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Trip Report Reporting from Takayama, Shirakawa-go, and Kanazawa

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We left Enoshima/Kamakura a few days ago (see my post "Reporting from Tokyo" if you're interested) and traveled by train--a few changes and several hours--to Takayama in the mountains to the west. This post contains a few comments on what we've seen and done since then.

First, a list of the 3 faux pas I have committed since leaving Tokyo (those I know about, anyway):

1. I ordered an alcoholic drink on the train at 9 a.m. (by mistake). When the girl with the food and drink cart came by on our way to Nagoya from Shin Yokohama, I read the menu listed on the cart and chose "soda" because I was thirsty. The first taste was lemony and pleasant, but it soon became apparent that there was alcohol involved. The nice woman next to me who had offered us candy when we sat down wanted nothing more to do with me after she saw I was a morning drinker!

2. At dinner at the ryokan we stayed at in Takayama, the owner told us that supposed to take the dish that was cooking on the small brazier would be ready in 10 minutes. After 10 minutes I poured the sauce into the dish, prompting a hearty laugh from the owner when she came back to check on us--apparently I was supposed to dip the meat and other things that had been cooking into the sauce, not pour the sauce on the dish. Oh well--not a disaster, just a cause for levity.

3. More seriously, I (gasp!) forgot that I was wearing the TOILET slippers after I used the toilet and wore them into the tatami room. I would have forgiven myself when I noticed, but unfortunately the owner was in our room at the time, making up the futons. She didn't say anything, but she noticed for sure. How embarrassing!

And my list of Japanese oddities/idiosyncracies:

1. There are no trash cans apparent in public places, yet Japan is the cleanest place I've ever been to. What do people do with their litter? (We ended up carrying empty cans and papers around with us for hours before finding someplace to dispose of them.)

2. The toilets qualify as jacks-of-all-trades. They do everything but your laundry.

3. Love those pre-meal washcloths, but where are the napkins? Like the lack of trash cans, the lack of napkins is a mystery--especially since nobody walks around with dirty hands and faces.

4. There's a total respect for people who disembarking from buses and trains. No crowding to get on--everybody waits their turn.

5. Crosswalks and traffic signals rule!

6. Very few Japanese wear sunglasses, though I've seen a few full-face shields.

7. Salt in every dish. My blood pressure is undoubtedly suffering.

Prosaic things I love about Japan:

1. The trains. I really love the trains.

2. Yukatas or pajamas (and toothbrushes) provided in every hotel, ryokan,and minshuku. Thank you!

OK, on to a quick report about our past few days. We had what we thought were fairly complicated arrangements to get from Enoshima to Takayama, but they turned out to be quite easy (thanks again to Japan Railways). The ryokan staff gathered to wave goodbye to us (and presented with a pretty bowl with scenes from Enoshima) as we took a taxi from Enoshima to Fujisawa, where we boarded the train back to Yokohama, then tranferred to the Yokohama line to Shin Yokohama. Easy! From there we took the shinkansen to Nagoya (drink time!) and then changed trains for the 2-hour trip from Nagoya to Takayama along the river. Lovely scenery along the river gorge.

When we arrived in Takayama we found the adjacent bus station and reserved our tickets on the Nohi bus to Shirakawa-go the next day. This was the piece I was most concerned about, afraid that we wouldn't be able to get a seat at such short notice. (I also envisioned the "Nohi bus" as something equivalent to Miyakazi's cat bus, but it turned out to be just a regular bus, darn it). But in fact we were the ONLY PEOPLE on the bus both from Takayama to Shirakawa and, 2 days later, from Shirakawa to Kanazawa. Wow, has Japan tourism taken a hit or what?

Anyway, our next step was to find our ryokan, Sumiyoshi, which we had reserved with Japaneseguesthouses.com, a very helpful service for non-Japanese-speakers. Sumiyoshi is a traditional ryokan located right on the rushing river that runs through Takayama, about a 13-minute walk from the station. It's a delightful place, full of antiques, friendly, a great place. Highly recommended! There were only 3 or so couples staying the night, but since dinner was served in our room we didn't get to meet any of them. The owner is very friendly and speaks serviceable English. She gave us all the instructions we needed, including the part about not wearing slippers (especially the toilet slippers) on the tatami mats...oh well. Our room overlooked the river and a 100-year-old plum tree that looked the part but provided the plums that the owner used to make her own delicious plum wine, served with dinner.

Dinner? Let me indulge and list the dishes,since it was the best meal we've eaten in Japan so far:
starters: 3 kinds of sashimi, a dish of tofu, egg, and fiddlehead ferns, 4 kinds of pickles, avocado and asparagus salad, and shrimp and fish paste (OK, I passed on the fish paste)

main courses: Hida beef and mushrooms, peppers and onions cooked in a spicey brown sauce (the one I dumped into the dish), tempura (shrimp,eggplant, sweet pototao, and greens), and fish cooked in foil and cream sauce with onions and 2 small root accompaniments

finishers: rice, miso soup with mushroom tofu

dessert: orange slices and strawsberries; plum wine

Aside from eating in Takayama, we walked and walked--through the traditional quarters of the town and along the walking course that skirts the temples above the town. We also shopped (woodwork is a Takayama speciality) and enjoyed the free museum of art and local history, as well as restored merchants' houses and other sights. The weather wasn't so great but the rain held off for the most part until we got on the bus to Shirakawa-go in the afternoon, so we had a very pleasant stay in Takayama.

The bus route to Shirakawa-go is almost completely through tunnels--45 minutes of them!--so we were disappointed with the lack of scenery along the way. We arrived in the village about 5:00 and made our way in the rain across the suspension bridge to the village itself. Most all the tourists were gone for the day, so we were two lonely Westerners pulling our roller bags through the streets to our little minshuku, the Shimizu Inn, at the end of the enchanting village of Omigachi. We were pretty bedraggled-looking so it was kind of funny when the inn's owner saw us coming up the road and ran to tell his wife--"The crazy Americans are here!"--or so I imagined. Anyway, we were glad to be out of the rain and into the rustic little inn that would serve as our home for the next 2 nights.

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