Sunday, 6 October 2013

Takayama: The Alps and Japanese Old Men Have No Shame

Good morning, good day, and good evening world!

I guess it’s about time we checked in again with you all and we’re happy to report that we’ve arrived safely in sweltering Kyoto! But before we give you the load down on Kyoto, there is still more we have to share about our time in the Japanese Alps.
If only we could always be travelling, then we'd be this happy all the time!
 We fell in love with the small town of Takayama, with its alleyways full of ancient shops, Hida beef restaurants and gorgeous mountainous vistas, but our time there flew by. With only two days to spare in this wonderful little town, we had tried our best to cram in as much in our final day as possible. We hopped on a local bus which weaved through the city streets, giving us a glimpse (through a bus window) of some of the real local Japanese daily life we wouldn’t have normally experienced. This bus drove us (for two hours) to the Japanese Alps which surrounded the areas. Once there we climbed up, with the help of two cable cars) to the top of Nishi Hotaka-Dake, the 2909 metre tall, pine tree covered mountain. While we found the weather in Takayama to be far cooler than what we were used to in Tokyo, at the top of Mt Nishi, it was surprisingly refreshing. At the observation deck, we were treated to an amazing view of the town and the Alps which was quickly swallowed up by some menacing looking clouds. Thankfully, we didn’t have to deal with another awful rainy day as it turned out to only be a false alarm. While the view was fantastic, we recommend that anyone interested in visiting to perhaps choose late Fall as the leaves on the trees were only just slightly beginning to change colour. Had we been only a few weeks later, the mountain would have been painted in breathtaking shades of red, yellow and orange.
Maja's just hanging around at the Japanese Alps

On our way back down, the smell of sulfur was overpowering. If you’ve never smelt it, consider yourself lucky, imagine rotten eggs mixed with garbage and you’d have a pretty close approximation. Now that we’ve gotten that wonderful description in your mind, now picture us following our noses to the source of this stench where we found a natural hot spring (“onsen”) that the Japanese use as a footbath. As we sat on some large rocks we dunked our feet, leaned back and relaxed. It was a great experience.
Well we HOPE the smell was sulfur.. and not the stinky feet of all the people dunking their feet in the foot bath!

On our way back to Takayama, the bus stopped at another local hot spring called the Hirayu Onsen where Mike got to experience the Japanese in all their glory. Literally. In Japan, it is customary to soak in the onsen completely nude. They are, of course, separated into male only and female only baths, and while Maja chickened out, Mike stripped down to his birthday suit and laid back for a relaxing soak. Or at least what he thought would be relaxing. Turns out that constantly having 60 and 70 year old man bums and privates in front of your face as they get in and out of the bath can put quite the damper on the relaxation powers of the Japanese onsen. While it may have been a tad uncomfortable for our prudish North American sensibilities, we definitely recommend trying an onsen at least once on a journey to Japan.
One of our few relatively successful attempts at nighttime photography
Upon our return, we borrowed some bikes from our ryokan (Japanese hotel) and had a lovely ride through town where we tried our hand at some night photography at the Takayama shrines and temples. Needless to say, we think we may have to take some photography lessons when we get back home as only a handful of our pictures actually turned out.
The unbelievably delicious steamed Hida Beef bun! I say close some sharwarma shops and open more steamed bun shops in Ottawa!  
As we departed Takayama, one the biggest takeaways we’ll remember is the famous Hida beef. Takayama is found in Japan’s Hida region and this beef is considered to be some of the best in country. After trying it ourselves, we can see why it has such a reputation. Months ago, we left Calgary, Alberta blown away by their steak. It was the best we had ever tasted. While we won’t say that the Hida beef has usurped that title, we can definitely say that it is comparable. One item in particular that we enjoyed was the steamed Hida beef buns that were sold by many street vendors throughout Takayama. These buns were branded with kanji symbols and were filled with shaved beef and miso sauce. They were amazing little snacks that we wish we could find back home. If you ever get the chance, pick one of these up. The best part? They’ll cost you no more than 400 yen ($4.25 Canadian)!


P.S. Mike Fish Report: Mike still has yet to eat fish. He’s stubborn like that. (Although he did really enjoy some tasty vegetable tempura!)

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