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September 12th, 2007

Takayama--Sunday and Monday

Oh, boy. Am I ever behind. It's actually Thursday, and Takayama seems a hundred years ago. We're in Kyoto now, back in the big city, meeting Hicaru (in town showing friends from the con the sights) for dinner and reuniting with Charlotte (in town visiting her cousin, who lives here) for sightseeing. Good thing I took notes about Takayama in my diary, that's all I have to say.

On Sunday, we took a 2 1/2 hour bus ride through the smack middle of the Japan Alps, weaving up and around and through the mountains, skirting and occasionally crossing deep gorges, passing steeply wooded slopes and slender waterfalls and streams of extremely blue water pelting hell-for-leather over rocky beds. How cool was it? I didn't even think of reading for 2 1/2 hours, just looked out the window for the next beautiful vista, that's how cool.

As Ellen is wont to say, we have a lot of time for Takayama. It's a smallish town, with the bare minimum of white concrete modern buildings and whole districts of old wooden buildings: residences, sake breweries, shops. Our ryokan was one of them: the Nagase ryokan, with sliding wooden doors on all the rooms and a beautifu lly-arranged garden that gave each room a view of running water and rocks and greenery and perfect privacy. One wall was painted a lovely greyish green, which warmed up the room considerably. And the large bath, although not an onsen hot spring bath, was luxurious and relaxing. The food was wonderful, too--river fish and crisp vegetables and little thin slices of Hida beef, rich and tender as butter, simmered with onions and mushrooms in a covered pottery dish right before our eyes. It was a lot more romantic than Matsumoto, and the futon were thicker, too. And the lady running it spoke beautiful English, which was a real relief when we needed to ask her whether we could leave our luggage there next day while we took in the sights.

There are a lot of shrines and temples in Takayama, but we didn't see them. Also houses of historical interest. We did see a couple of those, and very impressive they were, too. Also a folk life museum consisting of maybe 15 houses from the 10th to the 17th centuries all brought from all over the Hida region and rebuilt on the side of a hill. It's very artistically arranged--a lot more artistically arranged than it would have been if it had been a real village, I bet, and is remarkable for not including any noble residences. Farmhouses, with barns attached, or even as part of the family living quarters, a woodcutter's hut, a charcoal-burner's hut and kiln, a miso-making shack. Like that. All the houses had oak fires burning in the central hearths to keep the damp out, which gave them a lived-in feel despite being furnished entirely in rows of sleighs or looms or cooking pots.

So what took up most of our time in Takayama? Well, shopping. The folk crafts here are unusual and very much to our taste: fabric dyed a deep and beautiful indigo, figures carved out of cherry wood and cypress and coated with hot wax, which gives them a satiny glow. Translucent lacquer-work that shows the grain of the wood and turns it a rich butternut color. We acquired examples of everything--mostly for o-myage (souvenirs), although I acquired a wooden mask of a tengu because of the character in Changeling. I will undoubtedly rue the day when I'm packing it at the end of the trip, but I've hauled worse things home. I remember a copper lantern I bought in Chigasaki maybe 10 years ago, that's now living in Arizona. Now, that was an awkward thing to pack.

We caught the last train out of Takayama to Nagoya, largely occupied by a group of wiry middle-aged ladies who had been hiking in the mountains, changed to a bullet train and arrived in Kyoto at 10, tired and happy. Our hotel, the Westin Myako, is huge and so resolutely western that we're suffering from culture shock without even having left the country.

And now I'm behind again. I've been too busy doing necessary laundry and running around to write, and now there will be a hiatus while we go to Kobe for Rosh Hashana (there's a schul in Kobe--who knew?). Then I have to rearrange and repack everything so we can send most of our bags ahead to Tokyo while we spend a night in Nara, in a ryokan that's actually in the deer park. The end of a trip is always more hectic than the middle part. I've even fallen behind in my personal diary.

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