Snow Slows Buses, Makes Japan Even More Photogenic
The bus was scheduled to arrive at 9:37 pm. We pulled up to the terminal at 3:42 am. Anna and I were on our way to Takayama, a town in the Japanese Alps, and the snow was thick, falling in clumps, sticking to everything. We made it through the first few mountain passes just fine until we were held up by a crash further on up the road. Our bus couldn’t be turned around as we were on a narrow road on the mountainside. So we sat and we waited until things cleared.
The bus driver was skilled and generous as we continued on up the road. After adjusting the tire chains on the roadside at 1:30 in the morning, he proceeded to stop at a vending machine and buy coffee for all of us.
Some might buckle under stress and lack of sleep. This driver just got better, engendering confidence from the rest of us who depended on him to get us through the blizzard. It was a good lesson in leadership.
Upon arrival we trudged through two feet of snow to our hotel feeling happy that we made it and sure that we’d remember the whole thing.
I woke up a few hours later to a very familiar sound…the faint rumble of snowblowers at work. That’s a sound that means home to me.
Our first stop near Takayama was a village called Shirakawa-Go, a secluded place with some amazing traditional architecture. These houses are called Gassho-Zukuri, which means ‘praying hands’ and refers to the steep pitch of the thatch roofs. This part of Japan gets piles of snow in winter and a ‘praying hands’ roof can bear the weight. A pretty powerful image, I think.
The houses are quite large and would have been home to several families at one time. Each house has several fireplaces which sit in the center of the room.
The upper level of each house would have been used for either making silk or making gunpowder.
The town of Takayama itself and the surrounding area known as Hida are famous for at least three things: carpentry, beef, and sake. We tried our best to learn about all of them.
Many people have heard of Kobe beef, but actually a number of areas in Japan produce very high quality meat, and Hida-beef is particularly renowned.
It’s not exactly cheap, so we bought some and cooked it ourselves rather than paying through the nose at a restaurant. However, there were a couple spots where we found Hida beef for a reasonable price.
I found some grilled up at the morning market and was a very happy man.
We also checked out a carpentry museum in a neighboring town, Furukawa, and we were amazed with Japanese craftsmanship and architecture. Carpenters from Furukawa are famous for building many temples across Japan.
So despite a blizzard that slowed the first day of our visit, Hida-Takayama was another great stop for our travels and learning. We got out in the country, saw beautiful landscapes, experienced local food, and learned about shelter from the elements. Now we’re back in Tokyo before we leave on Saturday, trying to enjoy as much of Japan as we can before we have to go.