Takayama

Another early start, which allowed us to stroll some of the well-preserved old streets of the Sanmachi-suji district on the other side of the river. The old houses and sake breweries are high-end tourist shops now (some sake breweries remain however), but the streetscapes are beautiful: old black-painted wood store fronts, beautiful shop displays, water trickling by in neat stone gutters by the road.

We wandered the Miyagawa Asaichi (morning market) along the riverside, where there were small vegetable stalls on the river side of the lane, and touristy shops on the opposite side. Then we found a cafe with an outside table and had a great breakfast – Carol had a vegetable and salad sandwich, and I had toast, honey and apple.

After breakfast we explored the Yoshijima Heritage House, built in 1907 and another highlight of our trip so far. An absolutely stunning traditional townhouse of stark, clean lines, tan tatami mats and glowing brown wood hand-polished for a hundred years. I instantly fell in love with it. Furnished with elegant 60s furniture and spare abstract prints, it’s the epitome of classic design as far as I’m concerned. Carol and I wandered it for some time, taking many photographs. Absolutely inspiring.

It was a short walk to a nearby shrine, then up a wooded hill, following a printed map and my sense of direction through back streets and back down into the town. Passing a townhouse on a street bisected by a canal, we were unnerved by the sound of a woman screaming from within. This was particularly strange since the streets were extremely quiet – no dogs barking, children screeching, or power tools grinding – heaven, basically. Perhaps not for that poor woman, however.

I was particularly enjoying ignoring Google Maps and just relying on my map-reading skills. We doubled back briefly a few times, but it is much more fun to explore and make mistakes rather than have your nose pressed to the trail of dots on an iPhone screen. It also meant stumbling on interesting streets that otherwise we’d never visit. I firmly believe that GPS takes all the happy accidents out of travel.

Eventually we found our way onto the Higashiyama walking course, a trail along the ridge on the east side of town that passes a lot of temples and winds in and out of narrow streets lined with houses. We walked through graveyards, up steps into the cypresses, and through temple forecourts. It was a beautiful sunny day and perfect for aimless wandering. Occasionally we bumped into a group of annoying, noisy tourists, but on the whole it was a quiet and peaceful walk.

Even more so when when we headed into the woods of Shiroyama Park, past another temple, and eventually up into the ruins of Takayama Castle. I say ruins, but it was really just a last patch of ground with one small stone wall remaining. Back down the hill on the other side, where families gathered in the sun in Ninomaru Park (and someone on a loudspeaker kept up some kind of ‘fun’ narration), and further down the hill back to where we started – completing a wide loop that covered a large part of the eastern half of the town.

The restored streets were packed with (mostly Japanese) tourists now, and had taken on a bit of the flavour of the Rocks in Sydney. We found a noodle place and had soba (buckwheat) noodles and mushrooms. With it I had a beer and Carol had sake.

Afterwards, sitting on a bench eating an ice cream cone while Carol was in a shop, I got talking with a young Japanese couple. I used my iPhone to find out where they were from (Tsu, near Nagoya) and showed them where I was from. They didn’t know much English but we had a laugh, and by the time Carol came back out I had a little crowd gathered around me as I listed the Japanese words and phrases I knew.

Time to move on again. We got our bags and caught two local trains and – briefly, unfortunately – one luxurious Shinkanzen bullet train, reaching busy Kanazawa about 7pm. Picked up some food and walked to our MyStays hotel nearby. It took about half an hour to check in – the computers seemed to be down or something – but we finally got to our room and crashed.

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