By the time Trevor and I reached Takayama, it was already 9:30. We bought our bus tickets to Shirakawago and got in the gigantic line. As we got closer to the front, I noticed a poster on a pole that promoted a tour of Shirakawago and Gokayama. I asked a woman walking by if there were any tickets available left for the tour. She went inside and confirmed that there were. The bus left in fifteen minutes, and there were only three tickets left, so we had made it just in time.
Gokayama and Shirakawago are tiny little rural villages inhabited by silk farmers. The villages are lined with traditional thatched roof houses called gassho-zukuri. The most impressive thing about these houses is that they are built without a single nail; they use nothing but wood from the massive trees that grow here, straw rope, wedges, and sapling.
The 60 degree roofs are meant to prevent snow from piling up, but as you can see, the system isn’t perfect.
The roofs have to be replaced every 30-40 years, though it used to be every 40-50 years before people started using electricity to heat their homes rather than relying solely on the fire place. The re-thatching is done in the spring using kariyasu grass that was harvested in the Fall. Despite the huge size of these roofs, they are usually re-thatched in a single day thanks to an amazing collaborative effort requiring 100-200 villagers. The re-thatching method is passed on from one generation to the next.
Of course, the downside to large organized tours like this is that you can’t take your sweet time. That meant that I didn’t have time to check out the gun powder museum. On the other hand, I got to visit both Gokayama and Shirakawago, which I didn’t think I’d be able to do. So, on we went to Shirakawago after an all-too brief stop in Gokayama.
First, though, it was time for lunch. Considering how much the tour costs, I was happy that lunch was provided. I was seated across from a Spanish girl and her mother, which gave me the rare opportunity to practice my Spanish. I don’t remember where in Spain they were from, but their accents were really difficult to understand. All of the words kind of slurred together. Sometimes I was just nodding and smiling.
We were given 90 minutes to explore Shirakawago, but alas, a car had gotten stuck in front of us on our way to Shirakwago and we couldn’t pass it. This cut our time by twenty minutes.
With those twenty minutes gone, I didn’t have time to explore the open-air museum, where you could actually walk through the houses.
Nonetheless, it was a beautiful little Winter Wonderland. It was well worth the trip.
This impressive little bell tower took a whopping 1425 people to build.
I also ventured into a temple. There was a bunch of machinery and tools on the second and third floors. I had no idea what they might be for. Upon reading my brochure later, I learned that these attic spaces were often used for silkworm cultivation and farming.
Before I knew it, it was already 3:02; we had eight minutes to run back to the bus. Crap!
We started hustling as quickly as we could, making sure not to slip on the slippery snow. The guide had said we would leave at 3:10 SHARP because some people had to catch their trains from Takayama Station. Every second counted at this point. We weaved my way past slowly-walking families, hurdled over children, and stiff-armed grandmothers who couldn’t get out of our way. We had to catch that bus. I’d missed a bus once before in San Francisco after losing track of time as I enjoyed the greatest portabella mushroom and blue cheese burger of my life, and I didn’t want to repeat that mistake. God knows how much a taxi back to Takayama would run me.
Then I saw ice cream.
Don’t judge me; it was ice cream coated with green tea powder. I know it sounds weird, but that stuff was deeee-lish!
We made it back to the bus in the nick of time. As we walked towards our seat at the very back of the bus, everybody flashed us a friendly laugh or smile. I could just imagine how my hair must have looked after running through that thick and fluffy snowfall. It must have glistened. I must have glowed like an angel.
Once back at Takayama, we hopped on a bus back to the hotel.
The plan for the evening was to grab a quick dinner, and get in some blogging before I completely ran out of energy.
The previous night we’d gone left from the hotel to a nearby restaurant, so tonight we went right to a place called Ken Ken. The first thing that jumped out at me from the menu was beef innards. I figured I’d try it just because it was different. It wasn’t bad. The beef and noodles were delicious, sopped in some juicy sauce.
The server typed “Country” into her phone to ask where I was from just a one of the young guys in the room behind us came out. I replied that I was from Canada, and the young guy jumped right in. “Canada? Toronto?”
“Yeah!” I replied.
“Raptors! DeRozan slam dunk!”
“Yeah, that’s right!” I laughed. He sat down and we started talking sports.
He asked me what my favourite sport was and I said I liked American football, expecting that he wouldn’t know anything about the NFL.
“NFL?” he asked.
“Yeah!” I shouted, probably louder than necessary.
“I like Adrian Peterson. What is your favourite team?”
“I like the Green Bay Packers.”
“Aaron Rodgers. He is a machine!” He made a throwing gesture as he said machine.
I cannot express how much I loved this guy at this point.
At this point, his friends came down and joined us. Turns out they worked at the hotel where I was staying. One of them even greeted me that morning, but I didn’t recognize him. He was from Tokyo and spoke the best English of the three of them. They were all working there working for a few months. “I’ve never heard him talk about the Packers before,” he chuckled.
The Peterson fan stepped in and asked me who I thought was the best Packer of all time. I answered with Rodgers, but he had his own opinion. “Rodgers is a machine, but Brett Favre…” At this point, he thumped his chest before finishing, “Brett Favre had heart.” He explained that he started watching football because of Brett Favre.
This guy was officially the coolest Japanese person I’d met.
He was from some small town that, by the sounds of it, had more animals than people living in it. He was quite proud of it, though. He kept bringing it up in conversation throughout the night. I think the place was called Tokushima or something. He’d say things like “Tokushima number one! Best ramen in Japan!” The others laughed at his level of delusion, which made me laugh even more.
The guy from Tokyo was 36 and a travel enthusiast with some Couch Surfing experience. His name was Yuta. He and I spent most of the night talking about this and that.
The girl was 24, and since she didn’t speak much English, she just sat back with her sake and enjoyed the show. All that I learned about her was that she loves her sake. In fact, I think Yuta said she enjoyed sake more than the guys.
I had so much fun with those guys. Before I knew it, I was 5 beers and 3 sake shots in, and it was time for bed. Trevor and I had to be up at 5:45 tomorrow to catch the train back to Hiroshima.
We walked back to the hotel, and the trio escorted me right to my door. We took a selfie, I went inside, and lay down, promising myself that I’d only be down for a couple minutes. I still wanted to hit the onsen one last time before saying goodbye.
I never made it. I must have passed out in 30 seconds.
Kompai, guys. Thanks for a great unexpected night.