While in Takayama, we took a day trip to Shirakawago (白川郷), a small town up in the mountains famous for its gassho zukuri houses (合掌造り), which means ‘hands in prayer’ style. They’re a kind of wooden house with a steep rafter roof. That area of Japan is part of Snow Country (雪国), and gets some of the most snow in Japan. That’s a big reason why this style of architecture developed. It was common throughout the region, but now can only be seen in a few places, such as Shirakawago. I had wanted to visit during the winter, so I could see the gassho houses covered in snow, when they are supposed to be quite spectacular, but by the time we got there, the snow was mostly melted, only a few piles here and there in the shade.
May 11, 2009
May 10, 2009
I’m putting these pictures up kind of out of order, since I already put up pictures from Takayama, but these are some pictures from the train ride to Takayama, specifically between Nagoya and Takayama. We went to Nagoya from Tokyo by Shinkansen, Bullet Train, and then transferred to a limited express train. That ride went through mountains and past streams and was very pleasant. The following are some pictures from that trip.
April 25, 2009
Nikko (日光) is a town in Tochigi prefecture, a little ways North of Tokyo. It is famous for it’s shrines and temples, which are supposed to look especially beautiful when the autumn leaves change color (紅葉). The area is a UNESCO world heritage site. But what does this have to do with Takayama?
Takayama also has Nikko, in miniature. Takayama has a small museum with a 1/10th scale version of the shrines and temples of Nikko. The museum is pretty much one large room, with the building models spread out throughout the room. The lighting in the room slowly cycles to simulate daylight, sundown, nighttime, sunrise, and daylight again.
April 24, 2009
April 23, 2009
April 22, 2009
Takayama (飛騨高山) is a city in Gifu prefecture, a little ways north of Nagoya, in the Hida region. It’s a popular tourist destination because it has a small neighborhood thats been preserved as it was during the Edo period. It also is surrounded by beautiful snow capped mountains in the winter and is known for it’s beef. (It may not be as popular as it’s rival, Kobe beef, but it’s well known in Japan and cheaper.) The following are some pictures I took when I went there in March.
April 7, 2009
On our trip, we had only half a day in Nagoya. We wanted to go on a free factory tour I had found out about, but they only had tours they were offering in the afternoon, so we unfortunately couldn’t go.
After Nagoya castle (which I’ll post pictures of later because I decided it was too similar to Osaka castle to post them right after one another), we had an hour and a half free before we had to be back at Nagoya station to meet a friend. We weren’t sure what we could do in that time, but my travel buddy found a park we could walk around halfway between the castle and Nagoya station, so we headed over there.
April 4, 2009
April 2, 2009
After the visiting the Outer Shrine, we went to a store called Aka Fuku to get something to eat, a recommend my friend had received when she told someone she was going to Ise. Aka Fuku is apparently the most famous store in Ise city. Their menu was very simple. They simply had a display case next to the cash register with two items inside. One was their famous Aka Fuku Mochi, Mochi (glutinous rice cake) topped with red bean paste, and the other was zensai, a kind of red bean soup with mochi in it. We ordered one of each and sat down.
Everyone sits on benches there and because the whole place is out to the open, they have cauldron like things with small fires gong that you can sit next to to keep warm. Along with the sweets, they give you all the hot green tea you want, continuing to refill until you leave. The food was delicious. And after going to Ise, we saw these sweets sold everywhere. They sold them at Ise station, Nagoya station, Kyoto station and Osaka station. Apparently, these sweets were originally only sold in Ise, but they became more popular and they’re now sold over a much larger region as souvenirs.
After leaving Kobe, we went towards Ise (we actually made a brief stop in Osaka at 6 am, but I’ll post those pictures later). In the city of Ise, pretty much all there is to see is the Ise shrine, one of the most important shrines of the Shinto religion. The Shrine is enormous and split up into two sprawling complexes, the outer shrine and the inner shrine. The outer shrine is a short walk from the train station and the inner shrine is a 20 minute bus ride away from there. Ise city is located in Mie prefecture and isn’t next to any major cities, but because this shrine is so important, there are express trains linking Ise to both the Kansai area (meaning Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe) and Nagoya. And the city is packed with tourists who come in on the 2 train lines and on buses.
The shrine is dedicated to Ameterasu, the sun goddess, and is rebuilt every 20 years. Apparently this rebuilding is related to a Shinto belief about death and renewal. But it’s certainly very expensive to constantly rebuild the huge shrine. On the day we visited the shrine, it was raining violently all morning, right up until the time we reached the shrine. It seemed like the sun god herself was preventing the rain from falling on her shrine and coming out to greet us. As soon as we reached the shrine, it was suddenly sunny.
One unfortunate thing about this shrine, however, is that most of it is closed off to the public. The buildings themselves are beautiful, but you can only catch small glimpses of it through holes in the fences or over barriers. Still, the shrine is worth a visit in my opinion, especially the bigger inner shrine.
After we’d walked through the whole outer shrine, my friend who I was traveling with asked me, “Where’s the outer shrine?” She didn’t know that most of the shrine is blocked off.