with making a post for three days
and catch up with sleep?
So the Pension Green Lake turned out to be a little gem. In a farmhouse inn the countryside with the kindest, friendliest hostess who after all had driven out to pick us up when lost last night. Our room was great, the bathing capsule perhaps a little small but great power in the shower which is all that matters when you’re up for breakfast at 7.30. Again a delicious home-cooked scrambled eggs with crispy bacon, half a grapefruit, fresh salad and brioches with real strawberry jam. Fabulous! And Megumi, as is the wont of hosts and hostesses stood and watched us eat – we may feel it’s intrusive, they are ensuring ichi-ban service. We set off for Takayama for the spring festival or matsuri and for once had an uneventful drive except that we had to stop five minutes into the trip to photograph a family of monkeys running across the road. Amazing!
Our route took us to a conveniently placed car park close to where it was all going to happen. The attendant insisted on giving us a city map and marking our route to the centre of events. We walked along the riverside. And what a lovely walk along the riverside where being up in the mountains the cherry blossom is in good fettle – so we haven’t missed it altogether.
The main parade was due to start at 12:30 so we an hour or so to explore Takayama’s famous morning market. There are stalls with vegetables from the countryside, crafts from the town and a great candle stall where a young lady was individually calligraphing candles. Several more take home gifts, some excellent rice crackers and sesame snacks were also purchased as well as a kebab and a beer. What a kebab! You may have heard of Kobe beef as being the best and most expensive but where we are now in Hida thinks it outdoes it. Superb, delicious, phenomenal – we had to order a second and learn the words oishi katte, absolutely delicious to express our thanks.
The festival itself was fantastic – a procession throughout the old part of town by townspeople in robes representing different lodges with drummers, flute bands and then 12 magnificent red and gilded floats with fabulous paintings, wood carvings and also carrying flute and drum bands. We’ll put a couple of pictures up but once we’ve sorted through the several hundred photographs and dozen video clips (probably not till we’re back in the UK given the schedule) we’ll post a separate page about the Takayama Festival. We concluded the day with bowls of soba noodles topped with a large slice of uncooked Hida beef which slowly cooked in the warmth of the broth. Oishi katte again to our second encounter with the area famous beef.
The drive back to the pension was a bit of a problem as Mike decided that Route 73 was heading south and must get us back more quickly. Raggett off piste is not a good thing. One of the problems in mountains is that roads tend to go down valleys between them and then back up again. So an extra 50 km and ¥650 in tolls finally saw us back at the ranch. Slapped wrist but no major trauma as it was a glorious ride. Megumi welcomed us back and introduced us to her niece Yuki-e who had returned from New Zealand where she’d been studying in Christchurch at the time of the earthquake and soon was hearing all about Japan’s problems too. Her English is great and over breakfast next morning we looked at our photos and videos of the matsuri, which Megumi had never been to as she’s usually booked solid at festival time. We had a brilliant chat about this and that and plan to keep in touch via our blog and her webpage. We would recommend her pension totally to anyone who wanted to explore the area in spring, summer or autumn when the colours will be fantastic. Lots of walking, brilliant scenery, monkeys and the promise of bears. Great place and to think I was worried.
Yuki-e, Mike, Dee, and Megumi outside Pension Green Lake (courtesy husband Shigeru Yanase) and its fabulously peaceful setting
No monkey business this morning as we drove back up Route 156 to the Shiragawa-go UNESCO National Heritage Site. This is a series of traditional thatched houses with extremely steep pents against the snow. It’s a fascinating place in which heritage site exhibits exist alongside homes of ordinary working people. Again we took loads of photographs and a few video clips and will post more fully on our return. A wonderful insight into Japanese life 300 years ago and how for some it has changed little. Visiting did make me wonder about the value of World Heritage designation – yes we can all go and admire the heroic efforts of people in times past but how does it affect the few real people still trying to live their normal lives? No answers, just musing.
We then drove on seamlessly to Kanazawa and checked into our hotel before walking to the Kenrokuen Garden one of the big three of Japanese strolling gardens. It out performed all my expectations – such variety, so many things of beauty, some many places to contemplate – sheer delight! Again the 300 photos will need some editing before we post a page devoted to Kenrokuen but if you can’t wait try here. Somewhat tired we walked back to the hotel, gathered our thoughts and went out for dinner. We had some of the best sashimi ever and no we didn’t eat the head however “goodo head” with great pickled vegetables some of which we recognized.
Oh and on the way back to the hotel we just happened to shoot this sign – it’s warm – at last! 25 degrees at six o’clock. Love it!
Wednesday morning in Kanazawa started with a trip through the Ohmicho Market just across from the hotel. We discovered by pointing and asking “what’s that” many of the things we’d eaten – lotus root, bamboo shoots – well they’re good for pandas – shiso a wonderful aromatic leaf and several more. It’s a great colourful display of crabs (local speciality), fish, veg and fruit. Magic.
We then went to the museum of gold leaf. Now most of you probably don’t know that 99% of Japan’s gold leaf is produced in Kanazawa. The process of makinh 1kg gold ingots into 1 micron thick sheets of gold foil is brilliant and they had a video that showed it clearly. A few purchases ensued of course at the nearby Golf Leaf Shop – well why wouldn’t you? A quick walk through the old geisha district – still a bit red lighty at night we’re told but this was 10 am. Our next visit was to the contemporary art museum where we were intrigued, amused and provoked by an exhibition called Borderline. Several great exhibits including a scary Anish Kapoor but the most fun was Leandro Ehrlich’s Hockney-like pool. It looks like a normal swimming pool but is a brilliant trompe l’oeil with only 10 cm of water and a glass platform beneath which visitors can parade. James, we think you’ll love this as we did – imaginative, thought-provoking and fun.
We had hoped to drive down to Kyoto along the coast but it didn’t quite go right. Instead of the bright blue of yesterday we had grey humid mist. However we arrived here and saw the sea. It is Cape Kasa, the westernmost point in Kaga Prefecture. We also met a local gardener who was determined to offer Dee some vegetables to take home to cook. Dee’s now excellent Japanese enabled her to persuade her that sadly we were in hotels and going to Kyoto with no cooking facilities and had no friends to whom we could give them.
The Hokuriko Expressway, a super road, sped us to Kyoto where, being worried about delivering late the excellent Hiro from Times Rentacar talked us in, sent us to a local filling station and then helped us to the hotel. We then managed to find a restaurant serving okonomiyaki as recommended by Katie in her Kyoto advice. Stupendous! Katie, Arrigato, goseimasu.