Getting to Takayama was the longest journey of the trip and involved various changes of slow local trains using the ‘Seishun 18 Kippu’ which is a much more economical seasonal ticket and can be shared between more than one person.
If there was one part of our trip which didn’t live up to expectations, it was Takayama. Maybe it was because it had been oversold in all our research and reviews, but it just didn’t deliver for us. We had booked three nights but we’d had enough after just one. We just found it rather dull, very quiet for its size, most places were all closed up and with very limited places to eat. I’m pretty sure we weren’t the only ones that had that problem, as each night we ended up having to eat from 7-Eleven stores and they were always filled with other tourists stocking up too.
Our sightseeing included the pretty Historic District, Asaichi Morning Markets, Higashiyama walk and Matsuri no Mori and finally the Hida Folk Village – a mock traditional village (although we ended up seeing the real village too)/ open air museum, which was our favourite part of our stay there. There is also the Takayama Festival held in Spring and Autumn but we were unable to time our stay with the festival, so perhaps if we had been able to see it we would have enjoyed it more.
Okuhida is up in the mountains off to the east of Takayama. Originally we had planned to do the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine route through the Japanese Alps but time constraints among other things forced us to shelve the idea. However, we still wanted to visit the Alps and see lots of snow, and for another hot springs experience so Okuhida became the new destination.
We really wished we’d had spent the extra two days here instead of Takayama. It was just as quiet as Takayama, but in a much more relaxing natural way. Our accommodation at Okada Ryokan Warakutei was also relatively luxurious, a large comfortable buildings with traditional rooms and meals. The ryokan also had their own hot springs on site, with both indoor and outdoor baths.
The main attraction in Okuhida was a two part double decker cablecar ride called the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway. This was a steep ride going up the side of one of Japan’s highest mountains. There would usually be wonderful views but unfortunately on the day we went, we were mostly covered in cloud. Nevertheless, we enjoyed traipsing around in the snow, both through the walkways dug between the high snow walls, and nearby in the trees.
Future Mrs FW having never experienced snow before (the Hakone experience was the first time but that was nothing compared to this) had always wanted to make a snow man and so this was the perfect place to do it which we did, before promptly unmaking him.
Our cold, slippery but fun time up in the mountains was followed by a relaxing stopover in the Hirayu No Mori public hot springs.
We stayed for one night in the lovely Ogimachi village of Shirakawa go. In fact, unless the rules have changed, it is only possible to stay for one night at least in any one particular accommodation. You have to book an overnight stay through an agency website called Japanese Guest Houses.
These are home-stays, sleeping in one of their rooms made up for guests much like ourselves, and in the farmhouse we stayed in there were two other couples staying in addition to ourselves. Traditional in nearly every sense of the word, including dinner and breakfast being served all together while seated on mats at low tables, the one exception was that the house did have a modern multi-function toilet.
Ogimachi is a relaxing spot to visit, mostly looking around and going inside some of the farmhouses which have been converted to museums and shops. There was one good viewpoint – Shiroyama- located at one end of the village and could be reached by foot.
The village did get pretty busy around lunch time to early afternoon due to the tour buses that come in, but after dark it was very quiet again. The next morning after another traditional Japanese breakfast, it was on to a bus and out of the countryside as we headed back to city life.
Small to medium sized cities have always been my preference whether living or visiting, so perhaps that is one reason why I felt I liked Kanazawa even as we were only just arriving. It was also a nice bright day with blue skies, which after having been in the clouds and damp grey for the past five days made us feel all the more optimistic.
Even without these head starts we enjoyed it though, there were plenty of places to eat, modern shopping centres, parks, traditional districts and attractions. We opted for a more regular western style hotel here which made a change after spending every previous night for the last week on tatami mats.
We visited Kenrokuen Garden, one of Japan’s most celebrated landscaped garden, an authentic Ninjadera (Ninja Temple) where you get shown around the building with various secret doors, passages and escape routes, traditional teahouse district and the Omicho fresh food market.
We also ate our first sushi since being in Japan, despite it being near the end of our trip already. It was a modern sushi train which was exactly what we were after, and worth the queue to get in.
We boarded the only Shinkansen Train of our entire trip here in Kanazawa to take us back to Tokyo. I don’t believe it went very fast for very long as it did seem to make a few stops en route, but it was certainly faster than what I’m used to these days and was as smooth, clean and comfortable as we had been expecting.
We stayed in a different part of Tokyo for the end of our trip – the commercial Nihonbashi district. It is a massive city after all so there was always going to be plenty to see and do regardless of where we stayed.
However, this particular part of the trip was to fulfill a childhood wish of Mrs FW., and that was to visit Disneyland! I was lucky enough to have visited two different Disney theme parks when I was younger (Florida and Paris), so this was to be my third. Everything looked pretty much the same as I remember from the past, with the exception that the Space Mountain ride was more the old style mini roller coaster as opposed to the intense Paris version with its launch and multiple inversions.
We took the opportunity to enjoy as much local food as we could, write a few postcards (left until the last minute as usual), just walk around and take it easy, as we deliberately didn’t want to be sight seeing around so much on our final couple of days.
Well, we had come to the end of our first trip to Japan. I say first as we both know we definitely will be going back. It has been our favourite destination out of all the places we have been to- we expected as much and our experiences there only confirmed as much.
Here is a list of resources we used while planning our trip. These days it’s pretty easy to find anything and there may well be newer and better resources out there, but if not, then these should be enough to start you off if you want to plan your own trip.
Being frugally minded, we ended up going with a longer stop over flight, via China too, in order to save a bit more for our travels. And as usual we recorded all of our spending, so below is the approximate costings for our trip.
2017: 1AUD = 83¥
|Flights||133,000||1600||Melbourne - Tokyo RTN|
|Transport||110,000||1300||All travel within Japan|
|Joint Spending||50,000||600||Souvenirs and 'things' etc.|
|Entrance Tickets||28,000||300||Parks, museums etc.|
|TOTAL||¥680,000 approx.||$8,200 approx.||Combined (both of us together).|
That’s it, we hope you enjoyed reading, looking at the pictures, or both.