Travelogue: A Snow Day in Takayama, Japan (#SnowBigDeal)

After all the ear-piercing emergency alerts and subway shutdowns and class cancellations, Juno never hit us. We woke on Tuesday morning expecting to see white white white outside the windows, but there was only the young, friendly Russian courier wearing his regular parka and boots, shoveling out the last inch of slush from the cement front patio of Tom’s building. Beyond that, there were a few greying snowbanks and more slush. 

Leave it to a Russian living in New York to shovel snow with a smile on his face. The Japanese villagers of Takayama (aka Hida-Takayama), we decided, have a similar response. If they respond at all. Average January snowfall in Takayama, located in Japan’s mountainous Gifu prefecture some 300km west of Tokyo) is around 45 inches.

On the day we arrived via train it snowed quite heavily, the next day, when we departed via bus, it snow even harder, but stores kept their regular business hours and we, at least compared to the locals, appeared to be the most warmly dressed people in town. Even the cemeteries and shrines in the hills behind Old Town Takayama were still open. The only thing that was closed was half of the Higashiyama Walking Course, the part that wrapped around Shiroyama Park and castle ruins.

Oh well, we will simply have to return again someday in the spring.
But the town remained in business and bustling, with the occasional old man or woman coming out to shovel the walk in front of their shop. The wonderful Ryokan we stayed at provided galoshes and Japanese waxed paper umbrellas and, when we returned to after a walk around town, giant feathery brushes to swipe off the snow on our coats and hot green tea.
Ryokan-issued rainboots and an intricate Takayama manhole.
A canal off the Miyagawa River.
A small but no less festive shimekazari, a Japanese New Year’s wreath, meant to prevent evil spirits from entering and to invite Shinto Deity to enter.
Much of Old Town Takayama dates from the Edo period (1800-1868) but the Ebisu Soba Restaurant, est. 1898 is from the Meiji period (1868-1912). But Tom says, “It’s actually lunchtime.”
The decorations next to our table.
Our steaming sobas (I ordered ‘Sansai’ soba 山菜そば mountain vegetables) came with origami cranes, which I brought home. They are now pinned to the bulletin board above my desk.
Frosty window selfie at a ceramics store window. Takayama is known for ceramics as well, though the limited space in our suitcases only allowed for edibles and indestructibles.
Some more Edo style architecture. Tom ponders the offerings at a ceramic store. The sign tells what kiln its wares are from.

 Random hedgehog with sake.

Tom leads the ascent to see the shrines.

 This walk could have, IMHO, been slightly better shoveled. But thank god for railing.

We stopped to take a roadside selfie.
Then it started to snow.
“I look like I have one giant front tooth,” says Tom.
“Stop there,” I said, “Wave!”
Tom waits while I play with focus.
And onwards into the woods behind Takayama, where cemeteries and shrines wait patiently for visitors. The only other visitors Tom and I encountered that day were two young couples, a pair from England and another from Singapore. For the locals, their ancestors could wait for their visit on a warmer day. 
We saw these braided ropes with white folded papers everywhere, but lack of language skills prevented us from asking the locals what they mean. Now thanks to this website, I know they are a type of shimekazari called Shimenawa. Hung over the entryway of a site, it marks the border of a “pure space” where the Gods can descend and do their godly thing.
We came across a big shrine which appeared to be open for visitors. But it was not. We peeked inside through a small finger hole in the sliding wooden doors.
Tom wonders why we took our shoes off.
An old bell tower on our way back down.
Back on the streets of old town, a rickshaw driver heads home, and Tom and I headed to Sannomachi St, Old Town Takayama’s main street of sorts.
First stop: Senbeidou Handmade Rice Crackers, where I bought some airy curry, cheese and garlic flavored senbei for friends and family back home.
Second stop: Sake and Miso shop.
No sake available for tasting, so we tasted miso instead. Hida Takayama is also known for their miso, which came with nearly every meal we ate in the area. Next time, we’ll make it a point to find a sake brewery for tasting. Be bought Sake flavored cake instead.
Except for our late lunch at Jakson Curry, a recommendation from Tom’s brother who stated in his meticulously curated Japan Restaurant Excel Spreadsheet: “Probably some of the best curry I have ever had.” This coming from someone who has traveled all around Japan and has had plenty of curry.
Jakson Katsu Curry. No miso necessary.    (Photo credit: Tom)
By then it was dusk… (By the way I have to point out that this photo has #nofilter).
…and time to cross the Nakabashi Bridge back to our Ryokan.    (Photo credit: Tom)
To change into our Yukatas (casual, unlined kimonos worn by both sexes) and rest before dinner.
Which was a grand affair, served in our own two person tatami-dining room complete with kotatsu (foot and leg warmer underneath the table), welcome warm sake and…
An over-the-top Michelin star worthy 8-course Hida Beef menu, which Tom special ordered. Hida Beef is Kobe beef’s less known cousin, but no less wonderful. Only six courses are pictured here: Hida beef shabu shabu, Hida beef salad, Hida beef burdock root roll with thick omelet and red turnip, high quality Hida Beef filet steak, Hida Beef lettuce roll, and Hida-milk ice cream and fruit… Not pictured: Hida beef appetizers, a grilled beef dish (yes, in addition to the steak), Hida Beef and vegetable stew, miso soup, a variety of pickled dishes, and baked vegetables. We regretted eating two lunches and went to bed feeling stuffed and happy, like a pair of Hindu Hida Beef.
Address book:
1-34 Honmachi
Takayama, Gifu Prefecture
+81-577-34-1234
yoyaku@honjinhiranoya.com
46 Kamininomachi
Takayama, Gifu Prefecture
+81 577-32-0209
(Closed Tuesdays)
5-5 Temmammachi
Takayama 506-0025, Gifu Prefecture
+81 577-36-1810
85 Kamisannomachi
Takayama, Gifu Prefecture
+81 577-33-9613
Lists of Various Miso and Sake Shops, which we will definitely revisit on our next trip (just not sure when).
Now the bloopers:
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2 thoughts on “Travelogue: A Snow Day in Takayama, Japan (#SnowBigDeal)

  1. How do i get my hands on Tom Wards brothers japan restaurant spreadsheet? That sounds super useful. I’m trying to plan a similar trip to Tokyo and other places since when I lived in Japan Tom trained me to be a close minded fool like him and eat bacon and get my ass whooped (by thom) at ken griffey jr baseball all day on his snes. So i ventured to Nagano for the olympics but Tokyo is really all i remember of Japan. Thanks for your list of spots to checkout in Takayama. We just did the iceland stopover and will be returning for a few more days in november. Beautiful place i never knew i wanted to visit. If you get a chance to visit iceland the fish market was amazing. Or if you’re stopping through kauai tell Thom to hit me up.

    Kampai

    1. Hi and thanks for reading Enista! I’ll ask Thom if he can share his bro’s spreadsheet with you. I actually have some good spots for Tokyo as well, but I haven’t posted them yet…but you have given me a very good reason to.

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