Mountains and valleys, Days 6 and 7

Day 6, 5th November

Up at a reasonable time for breakfast, then shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagoya, and a change to a ‘limited express’ to Takayama. A stunningly beautiful journey through the mountains. The autumn colours are at their magnificent best, and the trees a multicoloured mixture of broadleaves and conifers, a russet and green mosaic. Near the top of the hills the leaves have already fallen, and the forest dissolves into transparency, the soft fuzzy look of bare twigs on the high ridges. Near the road we see the spindly maple shrubs, with starry scarlet leaves. Occasionally there’s the piercing yellow of ginkgo trees. The single-track line crosses and re-crosses narrow gorges, with fast green rivers far below. We pass through a metamorphic belt, and into granite country, the high hard core of Japan.

hilltop trees are leafless,
a russet haze on mountain ridges
where it’s already winter –
here in the valleys
a warm autumn dithers

Takayama is a nice little town with gridded streets and a lot of character. It’s touristy – but mainly for Japanese tourists – but it’s also a town where people live and work. We have a walking tour first, visiting the Jinya building, where the administrator lived during the Shogunate period. It had a number of large, high-ceilinged unheated rooms which must be freezing in winter, even with the open hearths. Then on to a sake brewery for a tasting, then another tasting in a miso soup emporium, among the big barrels of fermenting bean paste.

outside the office
taxi-drivers wait –
samurai rickshaw-pullers


Day 7, 6th November

Up for morning market in Takayama – colourful and interesting. We buy some ginkgo nuts to take home, persimmons to eat today, lacquer bowls, a wee taiko hand-drum for our grandson, and some other nick-nacks. Leave at 9 for a visit to an Edo period merchant’s house and a Buddhist temple, which we can’t enter because a funeral service is going on. Then on the bus to the Shokawa Valley, and the Shirakawa-go hamlets. Terrific drive up into the mountains, with hairpins, narrow tunnels, dams, lakes and hydro schemes. In places the scenery is like the Scottish Highlands, in other places completely different. We make one stop beside a large lake behind a massive gravity dam. The ‘rest stop’ toilet was closed, sadly, but in the car park there is a giant cherry tree, a favourite of the locals, which was transplanted when the valley was drowned. Amazingly, after a few years, it began to send out leaves and flowers once again. There’s a statute to the man who moved it, and quite right too – I’ve never seen a tree as big as this being transplanted.

venerable cherry
leaves its drowning village
puts down new roots

The village in Shirakawa-go (Ogimachi) is very picturesque, with thatched cottages where large extended families live on the ground floor, raising silkworms in the upper stories. The houses are called gassho-zukuri, which refers to the hands raised in prayer because the roof pitch is very steep. The thatch is made from Miscanthus grass – we see fields of it growing. It’s a World Heritage site, because there isn’t anything like these houses elsewhere, and to have 150 of them in the one spot is unique. Eventually we managed to find a place for lunch – soba noodles in vegetable soup for me – quite tasty – but Jane had chosen cold soba noodles – a summer speciality. It wasn’t as nice. We buy candied apples and cucumber, not knowing what they are, but they are very tasty, especially the apples. Back down to Takayama, where we have a tonkatsu meal at the restaurant Bandai Kadomise – a country style restaurant where we have to sit on the floor. Very uncomfortable, but the food is good. And so to bed.

candied cucumber
a bitter-sweet snack
after cold noodles



At last! A good use
for Pampas Grass –
thatch for silk-worm
hatcheries far better
than suburban lawns.


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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