We stayed at a Nagoya hotel situated right above the JR Nagoya station to facilitate our visit to Takayama and Shirakawa-go, which is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites as were the Kiyomizu temple, Miyajima and Hiroshima A-Bomb Dome. We took a limited express Hida from Nagoya to Takayama. The train had wide views and offered one of the most picturesque train rides. The most breath-taking sight was that of Hisuikyo gorge between Gero and Mino-ota in Gifu. Since the JR railroad runs alongside the Hida river, the train ride provides arguably the best extended sight of this narrow river gorge. In fact, I do not hesitate to say that this was the most rewarding experience this trip to the mountainous Hida area gave me along with the stroll within Shirakawa-go village.
As soon as we arrived in Takayama I bought the round trip bus tickets to Shirakawa-go, which is located to the north-west of Takayama. The bus line operated by Nohi Bus occasionally requires advanced reservation, particularly when the buses come from further away places. Although we were lucky to get the round tickets without an advance reservation I realized it might be always best to make reservations beforehand.
The 1+ hour bus ride was not particularly noteworthy because the road was frequently punctuated by tunnels, which certainly suggested the mountainous terrain.
As we arrived at Shirakawa-go I realized that the place is very popular with tourists; I’d say tourists from all over the world. The suspension bridge at the entrance point of the village was so populated it shook as we walked at the ending parts of the bridge. However, the village itself was not as crowded as the bus station which was equipped with toilets, a souvenir shop, and a small cafe. Shirakawa-go, famous for “gassho-zukuri” structure (the thatch roof looks like hands in prayer) of its farmhouses, was a quaint little village with old farmhouses, little shops, and barns. Their sharp sloped roofs were aesthetically pleasing, but probably very practical for the area’s snowy winters. We had lunch at a small restaurant (probably converted from a farmhouse). The soba we had for lunch was hand-made (one could tell from the uneven widths of the buckwheat noodles) and delicious. There were a few farmhouses converted into minshuku (bed and breakfast) to accommodate some visitors who would want to stay there overnight. A few wealthy farmers’ houses were converted into a sort of museum to show the way of life in Hida area. It suggested the old life style did not pay much attention to the comfortability of abode, particularly that of the hired hands. The top floor/ attic of the farm house, dedicated to raising silkworms, still emitted a faint smell of silk cocoons (I thought).
After coming back to Takayama city we visited the Takayama Festival museum where a few tall floats were exhibited. Takayama Festival, like Inuyama Festival near Nagoya, is a little like Gion Festival in that the yama (floats, literally it means “mountain”) parade offers a predictable occasion of seeing spectacles for the city people. We also visited one of the wealthy merchant houses that inspired us to imagine that the traditional Japanese life style may still exist in some parts of Japan.