Wednesday, 16 December 2015


It was an early start with a 7:42 Shinkansen heading towards Nagoya. Our 10 minutes to change to the wide view Hida service was tight! We made it onto our train bound for Hida Takayama, a traditional medieval town located in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture. with 3 minutes to spare! The journey through the mountains was scenic as we hugged the Hida river along the valley. We arrived at Takayama just before 11am.

Relaxing train journey with scenic views

RyokanTanabe was a short walk from JR Takayama Station. We dropped off our luggage and walked toward the Tourist Information Centre. The town offers free EnglishGuides for 2 hours! Apparently this service is not well known as not many tourists ask for it. We booked ours in for 2pm and at the suggestion of Chiemi, our guide for the afternoon, we had lunch at a restaurant serving Houba miso, a specialty of the region, before returning for our tour. The miso paste is grilled on a magnolia leaf before being eaten with rice. Houba miso has an intense flavour, so if you are not at all inclined towards miso, don’t put a big chunk in your mouth!

Restaurant recommended by Chiemi

For houba miso

A gift for us as we left

Back at Hiroshima and Kyoto, we were informed that it has been unusually warm this winter. This was also true for the mountainous region. The snow usually starts in November, but there is still no white to be seen despite being mid-December. We opted for the “off the beaten” track tour and walked through a walking trail through the forests of Shirayama Park. Unfortunately for me, this involved hiking up a mountain. Grr…

Mountain number gazillion...

The children payed attention to Chiemi when she mentioned bears!

No she wasn't kidding

Japanese bear repellent

View from Shirayama Park

Takayama was founded by Kanamori, a feudal lord, about 400 years ago today. He built Takayama Castle where Shirayama Park is now and the town centre, east of the Miyagawa River, was where the merchants established their trade. Chiemi showed us the ruins of where Takayama Castle used to be before the castle and the Samurai residences were destroyed. The merchant area of town fortunately have survived and many are still as it was from the past. The old part of Takayama is simply charming and in our opinion, prettier than both Nara and Kyoto. Chiemi helped us purchase some dried persimmon, another local favourite before finishing off the tour with the museum of history and art which was free to enter. The displays were in Japanese and it helped having Chiemi with us to explain the exhibit. We parted ways with Chiemi with instructions on where to eat the local noodle dish, Chuka Soba so look out for this tomorrow! The sweet and kind Chiemi walked us all the way back to our Ryokan.

The gorgeous old town

The grate of Takayama. We think its a magnolia leaf?

Museum of history and art

Trying dried persimmon

Chiemi showed the children how to make boats out of leaves while in the forest

Leaf boat racing!

Chiemi our sweet guide

It was finally time to check into our Ryokan. Akiko, the owner, greeted us with warmth and exuberance, highlighting to us the parts of Takayama not to miss! We were given our yukatas, slippers and shown to our room. The room was spacious, beautiful and very clean! We read up on onsen etiquette and off we went. The girls to the ladies hot springs room and the “gents” to theirs. Both had baths which were inside and outside. We were hoping that the snow that is promised to fall tomorrow will indeed arrive which would make the outside bath just superb. In case you were interested, you need to go into the bath naked (no swimmers) and you need to have a shower before you enter the baths. The little towel that you are given is not to enter the water at any time! Also most ryokans request that guests with tattoos not use the baths.

Warm and cheeks all rosy after a soak in the onsen

After a good scrub, a long soak and applying the various skin care products provided, we headed back to our room in preparation for our kaiseki dinner. We were all looking forward to tasting the famed Hida beef. The spread was beyond what we expected. Our table was just filled with multiple small dishes of food. The Hida beef was tender and the broth so tasty. Malcolm’s greatest achievement was making it through dinner sitting on the floor….

The futon beds for the children were made in a flash. Everyone crashed, relieved to have an easy day tomorrow after the hectic few days of travel and sightseeing.

Our fabulous kaiseki dinner

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