Japan Part 3: Takayama

Arrival

One of the main goals for this trip was to see snow in Japan. Takayama definitely had plenty of that.

On average, temperature in late December- early January was:

Day: -5 to 5 degrees Celcius
Night: -10 to -2 degrees Celcius

Disclaimer: Numbers based on a very foggy memory of me checking weather forecasts.

Continuing from the previous blog, we arrived at Takayama late in the evening. Worn out from the travelling time, we proceeded to walk to our Airbnb accommodation.

We stayed with our Airbnb host, Masanori-san, who was there to greet us when we arrived. He had a small quaint house, filled with the most basic amenities. After showing us around, we unpacked and immediately asked the world’s most difficult question:

“What’s for dinner?”

Masanori-san was kind enough to recommend a local diner to us, and we had our first Japanese Tempura Udon experience…

…here

We were not able to take photos of our food (or rather, we forgot) but if you ever visit Takayama please visit this small shop if you wish to try really good Tempura Udon.

For the benefit of those who read Japanese, this is the name of the store…

…and this is their menu

 

After what was a very satisfactory meal, we decided to walk around to look for a convenience store.

not exactly sure what this is

Someone made snow animals with all the snow lying around

We eventually found the convenience store, bought ice-cream, a few snacks, then headed back to our accommodation. Yes, you read that right. Ice-cream during a winter’s night is the best in Japan.

Masanori-san gave us a bunch of coupons for us to use at a nearby sento(communal bathhouse). We had a bit of time left before the bathhouse closed, so we decided to rush to get our shower before a good night’s rest!

Upon reaching the sento, we handed the coupons to the attendant and we proceeded to the changing room. There, we were greeted with a crapton of naked dudes wiping themselves down/getting ready for their bath.

Public baths usually have amazing shampoos, but I remember this particular one had none. You had to bring your own washing liquids. Which was perfectly fine since Masanori-san had already prepared 4 baskets filled with shampoo and shower gel for us. (shoutout to him he was a pretty good host)

So the idea was to wash ourselves off, then get a dip in the hot baths. We came out feeling incredibly refreshed, while suddenly gaining resistance to the cold weather that initially plagued us when we first arrived!

We headed back to our accommodation, but not before stopping by a random vending machine to get some awesome drinks. Japanese vending machines are great.

 

 


What you can do in a day at Takayama

Good morning Takayama!

We woke up the next day, ready to head out to explore more of Takayama. The moment we stepped outside, we were greeted with dainty snowfall! Seeing actual snowfall for the first time was so exciting, the inner kid in me tried not to go crazy. We layered up and headed to the first stop of the day!

Miyagawa Morning Market

😀

This market, situated beside the Miyagawa river, is visited by locals and tourists alike. The market has people selling groceries and food and there are 3 main things you have to try:

  1. Takoyaki
  2. Hida beef served in any form
  3. NOIX de COCO

Not your regular Takoyaki stall

This was the first stall we visited in the market. Together with her daughter, this nice lady prepares uber-hot takoyaki that’s best enjoyed on a cold winter day. There’s just something about eating hot things during the winter that makes it extra special.

Never been so willing to put a ball in my mouth my entire life

I put the first ball in my mouth, and i burned my tongue. This stuff is extremely hot, so best to let it cool for a bit before actually attempting to ingest it. The texture and flavours of the Takoyaki were incredible. Being in Malaysia, I’ve always felt that no Takoyaki stall could get the consistency of the ball right, as it always ends up super starchy. The octopus inside was soft, not rubbery, and a great filling accompaniment. At (¥)700 for 12 balls, you’d be crazy to skip this.

 

One of the many stalls selling Hida beef

Takayama is one of the few places in Japan where Hida beef is accessible. Hida beef, unique to the Hida region, is the specific name given to beef from black-haired Japanese cattle that have been raised in Gifu Prefecture for at least 14 months. Hida Beef must be confirmed and certified as Yield Score of Grade A or B by the Hida Beef Brand Promotion Conference, and have a Firmness and Texture Grade of 5, 4 or 3, as per the Japan Meat Grading Association’s grading system. (info stolen from http://hidagyujapan.jp/index.php?lang=#About) 

In the market, we found many stalls selling Hida beef in steamed buns, skewers and croquettes. The beef had a very unique taste,

holy cow

If you are a beef lover, you must must must must try at least one Hida beef delicacy. If you are like us, you’d try them all. If you’re rich, go to a Hida Beef Wagyu restaurant and eat a steak cut, it’ll probably change your life.

So much joy in one stall

This shopkeeper had the funniest stoner face I’d ever seen, but he makes beef skewers from heaven. I didn’t want to chew the beef in my mouth because I wanted the taste to stay on my tongue forever.

:’)

This NOIX de COCO is pudding in a jar. You can have this hot, but I liked the pudding cold. It tastes great and for about (¥)500 or so, definitely worth trying!

 

Other notable delicacies to try:

  • Egg Marshmallow
  • Tayaki
  • Mochi

 

We stumbled across a big souvenir shop. We went in.

indulgence

It’s worth noting that Hida milk snacks are also available at most souvenir shops in the Hida region. They’re great souvenirs for friends/family!

The only thing that we discovered wasn’t worth its price tag was some Hida Beef Curry that Derek and Brandon bought. There was no beef in it. Only curry. And it costs (¥)1600. Yeah. Don’t get that stuff.

 

The Miyagawa river complimented our the morning market stroll. Pictures don’t do it justice, but I need to make this blog post interesting so here:

Just like a postcard

Sometime you see ducks…

…and if you look closer you get to see carps!

After a very good morning market visit, it was time to head on to another attraction!

 

Hida Sannogu Hie Shrine

Entrance

When Kimi no Nawa (Your Name) was released in 2016, there were many picturesque landmarks depicted that were adapted from their real-life counterparts in Japan. This shrine was where where Mitsuha performs a Japanese traditional dance with her little sister in the movie. The walk up to the shrine was filled with sights of snowy trees and snowy pavements.

yeah that’s me

Imagine shooting a short film here…

 

Snow was abundant. So Derek decided to stop every few minutes or so to collect snow, to build a massive snowball. He would do this for the remainder of the day.

This fool showing off his ball

Yeap. So this is the shrine where the dance occurred in the movie. Then we walked up.

These wooden plaques you see are called ema(picture horse). People write wishes on these plaques to be conveyed to the Gods. It’s a cool tradition and many of the wishes on the ema we saw here had cute drawings on them.

 

Snowball contest. Derek Brandon and myself. Derek cheated. My snowball is actually a snowmess.

 

I gave up on the snowball contest, but I wanted to try a camera trick I saw a while back, so I got myself some snow and hey, presto! this was the result:

‘Beam me up, Scotty!’ winter version

 

Obligatory group photo. Beanie messed up my hair

 

After having a ton of fun with snow, we headed on to our next stop, Nakabashi Bridge!

 

Nakabashi Bridge

Again, right out of a postcard

We walked for about 15 mins, finally arriving at a very touristy spot. There were many people taking photos at the bridge because the view was crazy. The bridge itself is complimented by all 4 seasons, and is said to be even prettier at night.

Like food, Japan’s got a ton of spots with great scenery. This place was definitely one of them.

Taadaaa

..and it was only just the beginning, as we went to other various spots that would leave us utterly speechless with how pretty they were.

We decided to walk further around the area, and eventually came across a very interesting alley.

 

Kami Sannomachi (Takayama Old Town)

Brandon Derek and myself are looking at how clean the drain water is

Kami Sannomachi is a cultural conservation district where you can see what a merchant town looks like from the Edo period to the Meiji era (stolen from https://www.japanhoppers.com/). It’s a long street that is home to many sake breweries and food shops! It’s great to visit this place in the winter because breweries open up sake/wine tasting sessions for locals and tourists. We came across a brewery that was conducting a sake tasting session, but decided to find a place to eat first as drinking sake on an empty stomach is a very bad idea.

More crowded that it actually seems

If you ever visit Japan close to the New Years, you’ll find most shops closed as, well, most of them have gone to prepare for New Years celebrations. Thankfully, we found this homey restaurant that served Sukiyaki, so we stopped there for lunch.

Not the best photo but yeah. Sukiyaki was pretty good

Some massive bowl of soba

The pricing for this place was a bit on the high side, about (¥)1000+ per person. Nevertheless, it got the job done and our stomachs were full. So, off to the sake brewery!

 

An Alcoholic’s wet dream

Each description says: God’s nectar (and each sake’s backstory)

To try the sake, we paid (¥)700 yen and the shopkeeper gave us a cup (which was a great souvenir too!) for us to pour each of the sake in. I could only manage to sample 4 before my head turned into a helium balloon. I never really cared much for the taste of strong alcohol but the aftertaste of the sakes were intriguing enough for me to try more.

This store also sold Hida Beef Jerky. I bought a box for (¥)1000. It was one of the more expensive souvenirs but the beef jerky was well worth it!

After the sake sampling, we spent a while more walking through the streets before we making our way towards another section of town.

 

Hida Takayama Museum of Art

En route to the museum

This place was a bit of a letdown, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and say we didn’t really know what to look for. I really wanted to do a museum and we found one, so I went in with Kenneth.

The sound that came from the water fountain is glorious for anyone interested in sound design!

a glass vase

This. I like stuff like this..

…not stuff like this

If you’re a fan of glassware and modern art, definitely give this place a go. Otherwise, explore the Hida folk village which probably has more to offer. Unfortunately, since it was getting late, we decided to call it a day and head back.

We picked up food from another nearby Lawson convenience store. Convenience store food is a great way to save on food, as you pay less but get really good meals. Over the course of the trip, we sampled everything convenience stores had to offer, but I can safely say that all of us enjoyed the Karaage (fried chicken) available at all convenience stores. Mainly Brandon and Derek. I believe Brandon spent close to (¥)10,000 on fried chicken alone.

 

 

Railways

We spent the rest of the night chilling in our room, tired after a long day of walking, while admiring the souvenirs we bought. Our first actual day of travelling gave us many laughable moments, like Derek’s snowball and my scarf being a snow magnet. We discussed our plans for the next day then called it a night, as we had to start the next day early in the morning.

 

Next part will be on Shirakawa-go, a mandatory destination for all who love winter!

 

man these blogs are getting harder and harder.
I’m actually having trouble trying to remember everything that happened 6 months ago

 

Japan Part 2: Getting to Takayama

Getting to Takayama from the Kansai Airport was a huge ordeal for us, mainly because we wanted to save money by using the benefits we get from the Takayama-Hokuriku JR pass. Based on the recommendation we got from a lady at the JR office, we were supposed to follow this pathing:

KIX > Shin-Osaka > Kanazawa > Toyama > Takayama

We woke up early at around 5.30am to ensure we would not miss our train from the airport to Shin-Osaka.

Oh the excitement

 

I missed this view because I fell asleep

I was seated next to this quiet Japanese dude wearing a face mask. The journey from the Shin-Osaka station was long, so naturally I fell asleep because I’m a sleep glutton. After a while, the person next to me got off the train at one of the stops. It was then Kenneth told me I fell asleep on this poor Japanese dude’s shoulder, who could’ve just nudged me to gtfo but didn’t. What a nice guy.

So we stopped by Kanazawa to wait for a train to Toyama, and we decided we might as well walk around since we had a couple of hours to kill.

lifesaving locker

When travelling across the various states in Japan, the storage facilities near train stations are great for temporarily keeping your luggage while you waltz around and enjoy the activities a place has to offer. There is no joy in walking around whilst having to lug your big heavy luggage bag. The lockers cost around (¥)300 to (¥)500, and you can store your luggage inside for as long as you want, one-time use.

Entrance to the shopping mall

We were hungry so we decided to grab lunch.

First ramen meal in Japan

Our first ramen experience in Japan was meh. We had better ramen later on. The gyoza was pretty tasty though.

Picking places to eat in Japan, in itself, is as tricky as picking sightseeing spots. Personally, I wouldn’t fuss too much over where to eat in Japan, since I’m more inclined to spend my money on visiting nice sightseeing spots. Food in Japan generally tastes great everywhere, and the ones that don’t taste that great aren’t downright garbage.

In a nutshell, if you don’t know what’s good, just find the restaurant with the longest queue. Japanese and Malaysians are similar in a sense that we will queue for food if it’s good. Well… maybe not all of us.

Came across a Peanuts store! Snoopy is the best 😀

Lindt store that gave out free samples! Lindor was everywhere!

So after a great deal of window shopping, we made our way back to the station to catch our train to Toyama…

..and then we realised we messed up our time. We missed our train to Toyama. (phuck)

This meant we had to catch another train, which ended up delaying our journey by 2 hours.

It sucked that we made such a blunder, but we still found ways to keep our spirits up. As shown below..

Blowing air at the Toyama station platform while waiting for our train to Takayama

Being in a cold country means being able to see your breath. So, like cavemen discovering fire for the first time, we spent a great deal of time blowing amongst each other while waiting for the train. Yes, we looked like absolute tools doing this nonsensical crap. Thankfully we were the only ones on the station platform.

More snow

The snow got progressively heavier the closer we got to Takayama. It was surreal seeing snow for the first time (for me at least) in such a pretty form. Japan’s snow is like powder, all fluffy and nice to touch.

Look at dis

omg I cannot

okay i’m done this is too much

After a long journey that started from 5.30am, we finally reached the Takayama station at 4.45pm, which meant close to 12 hours of travelling. All because we wanted to utilise our JR pass to the fullest. Definitely could’ve planned the route better but train rides allowed us to really see some nice views.

Next part will be on Takayama!

P.s No more procrastinating Japan blog pls

Japan Part 1: Introduction

The purpose of this series of blog posts, is to primarily indulge my personal collection of travel memories. My mom has always been asking me to write more since she thinks I’m pretty good at it, so this is also me being a good, filial son, listening to my mother. I hope that by reading this, you might get some form of a travel bug for Japan, a destination I highly recommend for avid travellers. It really was a fantastic trip with fantastic people, and so I’m documenting it through this blog, which will allow me to engrave the best moments I remember from the trip onto my personal web space. In this trip, we covered Takayama – Shirakawa-Go – Kanazawa – Kyoto – Osaka!

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

As a kid, I grew up watching a ton of anime. It was my gateway to learning more about the Japanese culture. There’s a saying that goes something like, “whatever you experience when you’re young will shape you.” Being exposed to anime like Digimon, Rurouni Kenshin, and many more, made me want to learn more about the places which inspired various settings in these shows. Naturally, as a kid getting Rm10 for pocket money each week, the idea of saving up for a trip to Japan seemed ridiculous. Fast forward to my early adolescence now, having part-time jobs made the idea a lot more achievable.

A lifesaver for travellers

When this promotion came out around June 2017, I had no idea myself and 3 other friends would buy flight tickets to Japan on impulse. Going to Japan has always been a personal dream of mine, so when the opportunity to get cheap tickets presented itself, it was really hard to say no. At around RM700 for a return-flight ticket from KL to Kansai International Airport (including additional luggage), the ticket was a steal. We decided to travel to Japan from 29th December 2017 – 12th January 2018, celebrating New Year’s in Japan. As 4 young dudes, most of us being students, we really had to juggle our responsibilities. The 6 months we had leading up to the trip included us penny-pinching, planning and proactively doing whatever we could to ensure our trip to Japan would go on without a hitch.

A lot of our planning was made easier thanks to this amazing Facebook group. Many members of the group were veteran travelers with an abundance of knowledge on Japan, which helped out with recommendations.

The day finally came, we went the airport and soon enough there were four of us bidding goodbye to my parents who decided to send us off.

(Important note: For the purpose of storytelling, my friends names are Kenneth, Derek and Brandon. I am Jerry)

Somehow as I googled Pablo, this meme of Kanye West’s album came up…

 

There, much better

As we approached the security checkpoint, we were joking about how Brandon constantly loses his stuff. So with my incredible genius mind, I suggested whoever forgot/misplaced anything during our travelling time would have to buy a Pablo cheese tart for everyone else to share. Everyone agreed.

…and with my incredible genius mind, I left my backpack at the security checkpoint while we walked towards our boarding gate, realising halfway.

With 1 hour to kill, as we waited to board our plane, we made fun of my genius, took a couple of photos to let the whole world know we were going to Japan, and made fun of Derek’s amazing spelling as he posted a photo to his Facebook wall.

“Langkawi” is the code name for Japan among our group of friends, an inside joke. Nothing seems wrong at first…

…Facebook forgives, but never forgets.

 

Then we boarded the plane leaving Kuala Lumpur (KLIA2)… (2.45pm local time)

******************

…and after a 6-hour flight, we landed at the Kansai International Airport (KIX)! (9.45pm local time)

Setting up camp at strategically located benches

The first order of business was to find the JR office to obtain our JR Takayama-Hokuriku pass, which I’ll talk about in the next update. What was interesting was how the man at the Japanese information counter we approached spoke fluent Chinese! We found out where we needed to go and made our way to the JR office, where a lady helped us redeem our JR passes. She also spoke fluent Chinese, conversing with her colleague in the language as well. She helped us make a few train reservations and we went on our way to find a place to eat our very late dinner.

“Pose in front of the information board, it’ll make a great photo!” said no one ever

Thanks to this very packed directory, we ended up at a diner that served Beef don. I ordered a big bowl with a mug of Asahi beer and it only cost (¥)700. It was simple but tasted really good! The Japanese are known for their attention to the umami flavours of food after all. No photos of that unfortunately as we were way too hungry.

We then proceeded to rest at our ‘camp’ of benches. We had a long day the next day, so we decided to try and get some sleep. That was at 12:00am. At 12:15am I realised I was not going to be sleeping anytime soon because I could hear a constant annoying ‘ding’ chime that resounded through the entire airport thanks to their loud playback speakers. I gave up trying to fall asleep and decided to take a walk around.

I went to the nearby Lawson convenience store, thinking I could get some water and batteries. I needed the batteries for my handheld sound recorder, a gadget I borrowed from my university to bring to Japan, as I intended to make sound recordings of nature during my travels. Finding the water was no issue, but I noticed there were no batteries displayed. The cashier only spoke Japanese, so before I went to pay, I tried Google Translating the word ‘battery’ and I got ‘denchi’. I proceeded to ask:

 

“Hi do you sell batteries here?”

“???”

“Denchi?”

“Ohhh denchi!”

The cashier then charged me for just my water and gave me back my change, so I assumed either they didn’t have it or I butchered the pronunciation of the Japanese word really badly so he just completely ignored my question.

 

I still couldn’t sleep after my little walk around the airport, so I made sure to walk really loudly when returning to ‘camp’. Everyone ended up waking up at around 2:45am and we just started playing cards.

Totally normal to in Japan..

We managed to pass time playing a couple of Cardfight!! Vanguard games. It’s the Japanese card game that allowed us to get to know each other. 🙂  After exhausting our brain cells, we finally decided to get a bit more sleep.

 

When we woke up, it was time to make our way to Takayama!

 

 

to be continued