My personal quest (I’m still asking myself when this crept up on me) for Japanese-manufactured sunscreen came to an abrupt halt the day I needed to leave Tokyo for the Japanese Alps. It was also a great opportunity to escape what was fast becoming an unwilling staple: the Tempura Soba.
Vaguely grateful that my endeavour could continue in Kyoto, I packed and went my merry way – in the pouring morning rain to board the Shinkansen to Takayama (a 4.5 hour journey), a town stuck high up in the mountain, impassable in winter because of its heavy snowfall at times even in the 21st century.
The Japanese have so far, been unfailingly polite but those living in Takayama display a happier hospitality, perhaps for the want of human contact after a hard winter. Quite literally called “High hill” in Chinese characters, the little alpine town finds its fame in its festivals in April and October, both of which I obviously miss. There’s still some to see though and its main draw is its Edo-period buildings within the heritage section of town now converted to shops selling kitsch and snacks.
A rather hard walk with the bags 15-20 minutes north of the station was Oyodo Yoshinoya, the place I made last minute bookings with after cancelling my J-Hoppers hostel reservation, wanting that short Ryokan stay with its private onsen. For that price, the pseudo traditional Japanese lifestyle is all yours depending on the number of nights you pay for. Oyodo Yoshinoya’s impeccably situated, got a fantastic family atmosphere and I felt an attachment to their toilets forming after discovering that they smelt of pine wood. The thinness of the futon and tatami-mat proved to be pure torture for my back however, and I now dread Kyoto’s sleeping arrangements that are in no way dissimilar.
Immediately enlivened by the relative lack of crowds and quaint shops, I glided down the streets with a determination to ignore some lingering incessant tourist chatter and promptly covered the town’s main streets and walking circuit by the late afternoon.
Dinner in the ryokan was a lavish affair of traditional Hida region specialties put together, considering that all the food’s for just 1 person. To my horror, more plates of beef and other unnameable dishes came in as I was eating halfway until I could only apologise in sign language – a combination of tummy rubs and contorted facial expressions – when I felt too bloated for more.