27 May 2010

Golden Week - Takayama and Kamikochi (Days 3 and 4)

Day Three

We woke up to this:

There had been a lot more on the ground but we laid in the tent for a while since we didn't have to get up early to catch a bus. We did get up in time to try the hot spring though.

Our first hot spring experience was a good one. There were separate baths for males and females so we agreed to meet in the lobby after the non-guest hours were over. So we had a little over an hour to soak. After stripping off all of your clothing (there's even a sign that says not to bathe in your underwear or swimsuit) you must clean yourself in the outdoor showers. These pump water from the hot spring through regular plumbing so you can shower/bathe. You sit on a little stool and lather up and then rinse yourself off. Now clean you are free to enter the various pools.

At this point I forget all the temperatures of the pool, but the only indoor pool was probably the medium temperature pool. I sat in this one for about 10 minutes with no problems. I then ventured to the outdoor pools. There were two wooden tubs and two pools. The upper pool was, as expected, warmer than the lower pool into which it flowed. The first tub was warmer than both the indoor and outdoor pools and the second tub was the hottest of all. When I got out of the hottest tub after sitting in it for 2 or 3 minutes I felt light headed. I staggered back inside and got into the indoor pool again before I fell over. Passing out, cracking your skull and spilling your blood into the pools is a major faux pas.

After 10 more minutes soaking in the indoor pool I got out and showered myself again on my little stool. It felt very cleansing and relaxing the first time so I wanted to do it again. After meeting Aimee in the lobby we both agreed that this would be a fantastic way to start and end every day.

After our hot spring baths we broke camp and headed back to Takayama and began what Aimee called “eating our way through Takayama.”

Aimee had been told by the staff at one of her schools that we had to try Hida beef. What was our first meal? Hida beef stew:

The meal was expensive – 8000 yen for both of us – but nothing compared to what the high-roller at the sushi bar must have spent. While we were waiting he and his lady friend dined on champagne and 3 appetizer plates. While we were eating they had 2 plates of sashimi which was prepared right in front of them. Even though we couldn't afford to eat what he was eating, we were not disappointed. The beef was fantastic - well marbled, well aged, well cooked. The vegetables were excellent too.

We ended the night with Haagen Dazs ice cream sandwiches from the convenience store and then headed back to our accommodations for the evening. We stayed in one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan - the Zenkoji temple. The one in Takayama is a branch of the Zenkoji temple in Nagano. We slept in traditional Japanese beds – on tatami mats on futons with blankets. The blankets were electric since it was quite cold, so the experience wasn't entirely authentic.

Day Four

We got up early to head to the morning markets. Aimee and I are both huge fans of farmers' markets back home so we were excited to see the Japanese version. We were a little disappointed. Every vendor has pretty much the same vegetables and a few spices. All of them also sell silly knick-knacks. We did have a good breakfast though.

First course:

These were little rice balls coated in a soy-type sauce and then grilled. Basically an appetizer; not filling at all. They were pretty tasty, but not something you could eat 5 or 6 skewers of to feel full.

Second course:

Owara tamaten is basically a fried marshmallow. But sooooo much better than what you're thinking. The inside is marshmallowy, but not like the marshmallows in North America. They're not just high fructose corn syrup and preservatives. The guy who makes them does so himself using some kind of gum syrup. Once they're made into cubes he dips them into an egg mixture: beaten eggs, sake, mirin (sweet cooking sake) and honey. Then they're placed on a giant table-top-sized electric frying pan and fried golden brown. They're amazing. We had one and then went back for 4 more in the afternoon.

Third course:

Hida gyuman (Hida beef bun) are made from ground up Hida beef which is fried with onions, wrapped in dough and then steamed. They're also much tastier than they look. They weren't as good as the Hida beef stew though.

After the beef bun we went back to the temple to check out. We were allowed to leave our bags at the front of the temple so we could continue exploring (and eating our way through) the city.

From the temple we went to Hida Folk Village. It was created in the 1960s by moving houses from traditional Japanse villages to Takayama. A lot of traditional villages were flooded during the creation of hydroelectric dams in the late 1950s and early 60s. People had started to leave traditional villages for the city in the 1940s and 50s so they were becoming less and less populated. However, a group of people wanted to preserve that way of life so they created an open air museum – Hida no Sato. It was a really cool place to see. Some of the buildings were from the 1600s. We both particularly liked the thatched roofs. They're over 30 centimeters thick. An entire town (approximately 40 people) could put one together in two days. Some of them had moss, grass and even small trees growing on top of them. There are a lot of pictures of the Folk Village but this update is already huge so you'll have to check them out on Facebook.

After returning to town from Hida no Sato we promptly visited the Owara Tamaten vendor for the aforementioned 4 more Owara Tamaten. From there we decided to look for a birthday present for Aimee's friend Kirin (whom some of you know so I'll keep my mouth shut) which we found. We also found these:

They're frozen tangerines. We saw dozens of people with these and we were determined to find them. It didn't really take long... we worked our way through the crowd and then were shouted at to buy them by the vendors. It wasn't all that difficult. If they hadn't shouted at us though we probably would have missed them.

After finishing our tangerines we decided to get our bags, catch our train and end our Takayama adventure. On our way back to the temple though we were waylaid by another food vendor...

Hida beef sushi and Hida beef gyuman were both really good. The Hida beef sushi – not so much. The problem with eating raw meat isn't the “Eww, but it's raw meat” factor – I have no problem with raw meat in that sense. The problem I have is that with raw meat you can't really taste the fat, and fat is what makes all Japanese beef so good. With the Hida beef stew and Hida gyuman you could really taste the fat. With raw Hida beef you couldn't. It was still ok, but not great. I would have rather had another helping of stew.

And with that meal our Golden Week adventure ended. After a disappointing beginning we ended up having a great time. Looking back on it we even enjoyed our time in Kamikochi, even though we didn't get to hike.

I'll leave you with one last picture. The baby monkey was the best picture from Kamikochi; this is the best picture from Takayama:


  1. Mike..I love that you have started this blog. When I read it I feel comforted. The way you right is exactly the way you speak. So it makes me feel like we're having a conversation. Can't wait to read and see more. Looks like you and little Aimee are haveing a blast.

  2. I'm glad you're enjoying it Dan! And we are having a great time. We're heading to a Thai festival this weekend so I'll have some interesting stuff (at the very least interesting food) to talk about.

    Love you!

  3. Pleasecan you tellme where is the camping spot?