Continuing on from my recent trip to Shirakawa-go, here's a report from my first day in the Hida area, in which I passed through Takayama and stayed in a smaller village called Hida-Furukawa. The trip was operated by Satoyama Experience.
Arriving in Takayama in the afternoon, we had a bit of time to kill, so we took a stroll around the town. Takayama has been perfectly preserved, with the vast majority of its old-style streets and shops from the past still intact. Upon arriving at the station it was nice to see walking maps of the city in any number of languages! The town is a popular destination for Japanese tourists, but also has made great steps to welcome foreign visitors from all around the world too.
Armed with a walking map. We set about exploring the meandering streets. The sheer amount of ancient trinkets and artifacts on display is astounding, and I thought I'd never grow tired of looking at all the houses. I did in fact see one house that had a sign on it saying "This house is not a museum!" (in both English & Japanese) - perhaps an indication of receiving too many visitors strolling into their house!
As can be seen in the photo above (below the cat), some of the houses in the Hida area have what are known as sugidama or "cedar balls" hanging outside of them. This is a traditional indication of a sake brewery in Japan - there are also stone statues depicting workers making sake which can be seen in certain parts of the town. Takayama is a great producer of the stuff, so it seemed rude not to try a drop... and a bowl of Hida beef gyudon... and an ice cream too... :-D
After taking in our fill of Takayama, we jumped on a train to Hida-Furukawa where we would be staying the night.
It was just about getting dark when we arrived in Hida-Furukawa. For those of you who like getting "off the beaten track", this small town was definitely that - even compared to Takayama! The group was due to have a party that evening with other visitors and locals. Before the party we had a bit of time to explore the town and one of the group - a former resident of the town - took us for an interesting stroll.
Just as we were examining these symbols of sake brewers, a lady popped out of her souvenir shop and began to offer us rice crackers for free! While we were in her shop having a look around, I spotted this model of one of the float festivals which is famous in the Hida area.
After a bit of chit chat with the shop's owner we finally headed over to the restaurant where we would be having the party.
The restaurant we were eating in that night was a proper old-style traditional dining arrangement; with low tables, shoji screen doors, and tatami matting to sit down on. We were a mixture of foreign visitors and locals and right from the opening speech of the night the conversation flowed smoothly. At first, we were assigned seats randomly upon arrival - and we were supposed to sit at our assigned seats. However, one of the Hida traditions we learnt that night was that part way through the meal, the most senior member would lead a song (which people would follow), and after the song was over we were free to move around and sit wherever we liked.
We all chatted and got to know one another while munching on the local specialties of the region including hidagyu (Hida beef) and hoba miso - a local style of miso made with a ho leaf and also my first time to try kanboshi daikon which is a kind of dried radish made by hanging it outside in the colder months. The daikon radish is repeatedly dried and frozen by the natural elements, creating an extremely distinctive taste. Of course, we washed down our local food with some tasty local sake!
We would need all our strength for the bike ride tomorrow!