Steak

After our massive walk today, and after 2 solid weeks of sushi and think slices of meat, we both really craved a big fat juicy steak, so I googled and low and behold, across the road and down the street was a little steak restaurant.  I read the reviews – translated them from Japanese, which made no sense, but they all gave them 5 stars, which is a universal language.  So we popped down there and it was the most interesting/bizarre experience.

Welcome to Ikinari

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There are no chairs in this tiny restaurant, just tall benches.  You stand to eat your steak, which is probably a good thing for digestion?  But also, because it doesn’t make you want to sit around and chat afterwards, you just eat and get the hell out of there – genius for the restaurant for a good turn over.

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We had a little bit of difficulty understanding how to order, not even google translate nor the plethora Japanese language apps I downloaded could help, but we got there in the end.  You order your meat from the chef at the back of the restaurant.  He has a big glass fronted cool room and once you’ve chosen your meat and told him how many grams you would like, he pulls out a big slab, cuts it and weighs it – he was pretty spot on with his estimations.  Then you tell him how you’d like it cooked, then walk back to your standing table and wait.

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That’s all there is on the menu – steak, but you can order a side of salad or corn or onions and that’s it.

So we just strapped on our bibs and tucked in.

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Kanpai!

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Not even sure why you need chairs……

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I am going to make a big statement here, it was the best steak that I have ever eaten – ever!

大阪市 – Osaka

大 = Big

阪 = Hillside

市 = City

OSAKA

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Not sure where the big hillside is though….?

Famous for being the capital city of the Osaka Prefecture and the second largest metropolitan area in Japan.  It is also among the largest cities in the world with over 19 million people living here.

There is not a lot to see here by ways of traditional Japanese buildings or gardens.  Osaka was pretty heavily attacked during WWII which is probably one of the reasons that it is now quite a new city with modern buildings.

There is one part of Osaka however that has been kept in perfect condition – the Osaka Castle.

But before I show you any of this, we need to navigate our way through one of Osaka’s biggest train/subway stations/shopping centre/underground tunnel of lost hope….. We got in ok, but getting around and then out again needed careful map reading, assistance from locals and snacks.

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We eventually worked it all out and made our way to the subway line we were after and stood at this sign on the platform.  They have women only carriages during peak hour to try an protect women from all the groping that goes on when people are packed in like sardines.

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We managed the subway like a couple of professionals and found our way here…

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The rain last night had done a bit of damage to the flowering sakura, but there was still plenty there that were hanging on to their blooms.

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The river was lined with stall after stall of all kinds of food.

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And again – most things are rammed onto sticks.

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The crowd, as always doesn’t disappoint.

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Even our furry friends have come along – this one wearing his best Spiderman coat.

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Unfortunately smoking has not yet been banned in Japan (well in Osaka anyway) around food preparation.  Here you can just ash away over whatever you are cooking.

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These are called Okonomiyaki – apparently it’s delicious, but overtime we’ve seen them, we’re not hungry.  They are noodles, cabbage, vegetables, egg and bacon/mystery meat and then fried up.

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Or you can just have some occy on a stick!

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These are a fantastic idea – instead of using chairs and having to unpack and pack them up each day…. you just have long tables and then put a short one on the top.

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And people take their shoes off and sit on the lower table like it’s the floor – genius!

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Now, this was a strange thing.  We first past a lady witting behind a tank with very shallow water filled with goldfish.  At first we thought she was selling them.  Then we passed another lady with the same set up and then another and another.  The last one had some customers and this lady in the pic below was flicking the fish into a bowl.  We weren’t sure whether she was going to take them home or if it was a game where she had to try and catch the black ones with the big eyes or what?  There was a bit of cheering going on as she flicked each one, but we walked on – still confused.

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Then we passed the same set up, but with tadpoles……. ?

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We’d been walking for a fair while and it wasn’t until we’d come to the end of the markets that I checked the map and realised that we’d completely walked past the entrance to the Osaka Mint garden – which was open to the public for one week a year – when the cherry blossoms are out and today was the first day.  So we got to an entrance and even though I could understand the Japanese sign for no entry, we snuck in anyway because – too hard.

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Look at our pretty flower

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There’s going to be lots of cherry blossom photos now, enjoy!

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The carpet of petals was so pretty.

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And make for a lovely backdrop.

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You’ve got your double blossom…

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Then you’ve got your triple blossom with buds.

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This is us walking the wrong way around the garden!

It was a little bit like that nursery rhyme:

As I was going to St Ives

I met a man with seven wives

Every wife had seven sacks

Every sack had seven cats

Every cat had seven kittens

Kittens, cats, sacks and wives

How many were going to St Ives?

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The answer:  one – all the rest were going the other way!

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This lady caught me by surprise and I had to be quick to snap a pic as I strolled past her.

She’s got sakura hair.  Good on her.

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Jenny moonlighting as a hand model.

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With all the photos and checking of the map on my phone today my battery ran down pretty quickly, but luckily I had packed my specially purchased sakura designed external battery.  I think it goes nicely with the surroundings.

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We managed to reach another bridge down the river and crossed over to the other side where we came across this beautifully designed building, that even the cherry blossom at the front had trouble making it pretty.  The people who lived there would have had an awesome view of the river and the cherry blossom trees though.

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And now for something a little arty.

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Our first Japanese cat spotting.  He was a little unsettled by us – I think it was Jenny’s blonde hair.

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There were Hanami parties going on all up and down the river.

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And lots of people just walking around and admiring…. I was very lucky to snap a shot with nobody in it (besides those 2 in the bottom corner)

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Until somebody stepped into the shot – and 1…2…3… turn and pose.

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After some awesome map reading skills and some asking people, we finally made it to the walls of the Osaka Castle.  It is surrounded by an outer moat and an inner moat – talk about upping your security!

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The walls are also adorned with the blossoms which probably served to distract any attackers with their loveliness – although that would only have worked for about a week to 10 days in April.

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This our first proper glance at the castle.  It stands very high up on a hill and is quite majestic.

Their website calls it: “Osaka Castle -a symbol of Osaka, which has been handed down through the dramas in history to the present day.”

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You can climb to the top level, but ……

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Do you think this man could have found a more public spot to have his midday nap in full suit and tie?

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This morning we asked the lady at reception what there was to see in Osaka.  She started telling us about all the wonderful shopping centres.  So when we asked about something more traditionally Japanese, she screwed up her nose and said, “No, we only have buildings and shopping, you have to go to Kyoto or Nara for old buildings.”

So now that we’d seen Osaka’s only transitional things (that we know of), we were ready to go home for a nice cup of tea and good lay down with the feet up.

On the journey to find the subway again, I noticed this tree which is right on the road and in front of what would have been the driveway of a high rise building.  But they didn’t knock it down to make way for the drive way, they built the drive way around it and just let it be.

How lovely.

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See Ya Round Taks

So, see ya round Taks!

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It seems that each place we’ve been so far, it has rained on the day we’re leaving.  Perhaps symbolising that the place agrees it’s time for us to go.  Sort of like a wet Big Brother eviction or a rainy rose ceremony.

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This looks like it will blow over pretty soon…….

Well this morning she was bucketing down.  We only had a 4 minute walk to the station, but in that time our suitcases and our bodies from the elbow down were pretty much sodden.

Takayama Train Station

Not my photo. Borrowed from Google. Thanks Google.

Luckily the Japanese don’t like to you to be too cold for too long and the train station waiting room had no less than 6 bar heaters dotted around the walls, which when coupled with 4000 people all trying to organise their travel arrangements makes for quite a warm and cosy environment.

Jenny and I nearly had to strip down to our underwear it was so hot!

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Not my photo. Borrowed from Google. Thanks Google.

To make matters that little bit more chaotic, because of high winds the train going in the opposite direction to where we were going had been delayed/cancelled leaving people struggling to know what to do.  There were lines forming all over the place.  We watched a lady run in from the rain and take her place behind a man who just happened to be standing there with his bag.  He wasn’t lining up for anything, but the lady who joined him was eagerly looking over his shoulder to see if the line was moving.  Not sure how long it took her to realise.

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Not my photo. Borrowed from Google. Thanks Google.

Then they finally called our train and a sea of people moved en masse through the gates.  The ticket checking man tried his best to check all the tickets as the people surged, but it was just too much for him to punch a hole through everyone’s ticket as they flew past.

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This is not Takayama Station. Borrowed from Google. Thanks Google.

Reserving seats is totally the way to go if you are happy to be on a schedule.  After the sniffing incident in the non reserved car a few days ago, I don’t think I could go back.  That may sound snobby, but I can guarantee you that it is mainly for the safety of the other passengers.  However, my comfort comes a very close second!

Saying goodbye to the unpronounceable hotel we have called home for the last 3 nights was pretty easy.  It wasn’t the beige, North Korean military style lounge suits that we objected to, quite the contrary, they got the wearing of their lives!

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(although, side note – in your rooms, you are presented with the most neatly folded set of lounge suits in size M.  Jenny tried hers on and as we didn’t think they were meant to fit like jeggings, we popped up to the 7th floor to change over the size to something a little more relaxed.

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Not my photo. Borrowed from Google. Thanks Google.

Each day, when our room was made up the suits were removed and replaced with another fresh set in size M.  So off we would trundle to the 7th floor again to change the size….. now, wouldn’t you think you’d check the size of the ones you are removing?  Each day, you are also given a new pair of socks to wear with said lounge suit.  I’m coming home with more socks than I imagine I’ll ever need)

It wasn’t because you had to take your shoes on and off in the foyer and it wasn’t even the mattress beds on the floor.

Not my photo. Borrowed from Google. Thanks to: www.shikibook.wordpress.com

Not my photo. Borrowed from Google. Thanks to: http://www.shikibook.wordpress.com

It was the food!  Can you believe it?

The chefs there must have been so incredibly bored as they made the exact same dishes every single day and night.  Some were still as much a mystery to us on the last night as they were on the first.

On the first night we were so excited to be sampling some of Takayama’s finest dishes and trialling our skills on the special cooking equipment, but after three days of exactly the same thing, we’d had enough – time to move on.  And the worst part about is that I’m not sure how long it will take for me to be able to stomach another tempura prawn!

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So we said our goodbyes and we pulled away from the station.  On our way to Nagoya we passed some of the prettiest countryside – rivers, rapids, waterfalls, little villages and sakura!  Just a shame we viewed it all like this…

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The pretty sakura.

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We pulled into Gero station who had a lovely cherry blossom right there at the station.  When the announcement came over the speaker as to where we were, they pronounced Gero with a soft G as in ‘garden’ rather than G as in ‘Geraldton’. (*Geraldton [aka Gero], for those who are not in the know, is the town where I grew up).  I thought about getting my google translate app out to explain their error, but it all became a little too difficult.  Probably best that there is a point of difference, otherwise people would get totally confused!

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I mean, it looks similar, right?

Not my photo - Borrowed from Google - Thanks to: www.communityprofile.com.au

Not my photo – Borrowed from Google – Thanks to: http://www.communityprofile.com.au

So one little change of train in Nagoya to the bullet train – you don’t want to dilly dally here people.  We had a full 17 minutes to get off our first train, find our second train and get on.  We probably only needed 5 of those minutes, but you never know.

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She was pretty chilly on the platform which was great as it gave me a change to actually wear some of the cold weather items that I had brought along with the promise of cold weather!  So I had this scarf on for about 12 minutes.

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Then, the train arrived.  On time.  And left.  Right on time.

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It was still raining when we got to Osaka, so we popped out of the station and found the taxi pick up line.  There were about 20 people in the line when we arrived and it was the fastest taxi line I have ever been in!  It totally beats the line outside the Flinders Street Station in Melbourne – I’ve waited literally hours there before (as have many others, I’m sure)

Check out how many taxis were there, ready and willing to pick you up.  There was even a tiny lady there calling the cabs in and signalling them to pop the boot and she was hauling the suitcases into the boot, then signalling you in the taxi, then waving you off and waving the next one in.  It was done with such precision.

The taxis, just by the way are the cleanest I have ever seen (that would go for the trains too, while I’m at it)  The taxi drivers all where white gloves and are extremely polite and helpful.

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So here we are….. Konichiwa Osaka.

Shirakawago

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Today’s tour was to the quaint little village of Shirakawa-go in the remote mountains that span from Gifu to Toyama Prefectures. The town, and a couple more similar ones nearby were declared UNESCO world heritage sites in 1995.  They are famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old.

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Gasho-zukuri means “constructed like hands in prayer’, as the farmhouses steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer.  The architectural style developed over many generations and is designed to withstand the large amounts of heavy show that falls in the region in winter.  The roofs are made without nails and provide a large attic space used to cultivating silkworms.

But first, a visit to the ladies room, where there was a speaker build into the wall playing toilet flushing sounds.  Apparently, if I’d pressed the button there on the right it would have given me a selection of music and other sounds to mask the actual sound of me being in the toilet.

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And then you got to wash your hands here.

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Ok, on with the tour before the rest of the tourists catch up!

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We crossed the Sho River to get to the village.  The water was crystal clear and presumably freezing!

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There were monuments covered in these teepee style sticks which we learned were to save the statues from the heavy snow.  It also occurred to us that the trees we saw back in Kawaguchiko with the strings attached to the branches were there for the same reason.  The things you learn about snow when you come from W.A!

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Most of the houses had water streams running past their houses which catch the snow as it falls off the roof and melts away.

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This is our lovely guide, Hiso.  He was awesome!  He had lived in New Zealand for 6 years and spoke perfect English and not even with a Kiwi accent although he did say his favourite food in NZ was fush and chups – don’t try and tell me the Japanese don’t have sense of humour!

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The man hole covers we learned are different in every region.  This one is all about the mountains and the thatch roof tops.

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All the houses fave north to west length wise to take advantage of the wind that blows north – south through the valley and also to maximise the sun going east – west.  They were pretty cluey way back when.

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People still live in this village, so most of the houses have plots of land near them where they grow vegetables and rice. They must detest their homes being gawked at by tourists every single day, but Hiso assured us that it is the tourist yen that pays for the upkeep on the roofs – which run into the hundreds of millions of yens.

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The construction of the roofs is quite incredible as the roof is not actually attached to the bottom of the building.  The triangular shaped beams that hold the roof up merely nose into a hole in the floor and the weight of the thatch is enough to keep it on there, even in a strong breeze!  And here’s how much snow they get – about 2 metres.

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It was quite a magical place and definitely a highlight for me.

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Look how thick the thatching is.

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Next month there is a special “Boy’s Day” – If you remember, back in Tokyo there was a display of dolls in our hotel which were for “Girl’s Day” or “Daughter’s Day” – well, they also have a day for the boys.  It’s called Tango no Sekku and it’s been celebrated for a millennium.  Originally it was celebrated in the houses of warriors.  It celebrated boys’ courage and determination.

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After WWII, Boys’ Day became toned down. This holiday officially became known as Children’s Day or Kodomo no hi. It’s supposed to be a day to celebrate the health and happiness of all children. But many people still see it as Boys’ Festival.

Large carp windsocks, called koinobori, are displayed outside houses of families with boys. There’s one windsock for each boy in the house. The largest windsock is for the oldest son of the house.

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The carp is a symbol of Tango no Sekku, because carp are considered strong and determined. They’re able to swim upstream against the flow of the water. This is a day for families to celebrate their sons’ strength and character.

Warrior dolls and helmets, armour and swords are also displayed in houses with boys.

The symbolic flower of Tango no Sekku is a type of iris called shobu. The shobu has long leaves that resemble swords. Boys traditionally take shobu leaf baths on this day.

One traditional food eaten on this day is kashiwa mochi. It’s a rice cake steamed with sweet beans and wrapped in an oak leaf.

Hiso got to this spoke and told us that this was the best view in the village…..

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Then I turned around and saw this – snow capped mountains!

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Look!

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Me Jenny & Hiso

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After winter this is where you bring your car to have your tyres changed over.

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Even the shed roofs are thatched…. this one has probably seen better days

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And this is what the thatch is made out of – lucky there’s lots of it!

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The weather forecast the other day had predicted rain today…. but I tell you what, we couldn’t have been more lucky – just look at this day.

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You only have to turn around 90° and you have a totally different view.  Now it looks like we’re in the wilderness, stumbling upon an abandoned cabin – such adventure.

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This was a fresh water trough complete with serving spoons for what you might assume are used to scoop out water for a well earned drink after planting your rice, but I’m not sure I’d be game….. it’s probably the cleanest water there is – straight from the mountain, but it’s the rusty barrels that is doing it for me.

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This chap has made a garage specifically for his snow plough.

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What do you think this extra shed could house?

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This man was taking it all in with his pencil.

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This is what he was drawing.

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There is a fire hydrant on nearly every corner as their whole village is highly flammable and they have open fires inside to smoke out the bugs in the thatch.

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Every now and then they test the hydrants…

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In the village, to help raise money some people open up their homes as hostels and two houses are open to the public to just come in and have a look at what it would have been like to live there.  The open fire where the smoke goes straight up through the vented ceiling and right up to the thatch.  It was so smokey that we had to “Febreze” all of our clothes on our return and we’ll be doing a bit of hair washing as well.  I’m not sure how they live in it, it was very hard to breath.

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Now, this was an interesting story.

The family who owned this house were mainly engaged in raising silkworms, but to make a bit of extra cash on the side, they began making “fuming nitric acid’ which is an ingredient of gunpowder under the floor.

How did they do this? I hear you ask…

Well apparently, they put layer upon layer upon layer of fertiliser, wood ash, soil, straw and urine, then they left it there for a few years and waited for a chemical reaction.

Now, wouldn’t you think you’d try the first batch user a shed or somebody else’s house?

So, they were able to sell what would become ‘saltpeter’ up until Japan opened it’s doors to trade internationally and the government started to import saltpeter from Chile, so luckily they had their silkworms to fall back on.

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Again – obviously designed for the shorter person…. Jenny asked it the first sign said “mind your head”,  but no, the ‘mind your head’ sign was after you’d walked past the first head bumping beam.

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This was another piece of ingenious engineering – to build these houses, they got their bendy beams from the trees that grew on the mountain and had survived the weight of the snow on its lower trunk, causing it to curve.

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When building a house like this, they go in search of the strongest bendy tree

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to make beams like this.

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Inside the house on the second floor, there were old woven shoes and bags and whatnots that people had made to wear in the snow.

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I don’t think  these are used anymore…

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or these…..

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but apparently these are!  They’re the things that you strap on to your snow boots to walk in the snow.  They look more like a torture device or perhaps a trap.

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Although we haven’t seen a single cat on our travels, they are apparently a very popular pet here in Japan.

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These are the massive needles they use to stitch up the thatch.

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Because Hiso knew the lady who owned the house – she was the grandmother in the three generations that lived in the house, she ran up to me and grabbed my phone/camera and grabbed my arm and said, “I take picture”.  She then placed me in the window and grabbed Jenny and placed her next to me.

This is what came about.  Not bad hey Nanna?

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We then sat and had a cup of green tea whilst watching a video starring the grandfather of the house, it was a documentary showing how the houses were built.  Very interesting, especially as Hiso translated the whole thing.  We then flicked through a booklet on the table – a school project on the history of Shirakawago, by: the grandson of the family.

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Check out how many people it took to get the thatch on – there were this many people again on the inside passing the big needles back and forth to each other.  OH&S anyone?

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As off the grid and slightly backwards as this place seemed – there were quite a few satellite antennas about the place.  They weren’t missing a thing!

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Never let it be said that masking tape and a bit of chug can’t fix anything and everything.  Again – this would come from the school of use what you’ve got.

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We were a bit early – again for Sakura in these parts – it’s a bit too cold, but this little tree put on a small show for us.

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And lunch.

Hiso took us to this little place with one table and a small room where you sit on the floor.  There is only two things on the menu and you usually get whatever they are cooking for that day.

This place was run by an older Mum & Pop team who just keep bringing out plates and plates of different food.  This was the speciality for this area – the dumpling soup.  You’ve also got sesame coated potatoes, tofu, pickled something, shredded radish and carrot and then something else – maybe a wildflower something with something?

Anyway – it was all delicious!

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This was the room where you sat on the floor, but we’d already taken our shoes off once to go inside the smokey house and Jen’s not too flash at getting up off the floor.  Honestly, these mattresses on the floor have been a killer!

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So we said sayonara to Shirakawago as we crossed over the Sho River once more.

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But not before catching a glimpse of this adorable puppy.  Look at his tongue!

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If you’re ever coming to Japan and looking for a guide – Hisa was fantastic.  He works all around the Hida Ranges, speaks perfect English, hikes, knows stuff and is a ski instructor, so whatever you want – he’s your man.

Hisa Matsuo – hisa.guide@gmail.com

Shabu Shabu

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Check out our new prison camp lounge suits – you actually look more out of place if you don’t wear them!

Shaba Shabu is a Japanese dish featuring thinly sliced beef boiled in water.

The term is meant to be an onomatopoeia because of the sound emitted when the ingredients are stirred in the cooking pot – however, we heard no such sound.

So you are presented with a funny pot of water that sits over a tea candle, thin slices of beef and a mix of thinly sliced vegetables.

They you wait until the water is boiling and plonk everything in.

Then you dip it all in the different dipping sauces – usually Ponzu sauce and Sesame sauce and eat it with rice.

Delicious!

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You also get an appetiser box full of tasty goodness knows whats.

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Then she’s up to the buffet for the all you can eat tempura!

The Little Town of Takayama

This morning’s journey was all about exploring the lovely old town of Takayama.  We took the backstreets to get a better view of life in the town.  Again, we saw very few actual people, but we did see some interesting architecture, including his and her’s doors, some beautiful Japanese gardens, a Japanese Akita dog (in fact, there were quite a few of these gorgeous little babies being walked) and a dad playing soccer with his kids.

This was all on the way to the open air morning markets which we were really looking forward to.  Perhaps they’ll be like the Tsukiji Markets in Tokyo?  Maybe they’d be like the Onicho Markets in Kanazawa?

Then we found them….. Bless their hearts.

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There were about 10 stalls – mostly selling the same thing.  We made sure we looked at every stall.  We thought about purchasing the cute little yellow, strawberry shaped coin purse, but thought better of it.  We did purchase a humungous apple from a lady who peeled it with a special peeler, then cut it up into bits and popped a stick into the slices.

Jenny and I have a special gift, if you can call it that, where we often turn up or go into an empty shop and within about two minutes, the crowd follows us in.  The apple stall was empty when we arrived…… the photo at bottom right is the stall as we left.

You’re welcome shop keepers.

Now, I don’t know who this chap is, but he was obviously some sort of samurai warrior based on his dress and large sword, but I don’t know how good of a warrior he would have been based on his choice of footwear.

The rest of the morning was spent meandering up and down the old houses, which have mainly been turned into tourist shops, but it was still lovely.

They are quite dog firendly here… the first sign says:

“no pets allowed – please leave your pets at our pet place.” – there’s a pet place!

The second sign, not so dog friendly, but if you have him in a cage, I think you’re ok.  Or perhaps you’re just out and about with your budgie or your iguana?

Most of the shops/houses have lovely garden displays at the front door, or they have a tranquil garden behind the shop… even the man hole covers are pretty.

These little beauty buns are apparently a Takayama specialty.  They’re like a steamed pork bun that we all know and love from yum cha, but these ones were filled with beef…. unless you’re a woman, then they recommend the more femine black sesame and sweet bean paste as it says on the sign.

We went for the beef.

There were tiny doors (note the cushion at the top for head bumping), little seats outside to sit and eat your beef bun, little windows selling their wares (this chap was flogging a crispy rice biscuit that he dipped in a sticky soy sauce and shops full of Japanese bits and pieces.

Me Jenny lives in Perth, well Mandurah which is generally quite warm for most of the year.  In the winter, we might get down to maybe 12 or 13 degrees with perhaps a low of 5 at night maybe once or twice a year….. anyway, Me Jenny – she loves a scarf, and a coat while we’re at it.  She’s got hundreds of them because she buys one whereever she goes, but never gets to wear them unless she blasts the air con.

There was ban on her purchasing another scarf, but then we came across this pretty little number and you know what?  You only live once – so a purchase was made.

Space in these little streets is very tight, but they use the space very well.  Having a tiny, mini car helps a bit too.

There’s no reason for these next two photos.  None at all.

Here was something we saw heaps of – barber shops and something that was very rare – an empty vending machine!

We are 10 days too early for the Takayama Spring Festival.

In April when the snow on the mountains which surround the basin of Takayama melts away and solid ground reappears, Spring finally comes to Hida Takayama. As people joyously celebrate the new season, the sound of drums from festivals in nearby village shrines echoes in the clear Spring air. The largest festival, the Sanno Matsuri, which is held on the 14th and 15th of April is hosted by the Hida Jinja Shrine. It is popularly known as the Takayama Spring Festival. Every Spring, people from all over Japan come to Takayama to celebrate this special festival.

The festival is thought to have been going since about 1586 and is regarded as one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan – they don’t like to boast!

Big floats are made for the parade.  We passed this one which looks pretty finished and across the road, a roller door opened and there was about 10 people looking over at it – they were obviously about to start building their own.  You’ve got 10 days peeps – good luck to you.

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There were some absolutely beautiful houses and buildings in this area…….

Then there were a couple of shockers!

I mean, this is when the police should be called.

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This whole country is definitely made for tiny people who don’t require a lot of space.

This here is Tanuki – the Japanese racoon dog.

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He’s Eddy Everywhere!

He has been significant in Japanese folkore since ancient times – some would call him legendary and he is reputed to be mischievous and jolly, as master of disuise and a shapeshifter (Star Trek, Deep Space Nine anyone?) but he’s also meant to be gullible and absentminded.  There are cereamic versions of him outside most pubs and cafes, presumably to bring luck or good fortune.

This is what the real Japanese racoon dog looks like.  How cute is that? I wonder how strict Australian customs would be if I popped one in my suitcase? – I’d be sure to make it onto Boarder Patrol!

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The streets kept going and going….. a little like this post, but I want to make sure you don’t miss out on anything!

This street leads up to a shrine – you can just see the gates in the distance…

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But as we feel like once you’ve seen one shrine, you’ve pretty much seen all of them, we opted to stop and have a cup of tea.

The Japanese green tea was served in a very special cup that was made by the owner of the cafe’s son.  We’re not sure how old the son was or when he made it, but it was so special that the chap came out to us especially to tell us about it.

Then it was a slow walk back along the river… We wondered if the little house in the middle was the first house and the others built next to him, encroaching on his land, or perhaps there was a little plot of land where the town planner might have got the maths wrong, but he’s squeezed in there quite nicely – you only need one windo for a river view!

The next pic shows a house that is built slightly on an angle requiring a stake to keep it from falling into the river….perhaps another maths oversight?

 Then there’s this shop/restaurant with a pig out the front (?)

I forgot to mention in the last post that our hotel does not allow shoes to be worn in the hotel at all, so each room is assigned a locker where you take your shoes off in the foyer and pop them in the locker.  The wheels of your case are also wiped before you can come in.  This is great for keeping outside dirt out, but when you have literally busloads of people all trying to put shoes on in the foyer area – she can get a little messy.

I caught one guy in there this morning putting his shoes on in the locker room – a big no no.

I joked “ooh, you’re going to get in trouble putting your shoes on in here.”  He replied, without a hint of a smile, “I’m leaving, so I don’t think it matters.”

I think the point of the exercise and a sense of humour had eluded him.  Perhaps he need a damn good onsen to help him relax.

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Hello Takayama!

Whilst waiting for our train from Kanazawa to Takayama we popped into a mini supermarket to marvel at all the weird and wonderful foods on offer.

Everything is pre-packaged here – this is a cryovaced omelette!

And this is a sandwich with the crusts cut off and sealed around the edges, like a jaffle.

Then there’s this……

Balanced Food. Calorie Mate. Block.

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We snacked happily on the little packets of seaweed that we stole from the buffet breakfast at the hotel.

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And to the Bullet Train we go.

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Our rail passes were organised by our fabulous travel agent – Lyn Tyson, who is awesome and you should totally call her if you plan to do any travelling!  So, I wasn’t aware of the different classes on the train.

We were in the Green Class…

But as I am travelling with a senior, I think we should have automatically been upgraded to  “Gran” class.

Even in Japan, it seems all roads lead back home to Geraldton!

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I still can’t believe how much open space there is in Japan.  The train on this Takayama line goes through all manner of farms and land and rural housing and mountains.

And….. welcome to Takayama.  After a 4.5 minute walk from the station we arrived at the Hidahanasatonoyu Takayama Ouan (this is our hotel)

To more traditional beds on the floor.  It’s a little bit like a youth hostel with loads of bus tour groups checking in and out throughout the day.

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But, when the weather cleared up (we’d had our first rain on the trip besides one 10 minute downpour in Tokyo) we were going to have a spectacular view of the snow capped mountains.

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Hopefully tomorrow Jen…..

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Need to do some work?  You don’t really need much more room than this, do you?

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This hotel is also a spa with onsen and private baths.  You’re not allowed to take photos up there, but they are on the top floor, open aired and all look out to the mountains.

The ‘do’s and don’ts’ sign was hilarious!

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But, this one was my favourite.

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Dinner, included at the hotel was the cook it yourself variety plus the all the tempura and rice  you could eat at the buffet.

This is Japanese miso paste that is being heated up on a leaf, then you cooked your veggies and wafer thin meat and dipped it in the miso – She was delish!

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