The mountain town of Takayama is our last stop in Japan. We are treating ourselves to a stay in a Ryokan, the traditional Japanese Inn.
The last leg of the 5 hour train journey from Nara was very scenic as the train wound its way across bridges, through ravines and forests from the plains up into the mountains.
We are staying at Sumiyoshi Ryokan, a very atmospheric place, stuffed to its elegant rafters with antiques, including a full suit of Samurai armour greeting us on entry. The Ryokan has comes complete with its own hot springs bath (Onsen) .
Our room is wonderful and is easily the largest room we have had so far on our trip – a full 20 Tatami mats! (a mat is 1.5sq .m. ). We have separate areas for eating and sleeping and after dinner the futon fairy magically appears to make up the rooms for bedtime. The walls in the Ryokan are mainly sliding screens of paper or beautifully painted lacquerware – all very “Kill Bill”.
Our room opens out onto the garden with a view of the river the banks of which are lined with Cherry Trees in full blossom. This is easily the nicest place we have stayed so far.
The Ryokan is owned by two Japanese sisters, great characters who speak only a few words English. We manage to communicate well enough using a combination of Japanese, English and an awful lot of mime and sign language! The ladies are hilarious and don’t miss an opportunity to laugh at anything at all. They mimic us, repeating “wow!” a phrase we will use a lot during our stay.
This is very much a foodie town and our first day is spent wandering the town, exploring the stalls of the morning markets and the many shops- essentially our own DIY culinary tour. First we try out a few pickle shops. Japanese pickles are tremendous and just about everything that it is possible to pickle, is pickled! Many things we couldn’t even identify.
The Hida region is famed throughout Asia for its Miso paste, which features highly in its cuisine. At one store, we stop to taste the many different varieties on offer, all absolutely delicious. Half of the store is set aside for as a Fedex office doing a roaring trade sending the produce around the world.
Mid -morning we find ourselves in a small Sake brewery. The variety on offer is amazing. We are told that it really does not matter whether Sake is drunk hot or cold, but that the Japanese tend to drink it hot in winter and cold in summer.
Sarubobo dolls are another speciality of Takayama. They have no facial features, the absence of a face allows the owner to imagine it – when the owner is happy Sarubobo is happy, when they are sad, Sarubobo is sad too. Traditionally made by grandmas to bring the grandchildren good luck and fortune throughout life.
Back to the Ryokan for a bath. Bathing is quite the ritual in Japan. We have now taken to taking one long bath in the morning and another at night. Exceptionally hot, it takes a bit of getting used. However, once in it is incredibly relaxing.
There is a strict etiquette for taking a bath. As the onsen just for soaking and is normally shared, it is important to wash thoroughly first. There is even an order in which to wash one’s various body parts.
In the evenings we enjoyed the most amazing Kaseki dinner. Served to us in our room at a low table, the meal consisted of eighteen small, but exquisite courses, ranging from vegetables and pickles to sashimi and tempura to the most incredible ‘Hida beef’ (the most highly prized beef in Japan). Certainly one of our more memorable meals on our travels.
The next day the sun and day blue skies tempt us to walk up through the forests to the surrounding hills to admire the views of the town below.
Takayama is a place we will never forget. The Ryokan, the food and the people. We realise that we have but scratched the surface of this amazing country.
A few oddities we found around town..