Waking up in Takayama, we were surrounded by low hills on all sides. We had a Japanese-style buffet breakfast (with some Western options available) at the hotel and set off to walk around Takayama. Takayama is a beautiful city nestled in the heart of the Japanese Alps. Takyama is notable for containing many Edo-period buildings and as such, it is different than many Japanese cities. In other cities, there may be a single Edo-period structure along a street. In Takyama, they’ve either preserved or re-built entire streets of older-style buildings.
We walked up and down street after street of old buildings, looking into little shops, houses, and other structures throughout the city center. At one end of the town center, we visited the Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine. By this point, I had learned the ablution ritual used at Japanese shrines and temples, so I washed each hand, my mouth and placed the ladle back on the basin. The shrine wasn’t very large and took only a few minutes to visit, but each one is both very unique but altogether the same. Like most religious architecture, there is a model imbued with symbolism which is being followed, but different ways in which each one unfolds.
Walking back from the shrine, we walked down into the river’s basin (it was somewhat low at this point in the early Summer). There was a beautiful crane and tons of Koi in the river. After that, we walked back to the hotel and our car and set off for Tsumago-juku and beyond that, Nagoya.
I recently learned that Takayama and Denver are sister cities!
The drive to Tsumago-juku was actually somewhat long (in time, not distance) and took up a good part of the day. The path wound through small towns and mountain villages in central Gifu prefecture. It was interesting to see the small towns because in some ways they were similar to small agricultural towns everywhere. The tractor dealers, ag supply stores, and other glimpses of daily life reminded me of small town Colorado, New Zealand, France, or Mexico. Ultimately, small towns everywhere aren’t too different, they just speak different languages and grow different crops.
After turning off of the somewhat more busy road, we took a smaller road up towards Tsumago-juku and eventually turned off into a parking lot. The village at which we got off was an Edo-era town and one stop amongst many on the Nakasendo (中山道), a path which led from Edo to Kyoto. After walking around Tsumago-juku briefly, we set off in the direction of Magome-juku, the next major town on the route.
The hills leaving Tsumago-juku were relatively steep and led through small, active villages and rice plots. The path eventually became stone-paved and led through the forest. We made it as far as a few beautiful waterfalls before we had to turn around in order to make it to Nagoya on time. The descent back to our car was smooth, albeit hot, in the late May sun. The views from the forest were beautiful, looking out over the valleys below.
Back in the car, we made the relatively quick 2-hour drive to Nagoya and returned the car at the Toyota Rent-a-Car near Nagoya Shinkansen station. My friend headed back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen and I settled into a cheap hotel near the station. I found some Indian food (yay!) and had some more spicy food—I love Japanese food, but it’s not spicy. The area around Nagoya Shinkansen is, like most areas around train stations, busy, brightly lit, noisy, and filled by a range of interesting businesses (electronics shops, restaurants, places with brightly-lit signs with scantily-clad women, etc etc). I fell asleep quickly after a busy 2 days of traveling.