Monthly Archives: June 2013

Well, it’s official!

Hi Everyone!

I am very, VERY excited to announce that the plane tickets are bought and I’m eye-deep in planning and plotting. Having just purchased my tickets, and at the convenience store no less (Go Japan!), I’m finding it impossible to contain my excitement and wanted to post my news here.

This summer I shall beeeee…..drum roll please…. going to…

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Hokkaido is the northernmost island of Japan and a outdoors enthusiast’s paradise. I will be road tripping around Hokkaido August 2nd to 16th. It’s going to one hell of an adventure to be sure!

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Bring on the wide open spaces, fresh air and beautiful nature! My hiking boots are already itching to take a walk in some of Hokkaido’s most breathtaking national parks. hokkaido 1 hokkaido 4 hokkaido 5

Scrolling through the japan-guide web page on Hokkaido and looking at all their beautiful pictures of where I’ll be going hiking is sheer, absolutely exquisite torture while stuck working at my desk at school.

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I’m dreaming of the Furano Lavender farms! Lavender fields stretching as far as the eye can see.


See the famous rolling hills and admire the gorgeous Blue Pond of Biei…

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I shall be going where no one I know has ever gone before. I will be heading to THE absolute northernmost point of Japan, a tiny little island named Rebun Island.
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It looks like something out of the tv show LOST doesn’t it!? It’s incredibly difficult to get to and most of the people I’ve spoken to are very impressed that I am going to attempt hiking there. What can I say though, I’m a complete sucker for wildflower covered islands. It is the ultimate carrot to dangle in front of me. I will jump through just about any hoop and plod blindly and determinedly towards it. Fingers crossed it’s as breathtakingly and adorable as I imagine it to be.


As the adrenaline of have just purchased my tickets is wearing off, I have to confess that I am equal parts excited and nervous. I will be road tripping alone, and hiking solo, in a foreign country, for 2 weeks. This summer my ALT friends and I all ended up with very different summer camp dates so traveling solo was my only option if I wanted to see Hokkaido before leaving Japan. It’s my next level up of this whole traveling solo aspiration I’ve been working on all year. Two weeks is the longest I will ever have traveled alone. It shall just be me, myself and I….. wish me luck! Also, I have never ever hiked solo in my life, so I’m pretty sure I should keep my thoughts away from the movie 27 Hours…

If anyone has some advice, please I’m all ears!

Categories: Life in Japan, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

The Heart of Takayama: Takayama Road Trip Day 2

My second day in Takayama was just as much fun as the first. It was full of eating, shopping and puttering.  I woke up early and tried to beat the crowds of people to the old town area of Takayama, all in the name of getting a few pictures without the swarms of tourists that would inevitably descend given time.


Pretty view from the bridge as I crossed into the old town area

Walking the streets of Takayama’s old town is my number one recommendation for tourists. It is the cultural heart of Takayama. The old town area has been beautifully preserved with many buildings and whole streets of houses dating from the time of the Edo Period, which was a time when Takayama thrived as a wealthy merchant town. The old town streets are perfect for people who love to putter.IMG_9789 IMG_9791 IMG_9922IMG_9794

I’m pretty sure this is the number 1 most photographed house on Sannomachi Street, all because some very marketing-savvy person planted a beaaaaautiful purple wisteria tree outside. I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to witness it in full-bloom!


While walking along the streets you can’t help but notice large spheres that appear to be made of cedar branches hanging outside many store entrances. These spheres are called “sugidama” and are hung over the entrances of a sake brewery.  As sake is one of Takayama’s local specialities there were many local breweries along this street. The best part, they are perfectly happy to pour you liberal amounts of sake to sample.


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I think one of my favorite memories from this trip however, happened at approximately 10am in the morning. My friend Ken who coordinates the orphanage volunteer visits in Fukui texted me wondering if I was free and could come play with the kids. He’s got a 6th sense for these kind of things, and knew within 2 texts that I was hopelessly tipsy.

Text from Ken: Jessie….you are drunk. Before noon. On a Sunday morning……

At which point I realized that he thought I was drinking alone in my apartment before noon on a Sunday. I hastily explained the situation in an attempt to save my reputation. I told him I had taken a spontaneous holiday, and was sampling sake so I could buy my father a bottle for Father’s Day, and because I was driving home I had to start early in the morning so I would have no liquor in my system when I needed to drive home in the evening.

Next text from Ken: “Jessie, you are drinking, before noon on a Sunday morning….like a boss”

I was absolutely tickled pink.  Compared to my other ALT brethren I’m far from being the wildest one of the bunch and I have never been called “boss”.  I have to admit, I really liked it.

After texting Ken I realized however, that I was consuming quite a bit of sake with little more than a banana and a cup of tea in my stomach. Food was essential. Suddenly, almost as if fate heard my thoughts and decided to intervene mere seconds after this thought crossed my mind, I saw a long line of Japanese people waiting to buy food. Without stopping to think twice I hopped in line too. I have a traveling commandment in Japan, if you see a group of Japanese tourists in line for something, hop in line, don’t ask questions and be prepared to be amazed, because whatever you’re about to eat it’s going to be delicious . This rule is doubly important when you see elderly little old ladies in line, with great age comes great food wisdom, they really know their stuff! During my 2 years in Japan I have never regretted obeying this commandment.

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Seeing as I’m not the biggest egg fan, I opted for A: Succulent medium rare beef nigiri. Both were mind boggling good, but if you twisted my arm I would have to say my favourite was the ginger soy version. Better yet, the whole snack was eco-friendly! That’s no plate people! It was a rice cracker which you could munch into oblivion after finishing the nigiri. My stomach and I both think more street vendors should serve their snacks on edible “plates”.  IMG_9848My stomach was satisfied and I decided it was time to check out the Fujii Art Gallery (Fujii Bijutsu Mingeikan), and take a breather from sake sampling.  This museum is also known as the Fujii Folk Craft Museum and exhibits various household items and art objects.IMG_9857 IMG_9863 IMG_9868

Beautiful collection of sake glasses

Beautiful collection of sake glasses

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It was really interesting but at an entrance fee of 700yen, the price was a bit too steep in my opinion.

Therefore, the second thing I would recommend doing in this area is visiting one of the two morning markets.takayama mapI went to both, and my recommendation would be the Miyakawa Morning Market because the atmosphere of strolling by stalls alongside the river was more pleasant.


Be sure to check this man’s stall out if you get a chance! He’s won quite a few awards for his pudding. I bought a chili-pepper-infused version of his classic recipe and it was to die for.

While strolling along the river, shopping was inevitable. I’m not one for shopping normally, but my dad’s birthday and father’s day were very soon so I shopped up a storm to have things to send home for him. I was so happy because I found some of his favourite Japanese snacks. IMG_9590

I love this store because they allow you to sample nearly all of their top sellers. This particular package is my favourite, garlic flavoured crackers, the perfect gift for garlic-lovers that’ll make their toes curl and their loved ones run in fear from their breath. Vampire protection is an additional bonus. IMG_9593As a small present for Tomomi, I also bought something from this store (Takumi)IMG_9586

I thought these little flower holders were the cutest things and bought us matching ones.

As lunchtime approached I made my way to the end of the Miyakawa Market and up into on of the side streets. A good friend of mine had recommended the restaurant Kyo for its fabulous lunch sets. He’s a big foodie like me so I knew I’d love it.

Address: 77 1-chome town daxin Takayama, Gifu, 506-0851 Tel: 0577-34-766


The Best Restaurant In Takayama – Kyo



My fabulous lunch set: hoba miso grilled on a magnolia leaf, hida beef personalized BBQ with veggies, rice with minced hoba beef, pickled local vegetables, Takayama miso soup, vegetable assortment with a local draft beer on the side.

It was the best meal I think I’ve had in Japan and the family who owns the restaurant was very kind to me. The set was very reasonable for the quality and it tasted so good my taste buds are still singing hallelujah when I think about it. The most surprising thing about the whole meal however, was the beer.

I love dark beers and I don’t get to drink them as often as I like in Japan, due to the price. Darker beers don’t seem to be as popular here, so I was pretty surprised it was the default local brew served. As the first swig of ice cold beer hit my lips, I could actually feel my eyes pop just a little. It was unbelievably delicious! So unbelievably delicious I thought the sake was playing games with my mind. So, I naturally had to take a second gulp. Nope, it wasn’t a trick, it was really truly the best beer I’ve ever had.  IMG_2339

Beer is like wine, sometimes what tastes amazing to one person doesn’t suit someone else, everyone has different preferences. For me, this tasted like my dream beer. I’m sure you’ve all imagined the perfect beer in your minds at one point or another. You take a sip of a beer and wish it was just a little more “this” or a little more “that”…..  this one was simply amazing. As soon at the kind lady serving me came by to fill up my water I quickly asked her where I could buy some of this beer because I loved it.  It turns out I was in luck, they had a store along Sannomachi Street. Check it out everyone, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Full to bursting by this point and my wallet much lighter after buying quite a bit of beer from the Takayama Brewing Company I figured I would take a time out and relax for a bit before driving home.  I went in search of a nice coffee shop to read my book and drink some coffee before hitting the road. I stumbled upon the adorable Hidacchi Cafe.



I couldn’t resist the cuteness of the milk chocolate mocha!


You put the chocolate disk on the top of the steamed hida milk and coffee and waited for it to melt. Lip smacking good!

I lost all track of time hiding away from the the bustling streets of Sannomachi nose buried deep in my excellent book (The Stockholm Octavo, should you be so interested).  Unexpectedly rain began to downpour and I thanked my lucky stars I was already happily nestled away in a cafe, I felt a little bad for the many drenched to the bone people who tried to come into the cafe but it was full and they were forced to run back out into the rain. Putting my book down, I stared up at the sky lost in thought. I love sitting at a window with a hot drink watching thunderstorms, I find it very relaxing. All too soon though it came time for me to hit the road. It was a beautiful end to a beautiful adventure.

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Life Shrinks Or Expands In Proportion To One’s Courage: Tayakama Road Trip Day 1

Up until last week I had been stuck in a bit of a funk and I needed something to snap me out of it….I was trying to decide how best to do so when I remembered my all-time favourite quote:

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To me, this roughly translates as “Life holds many wonderful things waiting around the corner, if you only have the courage to take chances.”  It was this quote gave me a much-needed nudge when I was deliberating whether or not to take a leap of faith and move to Japan.  (Thanks Anais for this quote, I really owe you one because Japan’s been a blast!) It also made me realize that perhaps a good way to shake off this funk was to pluck up a little courage and go have a crazy little adventure!

Last year, inspired by this quote I did something for the very first time, I traveled somewhere in Japan all alone! It may not sound like a big deal to you, but it was a big deal to me. It was the first time I had ever travelled somewhere alone.  Not only would I be traveling alone, I would be doing it in a country where I didn’t speak the language fluently. I had prior to this never dared to stray too away from my comfort zone (aka: my friends who speak Japanese much more fluently than I do). I was terrified I’d end up in a situation where my limited Japanese would cause problems, especially because I wanted to travel to a rural little town called Nikko.  In the end it was one of the most rewarding trips I’ve taken in Japan, it was a wonderful holiday and I was so proud of myself for taking the chance.

This winter I once again took another big leap of faith by traveling solo internationally for the first time! I travelled to Cambodia and Singapore for 2 weeks, meeting up with friends briefly in Cambodia. Anais would have been proud! I was starting to get the hang of this solo-traveling.

I had been contemplating a road trip to Takayama for quite some time, ever since I visited the snowy village of Shirakawago this winter. Last Friday, I had traveled to Nagoya to visit the zoo and on the bus ride home was thinking over what to do with myself for the weekend.  Most of my friends were away for a sports tournament yet I really felt the desire to take off and sightsee. I hadn’t been anywhere new since my parents came to visit, and my feet were very itchy! Takayama was only 3 hours away from Fukui….and I had a car….but I was terrified of heading off on a solo road trip in Japan, what if I got lost?! Need I say more? It was time for me to take a deep breath, take a risk and dive into a new adventure. I can now proudly proclaim that I have successfully experienced my very first ever solo road trip!

I adore road trips. They are so much more fun than taking the train for one very wonderful reason: you can blare your music and howl along at the top of your lungs. So, Saturday morning I woke up early, hopped into “The Snickerdoodle” (my adorable little K-car), plugged in my iPod that was “tsuru-tsuru-ippai” (full to the brim) with some new country music and hit the road!


Cruising down the highway I thought to myself “Life just doesn’t get any better than this!”

Three house later, after driving through the beautiful mountains, I arrived in Gifu for the first time!  Takayama (高山), or “Hida-Takayama” as it’s often referred to as,  is a very quaint and charming city in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture. It retains a traditional touch, especially in its beautifully preserved old town streets.

First things first, I checked into my hostel. For anyone visiting Takayama I would highly recommend the Sakura Guest House. The people running the hostel were very helpful, the hostel clean and facilities were lovely. Bonus: they have a small parking lot which you may park your car in (for free!) which J-Hoppers did not.IMG_9758

After that I scampered out the door lickety-split to seize the day….and what a beautiful day it was! IMG_9759

The Sakura Guest House was very near to the Hida Folk Village (飛騨の里, Hida no Sato), which is one of the top sightseeing places in Takayama to visit, only about a 5-10 minute walk. The Hida Folk Village is an open air museum exhibiting over 30 traditional houses from the Hida region that were built during the Edo Period (1693-1867). It’s 600yen to enter and well worth spending a couple hours wandering through.



The name of this style of house in Japanese is “Gassho-zukuri” which when translated into English means “constructed like hands in prayer”. This is because the farmhouses’ steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks when pressed together in prayer. Isn’t that just so sweet?

There were so many interesting houses to explore and lots you could learn because there were many signs written in English.



Every house had old artifacts on display, even better most with English explanations too!


My favourite part was actually being able to go into all the different houses and explore.


An old woman weaving traditional hida patterns on a loom in one of the houses.



I was really lucky to be one of the only people there that day. So walking through this historic village was peaceful and I could really imagine for moments being transported back in time…


Feeling a little mischievous I also bravely rang this bell, normally I’d shy away from drawing attention to myself when traveling solo, or even in a large group. That, however, I reminded myself as I eyed the bell for a good long minute deliberating, wasn’t the point of this little adventure. I was trying to be a “yes person” the kind of traveller who seizes every wonderful opportunity to experience culture and not let shyness hold them back. With a deep breath I climbed the stairs and let the bell’s deep GONG ring out.


After the historic village it was time to grab an early dinner. I was starving and so I headed out on a mission to hunt down a famous bowl of Hida-Takayama beef ramen that was highly recommended by the man at the Sakura Guest House.  The restaurant itself, despite not knowing its name, was pretty easy to find. I walked from Takayama Station to Miyagawa Bridge, and right before I crossed over the bridge I saw a black restaurant building on the corner with a long line-up. There were also plenty of posters showing the famous bowl of ramen. photo (12)Another awesome thing about traveling solo is that you often don’t have to wait a long time to eat. Within minutes I was seated (despite the line-up!) and had ordered. When the server brought my steaming bowl of ramen out I could immediately see why it was famous.  The scent of amazingly-flavourful beef broth wafted up, my eyes took in the thin chinese-style noodles and my mouth began to salivate at the sight of the raw, thin and oh-so-tender looking slices of hida beef that slowly were being cooked by the heat of the broth. I whole-heartedly said “Itadakimasu!” (much to the approval of the group of Japanese tourists sitting next to me) and dug in.  I won’t torment any foodies out there, other than to say, it was even better than it looked! Please try it if you ever visit Takayama!

My bowl of ramen finished in record time, I made my way back to the hostel stopping briefly at the tourist information center at the train station to ask for an onsen recommendation. I had done my research and knew that the Okuhida area of Gifu was very famous for its hot springs and many of them have fantastic views of the surrounding Northern Japan Alps.  I love mountains and I love onsens so I was keen to drive out there and visit one.  It was just a matter of figuring out which one!  The lady recommended a onsen named Hirayunomori which was a 45-minute drive from Takayama or I could take a bus. Seeing as I had my car I opted to drive.

Hirayunomori Onsen was lovely to experience after a long drive and sightseeing; it was relaxing with a serene atmosphere and had a fantastic view overlooking the mountains.  It was one of the nicest onsens I’ve been to so far in Japan!Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 10.48.38 AM

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  • ADDRESS: Hirayunomori – 763-1, Hirayu Okuhidaonsengo, Gifu, 506-1433 (Tel: 0578-89-3338)
  • Public Bathing Times: 10am – 9:00pm  (Last entry at 9:30pm)
  • Price: 500yen for an adult

As I happily plunged into the piping hot water and soaked my weary bones in the special hot spring water of this onsen I could feel a huge weight, at long last, being lifted from my mind. I spent almost an hour and a half relaxing, occasionally moving from special pool to special pool, and serenely taking in the beautiful view of the mountains. It was exactly what the doctor had ordered. The onsen not only left my body squeaky-clean and soothed but my soul too; all the worries that had been cluttering up my mind disappeared and my heart was able to expel all the negativity and find its zen once again.

As the sun sank behind the mountains, saying its farewell with a truly spectacular sunset and leaving behind a caramel-coloured sky, I reluctantly climbed out and made my way back to the hostel to rest up for my next big adventure. Stay tuned!

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