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!

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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…

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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.

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

  1. Pingback: Valentine's Day Trip: Shirakawa Go - Breathing Means More

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