The Vaughans in Japan – CHAPTER ONE: TAKAYAMA 2!

DAY 2 – THE CHOSHI WATERFALL

15th of April

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Water Feature at the Hotakasa Yamano Hotel

Rain greeted us on the morning of day two. Having been too tired and tipsy to complete the work I’d been planning the night before, I was busy tapping away on my laptop when Dad came by my room for breakfast. The weather forecast was grim, the sky an icy grey, so he proposed we spent the morning in the hotel, and head down to Takayama in the afternoon to see some museums.

 

Anxious to catch up on my work, and with very little in the way of warm clothes, I was quick to agree. We enjoyed a lazy breakfast together, and then went to relax (or work!) in our rooms. At around noon, the weather improved, and we set off into town.

Having been promised rain and wind, the sky had cleared by the time we reached Takayama.  We parked up at the top of the town and dropped into the Takayama Museum of History and Art, a well-put together and extensive exhibition that was free entry. The museum gave us a little more background into the Takayama festival, and went into detail about the old castle that was once at the top of the town.

Having completed the museum, we walked back down toward the Sanmachi area, and happened across a tiny antiques shop that I couldn’t resist poking my head into. It was full of great little knicknacks, and much to my delight, had a small collection of katana (the so-called ‘Samurai’ swords) on display. I examined a few longingly, wondering whether I could ask Dad to buy me one for my birthday (it wouldn’t be first time I’ve asked for a sword, and probably won’t be the last). Dad pointed out a katana probably wouldn’t fit in our suitcases, and that airport security might take issue with me trying to carry an offensive weapon onto an aeroplane. He must have seen how heartbroken I was, because we measured the katana and promised to return to the shop if it fitted into the bag.

Note—it didn’t fit, and there are pretty strict restrictions on the importation of swords and other weaponry into the United Kingdom. I am distraught.

After wasting a little more time fawning over the katana, we departed in search of the Takayama Archaeological Museum. We passed it about twice before finally spotting it, only to discover it was closed. The next museum on the list was the Fujii Folk Museum, but with only a few minutes to go before closing time, we decided we’d return the next day.

Grabbing an early dinner, and a few snacks for the evening, we turned homeward. The mountains were framed by the warm light of the setting sun as we drove back up to the hotel. However, with it still being quite early, and the two of us still hungry for a little adventure, we decided to take a brief detour on the way up and stop by the Choshi waterfall.

Now—for anyone who is thinking of going to the area, the Choshi waterfall is a pleasant little place to visit, and has several perfect spots for great pictures, but be warned it can be very snowy during parts of the season…

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Following the river to the Choshi Waterfall

We stopped off at the bottom of the path leading up, and saw that the road had actually been blocked off for cars. Dad, who’s been known to drag me kicking and screaming on several ‘short’ (long, very, very long) walks, actually turned around to me and asked whether I wanted to go up.

 

“It’s a kilometre away,” he said doubtfully.

In a moment of naivety I replied, “That’s fine—let’s go.”

A kilometre? I thought to myself, Hah—that’s nothing! I can do a kilometre easy.

Except it wasn’t just a kilometre. It was a kilometre uphill, through thick snow, with leaky trainers and a buggered knee. As the light rapidly disappeared around us, Dad marching on ahead so that he could get to the waterfall before it got completely dark, I began to reflect that this hadn’t been my brightest idea…

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The Forest of Mononoke

In the end, Dad made it to the waterfall, but I had to stop at the bridge leading up to it. The snow was too high for me to safely get through it, and so I waited. At some point during the walk, the surrounding forest had gone from scenic to sinister. I consider myself a rationale, critical person up until the light goes out, at which point—as with many writers—I am at the mercy of a whimsical and vivid imagination. As the sun disappeared behind the mountain and the first few stars appeared, I found myself recalling every Japanese folk-tale I’d ever heard, and was assaulted with a sudden, primitive feeling in my gut—we needed to go. The mountain was no place for us—forget Shiroyama park, if there was ever a place where the mononoke resided, it was here on this lonely mountain path, with the tall, dark, trees stood in eerie formation and the long, whispering stream.

 

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Night falls on the mountain

Dad took his sweet time getting back down to me, and I almost killed myself in my hurry to get through the snow back to the car.

 

“Slow down—we have plenty of time.”

“I’m trying to get down while we still have light,” I lied. At twenty-four, I wonder whether it’s acceptable to still be afraid of the monsters in the dark.

The creature comforts of the hotel—bath, biscuits, and free wifi brought me back into the twenty-first century. Now brimming with ideas and the mood to write, I joined Dad for a cup of sake, and then disappeared into my room to indulge my imagination in a more productive way.


DAY 3 – STEP INTO THE PAST

16th of April

Day three of our adventure was museum day. With a full list of things to do, we decided get into Takayama quickly, so that we could make the most of the day.

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A Sea of Mountains

Even so, as travelled down, the light proved particularly suitable for pictures, and as we passed a mountain range, Dad began to lament—“We should have stopped and taken pictures—those mountains were spectacular.”

 

“Let’s turn around and go back,” I suggested, even as Dad was already doing a rapid U-turn in a side-pass, grinning from ear to ear.

“You’re turning into me,” he said.

I took my pictures in mortified silence.

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The Hida Folk Village

Our first stop as we reached Takayama was the Hida Folk village. Rather than an actual village, this is a museum that has relocated old buildings from around the area into the same place, preserving Japan’s architectural past, and exhibiting the lifestyles of the local people. This visit was a particular highlight of Takayama, and is a must-see for anyone who’s considering going.

 

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Shrine in Hida Folk Village

There are several routes through the ‘village’ for visitors, the shortest estimated to take 15 minute, and the longest estimated at an hour. We chose the longer route, and it took us about two hours. In our defence however, Dad reads everything in museums, and I joined in on one of several ‘traditional craft’ opportunities, and painted a little ‘lucky cat’.

 

We stopped for an ice-cream when we were done, and then pottered down the road to the Hide Takayama Museum of Art, which was displaying some pieces of Art Nouveaux. From the old, to something a little more modern, this was a good exhibition, but was rather short for what it was. As lovers of the style, Dad and I thought several of the pieces on display were fantastic—in particular, a large, ornate mirror that was (as you might imagine) rather difficult to photograph. Visitors of the region who are interested in Art Nouveaux should definitely stop by the museum, but for those whom it doesn’t interest, or who are pressed for time, you can always just pull into the carpark to admire the red double-decker London bus parked outside.

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Two girls in yukata on the Nakabashi Bridge

Returning to the Sanmachi for the third time, Dad and I tried our luck at the Archaeological Museum again, only to find it was once-more closed. Fortunately the Fujii Folk Museum was still open, and we enjoyed three floors of assorted bits and bobs, including a display of beautifully detailed kimono (traditional Japanese clothes), painted scrolls, ornate pipes, creepy dolls and a collection of katana.

 

With the town no longer saturated by a mass of moving people, we were able to enjoy the old-streets of the Sanmachi as we walked back toward the Jinya, across the Nakabashi bridge, to soak up a little sun before dinner.

Back at the hotel, having had one final, glorious soak in the baths, we met for our customary cup of sake and discussed the best part, and the worst part of the first chapter of our holiday. We reflected that we’d been lucky with the hotel, (it really comes highly recommended for anyone looking to stay), and agreed we were both a little disappointment with the festival, which we’d hoped would be a little more exciting. All in all though, it was an excellent start to the holiday.

The Best Part—the Hida Folk Village

The Worst Part—Walking through the snow, in the dark, with a buggered knee.


THE VAUGHANS IN JAPAN – CHAPTER ONE: TAKAYAMA!

 

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