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We arrived in Takayama just after sunset. There was a chill in the air that reminded you that you were in the Japanese Alps, surrounded by holy mountains, which some Japanese consider (or at least used to) to be Gods. The dimly lit streets were empty and if not for the sporadic noise of a passing car, you would hardly have thought that anyone lived in this town at all (on the contrary, Takayama has a population of around 90,000).
Tonight was our first, and only, night in a hotel – there was only one couchsurfer in Takayama, and they declined us. Situated only 52 seconds from the station (yes, they advertise the distance), it took us nearly 20 minutes to find due to some poor directions from the Tourist Center. All the same, when we did arrive it was a nice respite from having to immediately switch to guest mode and put on my polite, foreigner cap.
Although small and lacking in wi-fi, for two nights room 339 was a place we could call our own (and for only $80 a night at that…). We immediately began to wash our clothes, of which my shorts, I had been wearing for approximately 7 days straight. Hotel sinks and convenient store detergent – such is the life of a nomad (and I am already starting to appreciate the housewives of the olden days even more).
Our hungry stomachs guided us from restaurant to restaurant. Peaking at menus and evaluating prices, we held steadfast to our budget roots despite pleas of nourishment from inside. Vicky’s criteria are much more stringent than mine. It’s essentially forbidden for us to be the only people in the restaurant; a sign of poor quality (I also wanted to try the region’s specialty Hida beef though Dave immediately forbade it, accusing me of being a budget killer).
When we finally settled on a place, the waitress gently motioned us to our seats and handed us the traditional English menus, to which we’ve become so accustomed. As much as you’d like to think you’re “off the beaten path” the fact of the matter is that in 2012, almost every path is a little worn (though Dave did not allow a full plate of Hida beef we did get to try some of it – me in my soup and Dave in his stir fry. The beef by the way is so tender and thinly sliced it literally starts to dissolve on your tongue).
The next morning we slept in to around 9AM, an opportunity we could not pass up. We got a late start, using the wi-fi at the taxi stand across the street, and hit the town around noon.
Vicky and I have not had an overwhelming amount of street food in Japan. Not to say there isn’t any, but in most places it wasn’t so in our face that we just had to have. Literally though, as we started discussing it, we started seeing it everywhere and had to try it out. In my opinion, both attempts were a flop (our first pick was a veggie tempura – which was not freshly fried and therefore not as crispy as it should be. Second attempt at street food was mitarashi dango – a regional specialty of soy sauce flavored ‘dumplings’ made from rice flour and grilled – tasted more like cotton which stuff to the roof of your mouth than anything else).
Government outpost building from the 1600s, only one of its kind that still remains. that give a FANTASTIC English tour for free (for us it was at 1:30) (we ended up having to wait 30 mins for the tour to start but it was still worth it. With an interesting description of all the rooms, how the roof was made (by piling up wooden planks one on top of the other with a rock placed on top to hold it all together [not a single nail is used] and vivid tales of interrogations in the torture chamber the tour was the highlight of our time in Takayama).
(Japan is great for the variety of foods available at the conveience store. We were able to put together an entire convenience store lunch consisting of rice balls, a fried noodle veggie bowl and a steamed rice dumpling. Cheap, delicious and effective).
This walking course takes you all around the northern part of the town, past shrines and temples.
It was a steep climb to see the remains of Takayama Castle. Like a hawk, Vicky usually bursts ahead and I tell her to yell when she gets there. Unfortunately, there is very little that remains of the remains. I’d like to say the climb was worth it for the view, but it’s entirely blocked by very tall trees…
After a convenient store lunch we were really looking forward to having dinner. Not wanting to stray too far from our home base, we looked for a restaurant around the station. (For the first time I let Dave pick the restaurant and as I expected he picked a disappointing one. The place itself was very nice but the food was not so good. The bean curd wrapped tuna rolls were decent but the grilled skewers were questionable in animal origin and the soup seemed more like tofu and seafood with broth on the side, than the other way around.
To kill my hunger from the first dinner we ended up going next door afterwards where I ordered myself a large bowl of soup and was finally pleased).
Takayama Jinya, 420 yen + 40 minute free English tour
Heritage Walking Course/Honmaru Castle Ruins – free, 2 hr walking course