Taking the bullet train from Tokyo, we headed into the mountains to the small city of Takayama. We wanted to escape from big cities for a bit, and Takayama provided the perfect opportunity. The old town here is well preserved and was really cool to walk through and experience an older Japan. The town is famed for its carpentry and the latticed wooden buildings from the Edo Period, which lasted from 1603 to 1867, are still standing strong.
While waking through the old town, we knew we had to visit one of the sake breweries. We ended up at Funasaka, one of the more popular ones. We tried a few different flavors including lemon (pretty good!), grape (not so much). The regular non-flavored sake was the best though.
Just outside of Takayama is Hida Folk Village. It is basically like the Old Sturbridge Village of Japan, with old excellently preserved Japanese houses from the surrounding area all brought to one location. The buildings include logging huts, storehouses, and plenty of farmhouses. The farmhouses all had massive thatched roofs and were built in the gassho style. While we were there, they were setting up for a jazz festival, so some of the insides of the buildings were closed off but it was neat to see all the drums and amps set up. It made me want to pick up a guitar! Unfortunately, we couldn’t stick around for the festival, but we enjoyed the experience.
Heading back to our hotel one night we noticed EBIS CAFÉ and PACHINKO. We had wanted to play at some point in Japan and the café seemed to invite us inside. We were led through the café and into the pachinko room, where an employee patiently explained to us how to play. Pachinko is like a combination of a vertical pinball and slot machine, where you launch balls up, watch them tumble down, and hope they land in the slots that will earn you more balls. Since gambling for money is illegal in Japan, you can use the balls you win to exchange for prizes that you can keep, or tokens which can then be exchanged for cash at a separate location. If you choose not to cash out your balls, you can put them back into the game. We didn’t realize that you were supposed to cash them out, so we kept using them until we ran out; and didn’t get any prizes! We still had a fun time though, with Elly and Dylan getting several bonus rounds that gave them an origami crane each time they ‘leveled up.’
We found the best restaurant for lunch while wandering around. A small place run by a woman and her husband, we had one of our favorite meals of the trip; a simple salmon bowl with rice. Coupled with miso soup, it was the perfect midday meal. All the restaurants we went to in Takayama were like this; just small humble places with great food and friendly owners. My dad learned to say ‘the food was delicious’ in Japanese and that won us some new friends. Overall, Takayama was a nice break from the craziness of Tokyo but we were ready to move on to our last stop of Japan, Kyoto.