Sunday, 29 August 2010

Takayama Bound (Vacation Continued)

We left Matsimoto and continued on our adventure. Just across the mountain range we entered Gifu Prefecture. Our destination; the city of Takayama and our camping ground at the Mibourou Damn. We spent the next few days exploring Takayama, a fabulous little city that has really preserved Japanese architecture and tradition.

The city was full of little streets with shops, restaurants and cafes.

Rivers and steams run from the mountains and through the city, there are tons of Japanese style bridges to cross.

We saw Takayama at night.

We also luckily and accidental found a festival

Back at our campsite we decided to see some natural sites as well. We took a drive up a very skinny mountain road to one of the National Parks in the area. We checked out the waterfall and a natural outdoor onsen (bathhouse). This was very refreshing and totally unique.

This is an outdoor mountain fed bath, the water is geothermally warmed

This was the view from the bath

We found a nice couple to take our picture.

We went back to Takayama to check out their famous morning markets, don't I look awake?

I have always been a bit uncomfortable with human powered transportation, but these rickshaws were awesome. We didn't ride but we did see some really cool female rickshaw drivers.

Our Soba noodle lunch with mountain vegetables. Soba, which is buckwheat noodles is Josh and I's favorite food so far in Japan.

Well, I will leave you with this picture of this awesome motorcycle. Stay tuned for part three of our vacation, it's amazing that we did so many things in nine days.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Matsumoto bound

Last week we had a vacation and a good opportunity to escape the 40 degree 90% humidity death trap that is Kansai region in the summer and get out to the cooler climes of the Japanese Alps. The Alps were less impressive than the Rockies and the towns we fist saw in the area lacked the charm of the European Alps, though we reached a great spot that is not on the to see list of many visiting Japan though should be. The Castle city of Matsumoto is a true gem of a city that we spent 3 days exploring. The main feature here is the clean streetscapes free of hanging wires (properly buried as most modern countries are) that marr most Japanese cities. Add to this a laid back atmosphere, the first street cafes and bakeries I have seen in Japan combined with the oldest wooden castle in Japan, and this place is a must see. Did I mention the temperatures are much cooler and drier than most of the main Island?
The castle dominates the town's skyline and is basically central in the nicer district of town. Though we did not go in, it was a great place to just walk around and see the great architecture imagining Samurai and ninja running amok murdering the general public, you real Japanese type stuff haha.

In Matsumoto they feature an architectural style that is plaster painted white and grey, to emulate the old storehouses of Japan. Even the skyscrapers in town employ this look, it is quite impressive and thanks to the region not having any military importance back in the 40s the city was spared the American bombs that flattened much of Japan.
Along the river the city has a pretty nice market area that is a good area to stroll and listen to the water. Along the river we had several cafe and icecream sandwich stopoffs not to mention the boulevard was punctuated with shrines to Matsumoto's patron Frog God.
Fabrics and Kimonos abound in this old style city, make sure you check out a kimono shop in Japan, the number of patterns and textures used is stunning, too bad the Japanese rarely wear this beautiful garment.

Yeah so we hung out around the castle quite a bit, great place to see with loads of turtles and huge Koi fish throughout the moat.

If I were to come back to this country I think Matsumoto would be high on my list with it's castle, nice shopping districts, cosmopolitan atmosphere, buried power lines, cool temperature and great snow conditions in winter. Although if I were you I would skip on the local Nagano specialties of Koi and raw Horse meat, yes the Japanese and especially the Nagano region eat Koi and raw Horse.....I will pass, give me some ice cream sandwiches please.