On our way towards Takayama, we incrementally left the city life behind. Skyscrapers and crowded streets switched to green mountains and lively rivers. The nature in rural Japan is stunningly beautiful (when its not raining and foggy). Takayama is, in Japanese terms, a small town with an well-preserved Old Town from the Edo-period. Together with the also well-preserved government building in traditional style, they are the main attractions. Takayama’s surrounding is rich in high-quality trees and functioned as a region from which the emperor secured his most important building material. Quite tired from intense days in Kyoto, we took the liberty of western food (burger) and Onsen (the Japanese spa) to recover and prepare for our last days in Japan.
The previous government building in traditional style.
An hour bus ride from rainy Takayama and we were in sunny Shirakawago, a tiny village in the Japanese mountains where the people live the traditional way. It really was such a beautiful place! Definitely one of the highlights in Japan. We stayed the night in one of the ancient farm houses, sleeping on futons (madrases folded out at night on the floor) and eating dinner and breakfast sitting on mats wearing our provided yukata garments.
The farm house where we stayed the night.
The whole village from the viewpoint.
Viktor and the scare crows.
Overlooking the river.
Enjoying this incredibly beautiful place.
Viktor enjoying dinner in the farm house in his yukata.
Next stop was Kanazawa, a booming tourist city due to its recent connection to the Shinkansen railway system. We fit that description quite well… With no hotels rooms under 2000kr/night, we ended up at a guesthouse. A small, cosy red building with unique characteristics, which was used as a kimono storehouse previously. We left our bags and followed a small river, sick-sacking through neighbourhoods to the inner city. On the way, we stopped for a coffee and pancake break. Golden ice cream, Kenrokuen garden and Kanazawa castle was about what our energy could manage after that. In the evening we joined the daily Origami activity at our guesthouse where we learned how to fold Japan’s peace symbol, the crane, and put it in a box with a peace wish written inside. Every year, the owner brings all cranes to a shrine and pour them into a fire to fulfil all wishes. He had collected six hundred cranes so far this year, and said he usually gets around a thousand.
Folding our first ever origami cranes.
Close up on our cranes that will be sacrificed for the gods.
A smooth Shinkansen trip later, we arrived in Nagano, most famous for hosting Winter Olympics in 1998. 28 degrees and sunshine in late September didn’t exactly give us an winter resort feeling, but 17 degrees and rain the next day in mountain regions convinced us. Snow monkey park, where wild Japanese macaques bathing in hot springs, was an wonderful experience for two animal lovers. Monkeys everywhere! Playful teenagers, grumpy old males and caring mothers all hurdled together and relaxed in the hot spring to stay warm. It was a shame humans weren’t allowed… For some reason, the monkeys were unusually interested and intrigued by Minna and became sad when she left.
Finding lice in each other’s fur.
Snow macaques bathing in the hot springs.
Macaques resting by the river.
Rain in Snow Monkey Park.
Before leaving Japan we wanted to try out the 9hour hotel at Narita Airport. An hotel first designed for busy Japanese business men and women who wanted to stay somewhere cheap, easy and close to the airport. The solution was PODs! Instead, it has now developed into an attraction amongst non-Japanese, who, in their defence, also need a cheap, convenient stay for their connection flights next morning (including us!). Lockers, toilets, showers and sleeping pods are provided in a quite sterile, clean environment. Men and women areas are separated. The pods are spacious even in western standard, but earplugs is necessary if you want to get some sleep. A must if you ever have a early flight from Narita Airport.
PODs on the female side.
Minna in her POD.