Snow Country

Up blearily for breakfast at 7.30am – and found it not much less lavish than dinner. The highlight of the morning: A few slices of Hida beef placed with some mushrooms on Hoba miso paste served on top of a large magnolia leaf all of which are placed over a ceramic box with a fire – a strange, salty but rather fun mix to swirl around with chopsticks as they cook. Once again, I was generously offered an entire rice-cooker’s worth of rice. In my tiredness, I nearly lopped those into my teacup to the amusement of the host.

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With time to spare, I went to the Jinya mae and Miyagawa morning markets only to be rather disappointed with the sparse offerings of selling some pickled stuff and souvenirs. But Japanese packaging and marketing never fails to ensnare me; I bought some and now stare in dismay at added weight to lug around tomorrow. Slowly ambling to the Nohi bus station, I caught sight of a middle-aged Australian lady holding an English map of Shirakawa-Go. Pouncing at the opportunity to speak to someone who could possibly understand me, I asked her about the map (she was convinced I’m English after a few sentences) and we struck up a brief conversation about Japanese efficiency, the recent Australian floods and general travelling cluelessness.

As it turned out, we were both headed for Shirakawa-Go – a mere 50 minutes bus ride from Takayama – and as I found out, she and her husband, are supposed to move further on to Kanazawa after a few hours of sightseeing. Having bypassed Tokyo’s madness, she was enthralled by Japan thus far, having grown increasingly confident about navigating their way through a jungle of linguistic hell.

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The falling snow and greater elevation were bitterly cold, but undeniably thrilling, glinting brilliant white under the sun that peeked out occasionally from the clouds. Scarily deep snow showed no sign of thawing yet at Shirakawa-Go, a UNESCO heritage site of cute, steeped thatched roofs positioned like hands clasped in prayer, designed specifically to withstand the heavy weight of snow. Easily navigable by map, its smallness means that the village is easily covered on foot over 2-3 hours. It is a far cry from Tokyo’s unrelenting pace, a capsule frozen (pun fully intended!) in an era that bows to the elements.

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Snow is everywhere, so threateningly deep and clingy that it looks like Christmas never quite left, Japanese-style. Mercifully free of strong winds however, the stroll around tiny lanes is a reminder of my own dwarfing physical presence amidst the circling mountain-chains.

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Taking to the streets again for what I perceived would be my last thorough round in Takayama and in search of kitsch, I hopped into several stores once more and then lingered over free sake samples. The resultant slight choking it induced was obviously involuntary but it definitely gave some nice warmth that ran gently through the veins and emboldened me to try a bit more.

That however, doesn’t quite mean that public bathing is up next on the itinerary. Not quite yet, but soon.

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