After Kyoto we trained several hours north to a small mountain town called Takayama. Did you know Japan has hikeable alps? Yup, and not only that, but our couple days there provided some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve seen anywhere.
Our first afternoon there we went to an open-air museum. It was several cottages / houses nestled into the mountain all preserved as they were 50-60 years ago. Not a single nail; all wood, bark, grass, and bamboo. Quite beautiful. Sprinkled throughout were craftsmen carving wood structures or weaving blankets. The best part was the helpful and thorough English signs and materials which really enrich any experience when traveling.
My Mom caught wind of a Mexican restaurant down the street from our hotel. We had dinner there. What a nice change of pace from fish! The food was so-so, but kudos to the owner who spent two months in Mexico, loved it, and now tries to make ends meet with this restaurant. I asked him if Mexican food was popular in Japan and he said "Hell no!". Everyone else in the restaurant (four people) were American tourists.
The next day we took an hour long bus ride to the true Japanese alps. Stunning! We hiked for about five hours. The designated route worked out well. Very few Westerners; almost all Japanese people. Why aren’t the Japanese alps more known?
Mom and I approached the meaning of "lunch" a little differently for our hike. Her approach was to hoard some rolls and hard boiled eggs from the breakfast buffet. I advocated for the procurement of "substance," aka sandwiches and the like. In the end there were food outlets in the mountains and we bought some hot buns.
In the Alps we encountered one other American who seemed to always show up next to us out of nowhere. Kind of like that girl in San Sebastian, Spain. When we got off the bus the first time this American solo mid-30′s traveler magically appeared and asked us, "Wait is this the last stop?" We were as confused as he. For the bus ride back, Mom and I were waiting in line to board our bus, but there was confusion over which line was the right one and whether we had assigned seats. Suddenly the conductor called us over and everyone started speaking really fast Japanese to us. Then out of nowhere this American dude shows up — he was on the same bus back to the town — and asks nervously, "What the hell is going on here?" That’s when I started laughing — stick a fork in me — and Mom had to handle all further communications. Our final encounter was later that night in the town, he showed up next to us and took pictures of the parade. The Mom smartly noted that we only saw him because as some of the few white people in town, we stick out.
After our long hike we both returned exhausted and headed to dinner. Takayama is known for their sake. I tried a local beer, Mom tried the sake. For food I had only one criteria: no do-it-yourself meal set-up like the people at the other table. I hate do-it-yourself. I ordered something that had no indication of do-it-yourself and sure enough 10 minutes I was presented with a grill and raw meat. Fuck! I spent the rest of the evening bemoaning my choice. The town parade of floats late that night picked my spirits up a bit, but then I had to return to hotel room to work on my book.
If you like the outdoors and are in Japan, GO TO TAKAYAMA! It kicks butt and isn’t in the tourbooks as much as it should be.