Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine

We stumbled upon the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine one sunny Saturday morning as D and I walked further along Miyagawa River and past a grand Shinto shrine. What I liked about the road leading up to Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine were the well-preserved and neatly lined up of wooden houses. Even the wooden lamp posts were rustic.

Shinto Shrine and old private houses

Walk to Sakurayama Hachimangu ShrineWell preserved housesEn route to Sakurayama Hachimangu ShrineKnown as  Takayama’s oldest shrine, Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine was built sometime during the 4th century when writing down history was not yet widely done in Japan. Today, this garners at least a million visitors per year during the Takayama Autumn Festival in October, where large floats with mechanical dolls are lit up by lanterns and paraded through Takayama.

Way to Sakurayama Hachimangu shrineWooden gate to the shrineThe atmosphere in the shrine’s grounds was pristine. The sound of crows echoed in the background as I contemplated on the simplistic beauty of the wooden structure, surrounded by tall, strong trees.

A canopy of grand treesMore steps up

Miyagawa River, Takayama

Miyagawa River, Takayama

I’m still trying to rank the things I liked most about my recent trip to the city of Takayama in Japan’s mountainous Gifu Prefecture, and until now I am not able to complete my list. Is it the quaintness of the place or the overall peace I felt as I walked its streets marveling the wooden houses? Or interacting with the friendly and warm locals? Or is it the sound of the birds and the flowing waters of the Miyagawa river? Or the simple lifestyle of the locals where there seemed to be trust and respect to everyone or everything?

Nakabashi Bridge, Hida Takayama

I say that last bit as when D and I rented bicycles for our first day’s trip to Hida No Sato (also known as the Hida Folk Village), the guy at the rental place just got our names and contact numbers and off we went. While I was puffing away on my bike during an incline, the car behind me slowed down and waited patiently until I made it to the top. Also, on our first day while we sat in front of a fruit store happily slurping our shakes, we saw two elderly women who were walking around with baskets and tongs, picking up garbage to maintain the city’s cleanliness.

Miyagawa River, Takayama

So instead of finalizing a “rank” list, I’m writing this blog about the Miyagawa River, one of the places where I spent a longer time in compared to the Miyagawa Morning Market or the Takayama Old Town. It was this river that called to me the first time I saw it – with its clean clear waters, colorful big fish swimming about, and birds of different kinds flying over or going near me, hoping to get bits of treats. It was at this moment, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, where I realized that the peace and happiness of being one with nature, regardless of where in the world I am feeling it from, is universal.

Fish and duck, Miyagawa River

 

 

Takayama: Old Town

Takayama Old Town

What comes to mind when you think of a trip to Japan?

With this trip, my friends asked me if I was revisiting the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka. When I replied that this time we were going to the more laid back places like Takayama and Kamikochi, almost all of them would give me a thoughtful look and ask where’s that?

Takayama, a quiet city in the the mountainous Gifu Prefecture of Japan, is famous for a lot of things like the hida beef, its museums and temples, the nearby tourist destinations like Kamikochi and Shinhotaka Rope-way, and the well preserved Old Town, Kami-Sannomachi, which serves as the commercial hub since way back during the Edo period. The Old Town is walking distance from the Takayama Train and Bus station (around ten minutes’ walk).

From the train station, we walked across the Miyagawa River and came to see two bronze statues facing each other in the middle of the Kajibashi Bridge. These statues are called Ashi-naga and Tenaga. Ashi-naga is a long legged goblin, while Tenaga is a long armed goblin. According to folklore, the two work as a team, where Tenaga would climb over Ashi-naga’s back so they can harvest fish and catch small creatures.

A couple of blocks after crossing the bridge, we passed through stores and houses in the Old Town. They were quite remarkable. Even the 711 across the street had a similar rustic theme to it.

Rustic themed 711 across the old town
Rustic themed 711 across the old town

On our first day, we got to the Old Town a tad bit too late as the stores close at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. It was still quite surreal walking through the narrow picturesque streets – there were canals on both sides of the road flowing with clear water. I was amazed at this – I wish we had the same in my city.

The old town past business hours
The old town past business hours

On the next day, after kicking off the day with a breakfast and stroll through the Miyagawa Morning Market, we headed right to the Takayama Old Town. It was teeming with tourists, and there were already queues at the restaurants as it was around lunch time. Because it was warm and sunny that day, we took it as good timing to enter the stores and check them out.

Water chilled soda
Water chilled soda

There were several souvenir shops selling wooden crafts and trinkets, local snacks, and sarubobo dolls. There were also several shops selling the hida beef skewers, sake, and other local delicacies. We also saw a man pulling on a rickshaw for tourists.

Waiting at an intersection at the old town
Waiting at an intersection at the old town

One of the best finds that I had in the Takayama Old Town is Cafe Ao, a Japanese cafe quietly tucked in one of the wooden stores near the Old Town’s entrance. What caught my attention was the mat floor and the irori, the Japanese sunken hearth used as a fireplace and heater in the olden days. The first time I learned about the irori was during our trip to Hida Folk Village (Hida No Sato) on our first day in Takayama.

Irori at the entrance of Cafe Ao

All guests had to take off their shoes upon entering, and we made our way to the inner part of the building, where I was delighted to see a couple of zen gardens surrounding the cafe. There were lovely wooden furniture in the cafe, and some guests who opt to sit on the floor could do so. I got us green tea, coffee and a seasonal cake. The whole dining experience was very relaxing and precious. The seasonal cake was so yummy, and D liked the lovely touches of sweets included with his green tea.

If you are in Takayama, don’t forget to check out the Old Town. You’ll be amazed by the rustic simplicity of this place, a perfect getaway (and I’d say a 180 degree turn) from the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities of Japan like Tokyo. Be prepard to travel back in time as you walk through Takayama’s quaint streets and meeting its friendly locals.

Takayama Old Town

 

 

 

 

 

Takayama’s Hida Kokubunji Temple

Hida Kokubunji Temple

After a long day walking and biking the streets of Hida Takayama, it was a toss between getting an early snooze or grabbing a bite first. Grudgingly I agreed to eat out, as I am sure that as soon as I hit the sack I couldn’t be bothered to go out later on for late night snack.

Off we walked from the hotel to the bus terminal, as most of the restaurants at the Old Town were closed after 5 o’clock. And then we heard a couple of deep loud barks – an all-too familiar sound that shook my sleepiness off in an instant. About fifty yards ahead of us was a yellow labrador tied to the wooden gate of Hida Kokubunji Temple.

Hida Kokubunji Temple

I admit it was the first time I realized there was a temple at this side of the road, and so near to the hotel where we were staying. It is an old Buddhist temple with a triple layer pagoda, a bell tower and a huge gingko tree. Inspecting the tree up close, I read that it is a natural national monument, with an age approximately 1200 years old. It was believed in the past that when the leaves of the gingko tree fall off, it would snow in Takayama. Now the people of Takayama cherish the tree as a symbol of changing seasons.

The Great Gingko of Kokubun-jiThe pagoda is about 500 years old, and the main temple is the oldest structure in Takayama, built in year 757. The wooden gate, where we met our new found friend, was inherited by the temple when the Takayama Castle was destroyed in 1695.

Hida Kokubunji Temple bellI guess finding this historical gem is icing on the cake. The highlight of this discovery, really, is this good boy who gamely greeted everyone who entered the gates and warmed up to those who stroked his fur. He reminds me of Rex, who I miss terribly. If he could only be with us in this trip, he would have loved to splash around the cool waters of the Miyagawa River.

Sweet labrador who called us to check out the temple

Hida Folk Village, Takayama

Japan Alps in the distance, view from Hida No Sato

When we hopped on the Meitetsu bus at Nagoya en route to Takayama, I didn’t really know what to expect. All I had planned in my to-do list were: visit the Hida No Sato (aka Hida Folk Village), get to see snow capped mountains, ride the bicycle and breathe in the fresh air. Takayama was, after all, our jumping point to exploring the Japan alps in the next days to come.

When we drove past the hustling city and into the countryside, my eyes feasted on the sights of clear streams and rivers, rice paddies, rolling hills of green. We passed through tunnels beneath mountains, and there were several sceneries that reminded me of the way to Sagada in Luzon. But this was hardly two hours away from Nagoya – what a treat for the city folks! In a few hours’ time they can reach these beautiful towns.

After a little more than three hours we finally reached the Takayama train station. Our hotel was just about ten minutes’ walk from the station, so as soon as we dropped off our luggage, we went to a nearby bike rental to check off one thing on my to-do list. I wiggled on my balance quite a few times as I tried to get used to my bicycle – it’s been a long time since I’ve ridden a Japanese bike – the last time was almost a decade ago in Kyoto. The guy told us it would take about 15 minutes to get to Hida No Sato (if we were to take the bus it’ll be about 10 minutes; and if we walked it would be about 40 minutes). He didn’t tell us it was uphill.

I’m not as fit like how I used to be when I travelled and biked. The uphill was quite a challenge, and several times D helped push my bike up. Although the temperature was only 24 degrees celsius, it didn’t help as I was sweating profusely (and sometimes imagining I was comfortably tucked in bed or soaking in a bath at the hotel). D must have been annoyed as he pretended he didn’t hear me when I called out “Are we there yet?” a couple of times.

And then we got there. Woohoo!! Parking fee was free for bikes. The entrance to Hida No Sato was 700¥ per adult. I found that it’s an open air musuem, and the houses that were displayed show the original houses of different parts of Hida. There was a lake and an outlook view of the peaks of the Japan Alps at the distance. Japan Alps in the distance, view from Hida No Sato

There were several interactive activities near the lake and the entrance like origami, stamps, wooden cube puzzles, wooden stilts (which I saw no one succeed at), and a wooden water gun. Japanese-styled parasols were free to be used, as well as boots (maybe when it’s raining?).Nakayabu’s House

Like the hotel we stayed at in Takayama, we took off our shoes as we entered the preserved homes. Because the Hida region is know for woodwork, the houses were wooden floors, tools and furniture. The homes have sunken hearths called irori which kept the surroundings warm.Panoramic view of a house’s interior

There were also artisans who were demonstrating arts and crafts like Hida quilting, wood carving, and painting. If you walk in the Takayama town’s center, you will find a lot of wooden and hand crafted souvenirs.

Doll painting in the Tomita’s HouseThere were structures for different livelihoods. There was also a hall where the elders held meetings, and a shrine with a giant bell. There was a woodcutter’s hut, aand a logger’s hut. I also saw how the irrigation system used to be, and how rice fields were designed. The last stop that I went to was the resting area where vending machines for drinks were clustered together in. On the way there was a canopy of sweet smelling flowers – and the remarkable sound of bees.One of the Hida houses kept in its original condition

As I walked around the town I cannot help imagine how it was living in the past when there was no electricity. How did it feel during winter? I was fascinated at how the structures were built, the materials that were used. Life was indeed simpler back then, and how lucky the folks were as they woke up to the beautiful nature-filled surroundings, with the snow capped mountains a common sight in their backyards.

Hida Takayama’s Morning Market

Local products at the Miyagawa Morning Market

On this pleasantly cool spring day of May, we woke up refreshed after a long night’s rest on our tatami beds. It’s our second day in the quaint town of Hida Takayama, a rustic gem more than three hours away by bus from Nagoya City. This was to be our kickoff point to the Japan Alps over the next couple of days. Yesterday was tiring but well worth the effort of cycling uphill to explore the well preserved houses and viewing the snow capped mountains in the distance from Hida No Sato (Hida Folk Village).

Today was meant to explore the town by foot. So D and I started off looking fot breakfast. Luckily, Rickshaw Inn where we are staying at was only a few hundred meters away from the Miyagawa Morning Market ( or coming from the Takayama train station, it’s about 10 minutes’ walk). You won’t miss it as it’s right past the Kajibashi Bridge which crosses over the Miyagawa River. We spotted the stalls easily, as the flock of locals and tourists checking out the merchandise was an instant giveaway.Mochi

Mochi

At the market we saw local products like crafts, souvenirs, fresh harvest (like mushrooms, fruit and greens) and food (takoyaki, pickles, Japanese chips). As soon as we got to the market we were greeted by a friendly seller of chick designed mochi, a sweet Japanese delicacy made of rice cake and some fillings. Next to the mochi stall I found the place where I was to have breakfast (toast, salad, fruit and coffee). Local products at the Miyagawa Morning Market

D found his newly found favorite hida beef skewers. I think he’s indulged in too much hida beef in this trip. He describes it as soft, juicy and quite tasty. I don’t think hida beef is widely sold in the Philippines. I hear about Kobe beef all the time, but nothing about hida beef until now. Well, that and I don’t eat meat. According to the locals, hida beef is from black-haired cattle raised in the Gifu prefecture for at least fourteen months. Hida Beef skewer

There is another market further upstream called Jinya mae Morning Market. I read from reviews that most of the locals choose to go there over the more touristy Miyagawa Morning Market.

I liked our trip to the market because we got to interact with the locals, appreciate the cleanliness of the surroundings, took in fresh air and enjoyed the view of the river. It was also close to the historical places and the Takayama Old Town. True enough, after my hearty breakfast, we made our way to the river, every once in a while stopping to say hello and pat dogs being walked by their furparents (because the morning market was pet friendly!). The river was clean, and I was able to feed fish with feed I bought from the market. Several types of colorful birds also frolicked on the riverbanks, and as I gazed at them flying around us, I knew then and there that today was going to be awesome.