hiking we visited 2 nearby Lava caves and spent the afternoon in a hot spring onsen with sauna. Not a bad alternative! The next morning we wanted to go to Tokyo but that was when the Typhoon hit Tokyo and the trains were not running in the morning. So we spent the morning hanging around the lake again with luckily some better views of Mt Fuji although the top stayed covered in clouds. Well you can’t have it all! Luckily the trains to Tokyo resumed to run so we arrived in Tokyo at the end of the afternoon. In Tokyo we spent our last days checking out some of the local suburbs that all had their own typical character and visited the impressive National Museum of Tokyo.
But to all good things come an end. We had a great time in Japan. We loved the Japanese people. Friendly, relaxed, (except in Tokyo where everybody seems to be taking part in the Rat Race) and well mannered. Characteristics that are hard to find in the "western world" at times.
Until next time....
After the big cities of Hiroshima and Kyoto it was time for a bit more leisurely part of the trip. So we headed north in the direction of the Japanese Alps. First stop is Takayama. Takayama is a peaceful town where in spring and autumn one of the big festivals in Japan takes place. But we only found out about it a couple of days before we planned to visit Takayama. All the hotels were fully booked so we had to leave on the day the festival started ;-( The festival in short is a parade of big ornate floats that are carried around the city for 2 days.