Our Own Japan: 14 – 15.10.2013

Our only full day in Takayama was another wonderful day in beautiful Japan. Traveling is just so unbelievably awesome; how often in life do you get to say that every day has been filled with adventure, new things and just in general, been pretty spectacular? I feel incredibly lucky.

We woke early and cooked breakfast in the kitchen area, saying goodbye to friends we’d only just met and meeting new ones whilst sipping coffee and eating rice and natto with chopsticks.
It was early and the air was so cold; a group of us got together and headed to the morning market (one of two). The walk through the preserved streets and alley ways was beautiful; the old houses and streets were empty at 7:30am and we were able to walk quietly and peacefully through the clean streets whilst admiring our surroundings.

The morning market, however, was already packed with people – shops and market stalls lined both sides of the road that ran parallel to the flowing river, people were busy buying and selling and making; we hugged our jumpers a little tighter around us as we marveled at everything around us. Having been here in this town exactly a year ago, it all felt still so familiar and fond memories and reminders of my past trip here kept me smiling.
Free tastings of every pickle, rice cracker, green teas, fruits, snack, sweet and Japanese treat kept us all stopping and munching, trying new and strange flavours, and occasionally purchasing something we all loved.

I had been waiting for so long to re-visit the Japanese Marshmallow man and show Jacob the person and the food I’d been talking about and mimiking constantly for the past year. This little man was so gorgeous, smiling the biggest smile as he served up his own concoction of a Japanese sweet made from sake and egg. Our group stopped outside his busy stall and watched as he smiled, laughed and went about turning his cubes of goodness, which he called “Marshi-mallus”. His sweet voice calling out “Hai! Thank you very maach!” and “Paper come back!” (please give me your rubbish) left us smiling and handing over money for packets of the golden yellow deliciousness. I only wish I could give some to my mum, who adores this little man as much as I do.

We spent time wandering through the streets as the sun came out and more shops and cafes began to open their doors. The river was flowing, the air was fresh and tourists were busy exploring; some pushing very stylishly dressed, spoiled dogs around in dog-specific prams.
We wandered down to the second morning market, which was purely dedicated to selling fresh produce, and bought ourselves a 1.5kg bag of Japanese rice that we’ll be able to share with our couch surfing host in Tokyo for the next week; we’re loving this whole ‘rice for breakfast’ thing and are going to enjoy it while we can. Japanese rice is unlike any other rice; it’s perfect and tastes so clean and wonderful – every grain is a joy to eat.

More wandering through the shops and streets, we went back to our hostel to drop off our rice before heading out, but ended up staying for an hour or so for a quick nap; after clocking up a decent sized sleep debt over the last few months, we needed a rest.

Awake again, we wandered down to the bus station and bought ourselves our tickets to Tokyo for tomorrow – I can’t believe we have to leave already! I absolutely do not want to go to Tokyo yet; I love Takayama and want to stay here longer, but more to the point, going to Tokyo means we have just one more week left in Japan. Didn’t we just arrive here? It’s going too fast and I don’t like it one bit.
We paid for our tickets (handing over $140 for two tickets for a 5 hour bus ride hurt our budget a lot more than I can explain…) and then purchased another ticket each to take the bus to a near-by open-air museum, Hida No Sato Folk Village.

Hida No Sato Folk Village was fascinating; set amongst incredibly beautiful scenery in a peaceful, well maintained area, a dozen or more historic buildings stand. We were able to wander about inside the buildings and around them while learning about how life was like in this area of Japan many years ago. It was interesting to see the different architecture, how homes were built to deal with earth quakes and massive dumpings of snow, and the different tools and utensils used in daily life.
The space was really beautiful and very interesting, but also very touristy. Towards the end we started to feel a little like sheep in a big pen and were ready to run free again after an hour and a half or so, away from the crowds and one very loud, complaining American man who we’d actually spent most of our time there trying to avoid.

We caught a bus back to Takayama bus station and spent an hour or so wandering through the different shops, taste-testing the various pickled items, snacks, rice crackers and sweets on offer. Oh Japan, how generous you are, and how shameless we are. Seeing as we’re on such a tight budget and blew way too much money on a bus ticket to Tokyo, we skipped lunch today and relied on free samples to fill our stomachs. We wern’t completely stingy though – we did buy a few different things as gifts… It offset the guilt a little bit.

Late afternoon was spent wandering the streets and through too many cute shops with way too many cute things that were calling out for me to buy them. I resisted, and bought nothing, although the thousands of beautiful baby products made it very difficult – I saw so many things that my baby niece absolutely, most definitely needed.
It was wonderful just having the day to explore and mull about as we pleased; Takayama is an easy place to explore and time seems to pass quickly.

Our last night in Takayama was spent cooking up a storm of rice, natto, cabbage and age tofu, miso soup, a big pot of coffee and countless cups of green tea. We spent the evening in the kitchen chatting until late with a New Zealander and a Pom; I love meeting new people and travelers – the conversation is always so interesting and varied. It’s like there is this unspoken bond between us all, it’s as though you become instant friends
I love being a backpacker. I love being a traveler… and I love being here in Japan.

We went to bed in our spacious bunks and fell asleep laughing at each other. I think we’re both on travel highs at the moment. Tomorrow we head to Tokyo and I think both of us are having too much fun to admit we only have a week left in this country.

On our last morning in Takayama we woke early, enjoyed green tea, coffee and breakfast of natto, rice and miso soup with our new Pommy friend. We planned to re-visit the Morning Market area and take a wander further into the less touristy areas to see what we could find.
After packing our packs and checking out of our hostel, we spent a few hours doing just that. We started wandering, ate more Japanese Marshi-Mallu and a delicious matcha dango stick, and explored the lane ways and preserved streets, the tiny shops, galleries and temples. We headed back to our hostel around 11am, just as it started to rain…and by rain, I mean, a lot of it – bad weather had rolled in due to a typhoon.

We said goodbye to Takayama and boarded our bus at 1:30pm, expecting to arrive into Shinjuku, Tokyo, at 7pm. The bus ride was incredibly comfortable and we spent hours rolling past some absolutely spectacular scenery; mountains, waterfalls, creeks and rivers, greenery and forests – all set amongst grey skies and heavy rains that continued to pour down and down.

The rains slowed the traffic, and it was completely dark outside by the time we arrived into Tokyo, about 40 minutes later than expected. Off the bus and trying to avoid the rain, we headed straight to Shinjuku train station – the world’s biggest and busiest train station – and tried to navigate ourselves two trains and about one hours distance away to where our next and final Japanese couch surfing host, Yuki, lived. T
The torrential rain caused heavy build ups and train delays, and a strange encounter with an overly helpful man who bought our tickets for us (with our money) then asked for a 300 yen tip (for something we were in the process of doing quite capably before he came along and snatched the 1000 yen note from Jake’s hand and shoved it into the ticket machine we were standing in front of) – I said no and removed the coins from his grasp, and he thanked me – how’s that for unbelieveable?! Someone just tried to scam us in Japan!… I didn’t think it was possible. At least he was polite about it.

Around 9pm Yuki greeted us warmly at the station near by her home and together we walked in the rain, crouching under shared umbrellas.
Yuki generously prepared us dinner, and it was lovely to once again be welcomed into the home of a stranger who instantly felt like an old friend.

The plan was to visit Kamakura or Yokohama or even Disney Land tomorrow, but the incessant rain this evening and the forecast for tomorrow that spells the same wet weather due to a typhoon means we probably will opt for a quieter option. Either way, we’re in Japan and that is just so amazing. On our tiny futon in this little house, we already feel at home.

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