The main reason for the recent dearth of posts has been that we have been busy entertaining and guiding members of my family who came to Japan for a holiday.
Last week we packed the car and headed into the mountains of neighbouring Gifu Prefecture for a short break with them. We took the Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway, which runs from Nagoya on the Pacific coast through the Japan Alps to Toyama on the Sea of Japan coast. This expressway is an incredible display of Japanese engineering. There are 54 tunnels along the route, the longest almost 11km in length. There are also numerous bridges spanning deep ravines, some with piers over 100m tall. The road itself tops out at 1,086m above sea level.
We stayed in Takayama – a picturesque and largely unspoiled traditional Japanese city of some 100,000 people. (Even the small cities aren’t all that small in Japan.) Takayama is a tourist mecca. It is often referred to in travel books as “Little Kyoto” because its narrow streets of traditional shops, temples and residences are similar to those that one can find in Kyoto, but Takayama is compact and easily traversed with a pair of legs and a small amount of physical stamina. Despite only having one of these two properties I enjoyed Takayama very much.
The mountains of Gifu are onsen territory. (An onsen is a public bath supplied by a natural hot spring.) If you stay overnight in the region I highly recommend booking a hotel that has an onsen. That way you can enjoy bathing naked with strangers of the same sex and then creepily sit next to them at the breakfast table the following morning. Our hotel had a completely natural onsen – the water was not treated in any way, nor was it artificially heated. It included indoor and outdoor baths. Our party visited the hotel onsen every evening and most mornings too – they are a great way to relax and ease those muscle pains we all get from time to time. They also magically make beer taste better.
Takayama features daily morning markets with gnarled farmers selling lookalike gnarled vegetables. Right behind the markets is the Takayama Jinya Historic Government House which was in official use by the prefectural government right up until 1969. It has been beautifully restored and is now open to the public.
Some of our group visited the Hida Folk Village which features traditional steep thatched-roof houses once common in this area due to the volume of winter snowfall. Nicewife and I had already visited the UNESCO World Heritage site at Shirakawa-go which is the same kind of thing, so we gave it a miss this time.
On our final day Nicewife and I took the kids to the Hida Daishonyudo Caves. They’re a 30 minute drive east from the centre of Takayama. They were truly bizarre. Coloured lighting, piped “music box” melodies, rusting infrastructure, and loads of shinto idols. Every stalactite formation was classified as a god, and there were numerous small shrines including a bizarre fertility shrine at the furthest cave exit. If you decide to visit the caves, be sure to get a discount coupon from their advert in the local tourist brochures.