Day 7 & 8: May 21 and May 22, 2016
After a blissful morning relaxing, onsening, and taking a lovely stroll through the Kamikochi valley, we packed our bags, purchased a veritable cornucopia of apple flavored sweets, and caught the bus to Takayama – a small valley town tucked in between the Japanese Alps famous for its well preserved 17th century houses, shrines, and architecture.
We checked into our humble but rad accommodations, a Buddhist Temple called Zenjo-ji, where we were to spend another night sleeping in a traditional Japanese style (AKA on the floor). Our room was big and simple with sliding screen doors, and we shared a bathroom and kitchen with a bunch of other weirdo backpackers, including an Israeli who wanted so hard to bond with Michael over the Netflix series House of Cards. Sorry man, still on season 3. The building was built in the 17th century, meaning it was build for exceptionally small Japanese people and was littered with low beams that we dodged with varying degrees of success.
Lunch was the local specialty – Hida-gyu (Hida Beef… Hida is the region of Japan where Takayama resides). This delicious gyu is famous for its high standards and quality (similar to Kobe). This may be my fish-Borne iron deficiency talking, but damn it was superb.
Our next stop was the museum, where we learned that Takayama was a popular merchant town where a powerful shogunate family lived in a large nearby castle, and the wealthy merchants sponsored 2 popular festivals of food, drinks, and intricate floats parading through the streets – Japanese Mardi Gras! The festivals are still going strong today, but the castle has since been dismantled for reasons that frustratingly remain a mystery to us, as only 10% of the museums signage was in English.
We found a map, and commenced a walking tour of the many shrines and temples that are scattered across Takayama’s surrounding hills. These shrines were much simpler than those in Tokyo, and few were well maintained. Most were transplanted from their original location inside the Takayama castle grounds. What happened to that damn castle?! Who dismantles a castle!!? I blame the Meiji…Takayama is still a bustling merchant town. It reminded me a lot of Ithaca – a mix of organic foods, hand made crafts, and microbreweries. No, not craft beer – Sake! Michael and I visited a sake brewery (distillery?) to taste a flight of top notch local booze, and I learned a very important lesson: Expensive, home brewed, pure rice sake is just as repulsive to me as the $7 cloudy swill they sell at 711. Therefore, no fancy sake should be wasted on these buds!
The next morning, we conducted the age-old backpacker ritual of cooking our breakfast in the communal hostel kitchen. But now, we’re semi-employed fancy 29 year olds, so Michael whipped up steak and eggs using Hida Gyu that we purchased at the shiny, expensive local butcher. Top Chef Takayama, watch out!
Well fed and self-satisfied, we enjoyed a few mour hours of the beautiful vistas, shops, and crafts of Takayama before catching our first train to Kyoto…