It’s true, how terrible am I? I started this blog almost 1 month and a half ago and after diligently posting about my adventures in Japan, I promptly lost interest in less than 10 days. Does everyone go through this with blogging? Maybe it’s because I’m from the instant gratification generation. Or so my parents insist on telling me quite regularly.
Since it’s been a while since I said hello! So much has happened that I’ve wondered. What should I blog about exactly?? I’ve done so much and EATEN SO much that there’s just too much to contain in one little post. And to be fair, you’ll all be bored stiff reading as it is. Well instead of posting ridiculous high-calorie-arteries-clogging food photos I’ve decided to change it up a bit. With Obon upon us this week ( a period in Japan where a bunch of public holidays fall one after another and the Japanese honour their ancestors) R and I have decided to go and explore a little of the Central Japan Area. Everyone and anyone get’s in their cars, jet off somewhere and it gets congested and overpriced. But if they didn’t have this block of holidays Japanese people would probably work too much!
I should probably mention to make up for the lack of posts that I’m sure the world wide web has been eagerly anticipating with bated breath, I have decided to split my post into two. WOAH I know. If anyone actually sticks around to read the second one…
Sadly this region we live in seems to be just a quick post-note in most guide books. I’m not sure if this is because it is not as convenient a route for most 1-2 week holiday trips in Japan. Most people do the Tokyo – Osaka/Kyoto – Hiroshima route, and just bypass anything facing the Japan Sea side. (Which I myself have done the last few times in Japan too) Having said that there is a huge domestic market for it, just that I can barely string a sentence to say “I’m going on holiday” in Japanese. Actually I think that this region is just as beautiful, and I’m enjoying finding out more and more about it and it’s ‘off-the-beaten-track’ charm. Well enough of that, I’m sure you’re all dying to know where I decided to go.
After some talk we decided that we wanted to visit the Gokoyama Region, although by far the most famous village in this region is Shirakawa-go (A Unesco Heritage site), there are other lesser visited places in the area. I’m not going to go on about it, because to be honest you can google the hell out it. There are three villages in the area that make up the Gokoyama Area, although half is in one prefecture and the others in another. Our plan for the day was to start at Ainokura (the furthest away) and end at Shirakawa-go before heading home with a quick Onsen dip on the way home (although this didn’t happen, we were just too tired!) Although we initially wanted to stay in a Ryokan up there, it ended up being too much of a hassle because of the busy holiday period so we decided to save it for later.
So the day arrived and R and I, with two of our friends K and M decided to leave our house at 9ishAM. I say 9ish, because if any of you know me well, you know I am a terrible time keeper. We all piled into our car and left, after about 30 mins, we already hit our first road block. The dreaded TRAFFIC JAM, it took us 30 mins to clear 250meters at one point! But then it all miraculously cleared up, it did add an extra hour to our travel time though.
How to Get There
For those of you who are thinking about driving there yourself, it takes between 3 to 3.5 hr from Nagoya on the zippy Express way depending on how fast or how careful a driver you are. The Tolls cost about 5300 Yen (Around $55) Each way, plus Petrol, per car. BUT if you’re planning to do this by Public Transport, it can take you HOURS (Around 6 to be exact), this is because there aren’t great connections heading up that way, but it means you probably will get slightly less tourists (a small bonus). You will have to train from Takayama and from there Bus to Shirakawa-go, if you want to go further to the higher areas, you need to take an extra bus from Shirakawa-go to Ainokura. All up this can cost around 12,000 Yen each way/per person or more (Around $120 I’m bad at maths too), so you can imagine that if you have a car it’s a lot more convenient not to mention cheaper to get up there!
We Have Arrived At -
Ainokura is probably one of the quietest villages as it’s the furthest away, All you need to pay is a 500yen parking fee and you’re free to wander around. It’s also one of the most secluded, proper roads and electricity didn’t even really get there until the mid 1900’s. Even now you can still see a lot of rural quaintness in the area. I would have loved to stay up there! You can see a lot of the villagers are self-sustaining growing their own crops and harvesting wild forest vegetables for their dinner table. In fact a famous dish from the area is tempura vegetables with vegetables found only in the region. They also sold some of their vegetables at a little booth next to the car park, although I didn’t buy any they all looked amazingly fresh and cheap. A big bag of eggplants, roughly 5-6 baby ones in a bag went for 100Yen!! We decided to walk up to the look out point in Ainokura which only took a scant 5-10 mins at most. Even so it was a dirt road, and I was surprised to see a Japanese Girl wearing 3 inch stilettos, I soon realised by the end of the day, this was quite de rigeur amongst the younger girls. THE PAIN!!!! How can they DO THAT??! I just know that I don’t want to have Sarah Jessica Parker’s veiny heel worned feet/claw/hooves. We were rewarded after our ardous 5 min hike with a beautiful view of the village. The houses here are built slightly different from their neighbours as they get larger snowfall, and we were given a pamplet in english that proudly told us of the construction that required the whole village to join in and help ceate the Gassho Houses. I could probably tell you what a Gassho house is but here’s a link instead. It also details the differences in construction.
If you’re interested in just having a cup of tea and watching the world go by in a quiet Japanese town you can do this. Or you can make yourself a cup of tea and check out this link to a LIVE FEED of Ainokura Village, from the safety and comfort of your own couch. You can toggle the buttons on the left to get a 3 different view points. I feel sorry for these people, it’s like they live on the Truman Show, people traipse through their street staring at them gardening, now they have a camera just pointed at them ALL THE TIME!!!! There’s definitely no wandering around the house naked for these people…. not that you would I’m sure.
Below is one of the best kept houses in Ainokura, although on further reflection I felt it surely looked like the evil witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel. hmm….
One of the shops also sold their own home made ice cream, which after walking around in 35 degree heat, R and I decided was a great idea! We got one each of the Black Sesame (Goma) and Yuzu (Japanese Citrus fruit). Although I was a bit hesitant to try a citric milky cream confection, I was pleasantly surprised. This was delicious, the ice cream was soft and creamy too, which if you’re used to Japanese ice-cream, it was a surprise too.
There are a few points of interest in the village apart from the amazingly cute cottages.
Other Things to do in Ainokura -
- There are 2 folk museums which allow you entry to see what a Gassho house is like inside (1st floor only) as well as explanation of the local music instruments etc, We decided to skip this and save ourselves for Iwase House (Which I’ll talk about later) Iwase house being one of the biggest and oldest Gassho houses in the region, plus you get to go up the the 3rd floor. You might as well go big or go home!
- The map marked out an impressively named 20 Day Stone, it told us that when the snow on that stone melted, the remaining snow in the village would dissipate within 20 days. We excitedly rushed to see it, it turned out to be a very uninspiring green covered rock in someone’s backyard, in fact what was more exciting was this cute little dog house right next to the rock, in fact you can see the 20 day rock to your right and judge for yourself on how impressive this is.
- There is a cute little shrine with a beautiful cypress tree by it’s gate entrance, you can see this in the photo above. I can’t remember the name unfortunately!
So I’ve rambled for long enough so this ends my post for today. The village gave us just a sample of cuteness to come, trust me the rest of my day was punctuated with cries of OH THAT IS SOOOOOOO CUTE! I hated myself, I sounded like a 16 yr old Belieber and a Bieber concert, but I couldn’t help it. Ainokura is definitely worth the visit if you have a car, it is a mere 30 mins away from Shirakawa-go, it is less touristy and you get to wander around the village without too many other people trying to get in your photos ( a common disease that affects most snap happy people). I could easily see myself coming back to spend a night in one of the Ryokan or Guest Houses here. Although I’ve heard that they play a loudspeaker message and music at 6.30am right through the village for 10 min intervals for half an hour……. so not for the early risers I’m guessing.