Over the next couple of days, it was going to be slightly ‘rougher’ with our stays mostly in ‘Minshukus’ or 民宿 (think AirBnB) up in the highlands to explore Takayama (高山), Hida (飛騨), Shirakawa (白川) and Gero Onsen (下呂温泉). It started with a relatively long drive from Suzuka straight to Takayama, though I could hardly call 2.5 hours long at all. You start to appreciate Japanese tunnels more, after driving through a ton of them like these..
Though.. it wasn’t a cheap exercise as I discovered how much I had to pay for ETC charges (road tolls) after I returned the rental car. Yes, we could have taken the cheaper option by taking a train, but we definitely would not have seen as much as we did this trip with the number of ‘accidental’ discoveries made along the way. Anyway, here’s what we covered over the 5 days..
We rushed up to Takayama straight after the F1 Grand Prix for the annual 2-day autumn festival. When we arrived just after lunch time, I was expecting a ton of traffic and difficulty finding parking. Instead what I found was a rather quiet town (probably because most people came here by bus/train), and arguably one of the highlights of the day for me was when I found one of those cool automated vertical carparks..
It wasn’t super cheap at 300 yen per hour, though it wasn’t any more than any of the other ‘not so cool’ car parks. Once parking was done, it was straight to business strolling along the river.. a completely different scenery to what we had been used to for the last few days.
We strolled the ancient streets where the market is, and did the touristy things buying local coffee, sweets, Hida Beef buns and Hide beef sushi!
Ethan though, didn’t want any of it, and preferred to sit down in the middle of the street to have leftover Garrett popcorn that made it all the way here from Singapore..
Eventually, we found what tourists came to Takayama to see during this time of the year to see.. the festival floats!
It’s not the first time that I’ve seen these floats, though these ones definitely parades along the streets at a much slower pace than the ones I used to see. The sights of the same floats at night were definitely prettier with lanterns decorated over them . Frankly the pace was too slow for us and we left before the parade was over. This was partly because we haven’t checked in to our accommodation yet. The other complication was that this AirBnB place didn’t include a shower, so we had to go find a way to clean ourselves elsewhere before we check-in! (Or go overnight without showering.. which we are just not used to). We were referred to an onsen not too far from Hida itself called Spa Furu. By this time, we were experts at the ‘process’ and was in and out of the onsen in a hour, sparkling clean and refreshed.. ready to go to bed!
Our accomodation didn’t allow us to stay in the house between 9am-4pm either, as both Hiroshi and Midori had day jobs and didn’t want strangers in their house during the day. We went with the breakfast joint recommended by the host not too far away called Cafe Terrace Jyuen (樹苑), which turned out to be a nice little breakfast cafe that Ethan likes too!
Then it was really just exploring the local areas including visiting the local shopping (Aptiva, Kids World, 100 yen sushi place and another onsen). This is when we realised just how much cheaper it was to hang around non-touristy areas and go to places that locals would go to!
This is the gassho houses that I have always wanted to visit except I would have preferred seeing it during winter. It wasn’t too far away from it being in Takayama already, so we decided to spend a day here to cross it off our list. I am glad we did, because the whole village basically wooed us from the moment we arrived to the moment we left.
The village was designed such that us car drivers do have to pay parking fee to be right next to the village (I think it was 500 yen), separated by a gorge/river. Visiting the village is basically all about checking out these unique houses with steep grass roof. We only went inside one of them (Wada house I think) and did the tourist thing and took lots of photos.
For accomodation, we missed out on staying in the village itself. For the record, we actually forgot about booking the accomodation for 1 night entirely (hard to explain) and ended up booking a room at Mishuku Koshiyama just outside the village the morning we departed for Shirakawa. Lucky it was a weekday, and there was room available! It wasn’t fancy, with creaky floors and thin walls. But it was fine for one night.
We also did what we had been doing all week, and went to public onsen nearby. We went to the closest one at Shirakawago-Onsen (700 yen for adults, 300 yen for Ethan). The nice thing about this onsen, from memory, was its outdoor bath with a view of the gorge. Too bad we don’t have any photos to show for it!
For dinner, we booked ourselves a tablet at Tenkara (てんから), which served up some pretty decent Hida beef from the region. Wifey even had some pretty decent conversation with a Hong Kong family that came visit Shirakawa for the night as well!
Yes, it’s one of those places I do have to come back (e.g. winter) to check it out in its full glory in snow, including staying in one! Just don’t know when!
Then it was on to our last stop on the highlands, which was intended to be the relaxation stop before we head back to the hustle and bustle of Nagoya city. We weren’t able to checkin to our hotel until at least 3pm anyway, so before we arrived, we actually visited a few waterfalls along the way. The region, which apparently has over 200 waterfalls is known as Hida-osaka falls (小坂の滝). I think of it almost like a “theme park” for waterfalls!
Given we are just driving by, we only had time to check out 3 of the 200 waterfalls. First one being Mitsu Taki (三ツ滝), which is really a series of 3 waterfalls, as well as Akagane waterfall (あかがなげとよ)
Wifey would constantly rave on about how the weather there was so cooling, and that she could walk without sweating too much. We only spent one morning there though, but it was one of those times where Ethan didn’t actually mind walking! So all of us had a pretty decent workout!
Once done, it was already near check-in time (around 3-4pm from memory). We finally made it to Fugaku Onsen Ryokan (冨岳), where we were greeted by a English/Cantonese/Mandarin host. I guess the hotel must be visited by so many foreigners that it justifies hiring a multi-lingual host. It made checkin and asking questions that much easier. Having said that, I probably still prefer struggling through with my broken Japanese for some reason. The hotel itself looks quite tired, but we didn’t mind at all. The room had a view of the river itself which was beautiful.
The shared onsen baths were also quite old/tired, but it’s fine for our purpose. When it comes time to stroll around town, we did it how the locals would.. i.e. wearing traditional yukata that came with the hotel room. Ethan didn’t get to wear one though. The town itself had quite a few foot baths littered around various locations, but it wasn’t particularly a big town, so we ended up spending most of our time back at the hotel.
We did manage to fit in a day trip to nearby town of Gujo-Hachiman (郡上八幡) recommended by our hotel host. It wasn’t part of our original holiday plan, but ended up being one of the highlights. It’s apparently THE home of realistic food samples that you see in front of most Japanese restaurants. We spent the day visiting the town that included “Sample Workshop” orさんぷる工房 where they make really really realistic food samples. Ethan even had a go at it, and at least looked like he had fun. Then, there were Gujo Hachiman castle, checking out fishes in street drains, and desserts.
It’s a nice little discovery that I guess mainstream tourists don’t normally come. It’s all positive for us, because not only was the place beautiful, it was so quiet! I hope other tourists don’t discover it too soon!
Our trip with Gero Onsen ended with this little side trip. And what better way to finish the last night than a good bottle of sake!
It’s back to Nagoya after this where it’s back to city travel!