Four trains and a ryokan.
07.04.2013 4 °C
Today involved mainly 2 activities. Travelling and eating.
This morning, we packed up the suitcases and entrusted them to the forwarding services. For $30 both our cases were sent to Kyoto. We, on the other hand have distilled our requirements to a daypack each for two nights in the very cold Japanese Alpine prefecture of Gifu. That takes some serious foresight and precision packing. I think I have packing down to a fine art. Anyone needing packing advice, I can helpyou.
Breakfast was another gut expanding affair, with the now perfuncturary salad, soup and cooked fare. Couldn't quite do it justice this time.
Took the bus for the last time down to Nikko JR station and just managed to board with 5 mins to spare, if that! Basically the first two train rides were the reverse of those on Thursday: from Nikko to Utsonomiya, then the bullet train to Tokyo. The next bullet train was to Nagoya. Quite a distance but the speed meant we were there in 2 hours. Bit worryingly, there were power outages on the tracks to Gifu, but they were fixed when it came for us to leave. We had 2 hours in Nagoya, so we found a nice place to eat that was not much wider than the train itself. Had some most delicious food again. Some earnest slurping happening in all directions right there. My slurping is quite pathetic. It's more like a sucking noise and pretty feeble at that.
If you are ever at Nagoya train station, remember to wear arctic style clothing. It is windy and freezing there. It is also mad busy, worse than Tokyo Station.
Along the way, I made the following observations from my view out of the train windows......
Japanese houses are pretty drab. They can be high rise apartments, traditional style with pagoda roofs, blocky boxes with neutral colours or modern which is just a bit odd. Most people park their cuboidal vehicles (they are in love with all small cars like Rukus which hasn't taken off in Perth) outside and their newness is a stark contrast with the surroundings.
There seems to be a huge abundance of arable or subsistence farming. There are allotments, wood chopping,and market style gardens and fields everywhere even within a few metres of the giant corporations such as Sony, Panasonic, Fujiy and Meiji, all of which I saw today. Not only do we have a blend of garden, house and factory, but throw in the odd shrine and burial area in the corner of the field and you pretty much have all aspects of life covered. I suspect some of these little burial areas are ancestral. The pervading grey and mist and dampness put me in mind of parts of the Balkans or parts of Ireland.
The last leg of the journey, from Nagoya to Takayama was picturesque. We began to go up into the mountains, so travelled through valleys and over wide gravelly rivers and though numerous tunnels. There was an alternating pattern of forest and towns but the common thread was the water ways. I glimpsed a few waterfalls in the forests and the river changed from wide and slow to fast flowing and hydroelectric related. The ride to Takayama was soporific, and we arrived a bit tired, some 8.5h after we set out this morning. The temperature at 5pm as 4C. The taxi took us to our Ryokan which is a traditional Japanese inn. Here the authentic experience began. The inn is just so lovely, there are collectibles in cabinets around every corner: glassware, glasses, ceramic and pottery, tiny glass figurines, antique clocks etc. This place is big but our room is small, consisting of just a square room with minimal cupboard space. The floors are tatami mats so you cannot wear shoes or put bags on them. The windows are covered with wood and paper instead of curtains. Our room door is the same. There is a low table and legless chairs in the centre of the room and a thermos of water plus green teabags. At 7pm, two people arrived to set up the futons. From the cupboard, they whipped out the mattress, sheets, eiderdowns and coverings and with lightening speed and snappy precision executed a karate chop style bed making performance. Paul and I stood aside watching and speechless. Please come and make up our bed at home, I thought....
I needed a shower. There is one (just one) shower here because normal people do the nudie bathing. But I needed to wash my hair today. I got the key from reception for the shower. The shower room was Right Next Door to the banquet room where there was a lot of raucous carry on and waitresses scurrying in and out with trays of food...... Here's me with my bathroom bag and towel ducking into the shower next door. Truly one of those great holiday moments when you can't actually believe what is really happening. And no the shower wasn't 100% normal either. There is always a challenge when you are myopic. I have to work everything out before I remove my glasses. After showering, I wore the traditional pyjamas and yukata provided. Very comfy. I want some!
Dinner here is authentic. We sit on the ground, we are served by the "mothers" who wear the traditional clothes. The meal can only be described s a feast. Fortunately everything except dessert was on the table at the same time so there were no ongoing surprises. The vegetarian message had not been transmitted by the trip organisers, but there was absolutely no shortage of food. I wasn't very hungry today but the meal was too amazing to not try what I could. There was sashimi, tempura, rice, prawns, fish, soup, pickles, vegetables, a pastry topped seafood soup and a stewpot (not for me) which was raw but cooked over a flame on the table. Dessert was a type of agar blancmange with fruit. I was full but not to the gills. I want to be able to sleep tonight! Presentation of food is famously beautiful and yes it was.
This inn is full of staff, mostly "mother" cooks. Everyone seems busy and happy. Perhaps this banquet is making them seem even more so. We shall see tomorrow if there is not another banquet.
I was surprised to find we have one of those godawful electric toilets annexed to our room. I was expecting to find the hole in the floor. They don't bother me unless I am teetering over one with a heavy daypack on my back, a swinging handbag in front of me whilst gripping my trouser legs up from the ground and scrabbling for the toilet paper...... As happened today in Utsonomiya station. This is nothing people, I've been to possibly the worst toilet in Eastern Europe and THAT was my benchmark for bad toilets.
Since we cannot work out the heating on the AC contro (all in Japanese) we are sitting in a cosy corner on the ground floor, to do our relaxing and blogging. There is a lovely gas heater, comy couch and hot drinks close by. We can hear the kitchen "mothers" clattering in the kitchen and the party revellers outside. I think one man in particular has had a bit too much sake.
I hope I won't freeze tonight and I might end up wearing everything I stuffed into my daypack tomorrow.
Signing off from Takayama, good night!