After a good night’s sleep, we head down at around 6:45 for breakfast.
There’s not too much to be said of the free breakfast here. Rice, miso soup, croquettes, fish, salad, omlette, salad, hamburger meat. There’s some variety, but all leaves the feeling of “no wonder it’s free”. The bread buns are good though, interestingly, I don’t think I’ve ever had bad bread in Japan yet.
The plus side is drinks from the vending is free during breakfast hours, so have as much coffee, milk tea, milk matcha, espresso, hot chocolate or corn soup as you like. The question in my mind as I looks over the selection is, how does a single vending make both coffee and corn soup?
After breakfast we head to Miyagawa morning market. Takayama is really not very big, there’s time for us to take a tour of it first, then come back and take a break before checkout.
We go back to Super Hotel and check out, again leaving our luggage with them.
Then it’s off to the Takayama Jinya, the historic governor’s house for the Hida prefecture.
I didn’t take many photos at the Jinya since I’ve been here before. A simple walk through, I did my best to translate the various texts for my parents.
After the Jinya, we split up again like yesterday. My parents have a few blocks around the historic area they haven’t seen yet, plus hoba miso they want to buy as gifts to bring back to Taiwan. I still have some Hyouka sites that are worth a visit.
First stop, the Hie shrine where Hotaro and Chitanda paid their New Year respects and Mayaka part-timed as a miko.
The shrine is covered with snow. Hie shrine has a branch near Takayama Jinya, so in winter very few people come all the way out here. The place has a quiet, unmoving feel, as if the gods themselves are slumbering away.
The ema stand is mostly empty, the caretakers must have recently gone through them. There were a few from fellow pilgrims.
I pay my respect at the shrine and heads back to town. I hope kamisama will grant my wish this year.
I’ve gone to most Hyouka sites already. Outside the ones on the outskirts of town, there’s one more I can visit. It’s a little out of the way, up the hills to the east of the historic areas. As I walked back from Hie shrine, it begins to snow.
Snowing, such an amazing sight. It’s the first time I’ve been in a snow. A thousand powdery white specks that floats down from the skies, disappearing as soon as they touch the group.
Then it’s time to meet up with my parents. Back at the Jinya, we’ve decided that instead of trying to find some place to eat, we’ll go to McDonalds. We’ve seen its sign with directions along the station front street and looks like it should just be on the other side of the station.
McDonalds is indeed right on the other side of the underpass. I shrug off the snow that has accumulated on my jackets, pushes the door in and joins my parents who arrived a minute earlier.
There’s something nice and assuring about McDonalds while you’re overseas. It’s a familiar sight, it offers some safe expectations but also new experiences. There’s always the Big Mac, the Fillet o fish, and the McChicken, you know what they taste like and they won’t be surprises you’d choke on (or maybe some people choke on all Big Macs *shrug*). There’s also local menus you wouldn’t have tasted before, like teriyaki chicken and shrimp burger and also whatever special they have on at the time.
After lunch it’s finally about time to catch the bus to Shirakawa. We stock up on some breads and snacks at the FamilyMart before the station first.
The snow grows ever heavier. I’m starting to become worried about the light up. It’s becoming a snowstorm, the view of the village is going to be obscured from the vantage point up the mountain….
The bus stop in Shirakawa is right near the tourism centre, the snow is falling unbelievably thick and with gusting winds.
It’s snowing so much I can’t risk bringing out the X10 and have to snap away on my phone. Thank goodness for waterproof Xperia, and clever me for choosing it. And people wonder why I didn’t get a Galaxy or HTC.
Access to the main village is over a narrow bridge called the bridge of chance meetings (であい橋)
Shimizu is on the outer edge of the village. Hopefully the distance won’t be too bad even with the snow, I hope.
Finally we get to Shimizu. The owner’s daughter comes out to greet us then disappears. She comes back with a towel for us to brush off the snow before stepping in.
We’re shown our room. About 4 by 5 metres, it has a oil heater and electric blanket. The daughter explains a few rules, how to get to the light up vantage point and dinner times then disappears into the kitchen. I am a little disappointed by the less than enthusiastic welcome. That seems to be their style though, keeping out of the way of guests. As I found out later there are three other Japanese guests that night, and none of them got warmer receives. The more professional homestays have better service and more talkative owners, but then they don’t speak english, a useful thing as proved later.
I scrounge up a plastic bag from our packs and create a makeshift wrap for the X10.
If it isn’t a light up day, I’ve love the snow. But alas.. now I’m conflicted.
At one of the stores we stop and buy an umbrella for my parents. Shockingly they’re only sold at something like 400 or 500Y, decided well restrained from taking advantage of hapless tourists.
At the foot of the trail leading up to the vantage point, we’re momentarily confused by a sign by the side of the road says the path is closed due to snowfall. A couple walks down from the trail and I asks them if it is possible to walk up, which they replied “yes, you can walk up there”. Whew.
At last we make it to the top. The vantage point is maintained by a store which has divided the area up for paying guests, tripod dudes and non-tripod dudes.
I didn’t have any intention of lining up in the tripod queue. In retrospect it might have been worth a try, though I have some doubt if my tripod would have been heavy and stable enough to have gotten better shots.
We find shelter in the store and buys a coffee and some gohei-mochi (五平餅) so we can sit down.
We got there at about 3:30pm, while seated the snow outside got heavier and heavier. We started talking about whether we should just head down and hope the lights will look okay down below.
We stayed on, clinging to some hope the snowstorm might die down in time. At around 4:30, seeing the ever growing crowd, I decide it’s time to head out and find a spot.
The public vantage point near the carpark is almost packed. I was a little worried until I managed to find a spot by a sign post which with some clever thinking, I managed to put the X10 on top using the gorillapod I bought before leaving Sydney. Best $30AUD ever spent.
I still didn’t get too many usable shots though. The wind was absolutely blitzing making the camera shake just ever so slightly, enough to ruin the shots at any low ISO.
The lights begins to be turned on, and hope begins to grow that maybe it’ll still be visible despite the snow. Then…
The heaviest snowstorm yet blows in and obscuring everything. I can barely see 20 metres much less the village below.
All that work for the trip, and it had been going so well too. Looks to be going to waste and forever marred with disappointment.
Then, as if the will of everyone there was at last heard and answered.
I mount the camera and snaps away, but is constantly foiled by the wind. Still, I persisted.
Though I couldn’t get any picture perfect shots you’d see people post around the web, I got some decent ones to be happy, and extremely grateful given the weather. I checked the time, almost 6. Time to head down.
There’s plenty of people going up and down the trail.
Unlike earlier, the trail is now incredibly slippery. Snow had melted after being walked on then frozen into ice.
People are holding hands, grabbing onto each other. People still slipped everywhere though, often knocking down entire groups of 5 or 6 as they fell.
I have already strapped snow shoe spikes to my shoes back at Shimizu, and is one of the few managing a decent pace. I skips and hops without ever fearing for my footing, quickly descends to the village. Best $300TWD ever spent.
Down in the village it’s even more packed, I have no idea where all these people came from. The car park across the river must be packed full of buses. The organizers has watch posted at every corner and ditch, waving and directing people, making sure no one fell into a stream or rice field and helping people.
People are robbing the stores of hot drinks and Hida beef skewers and dangos like coyotes.
And people slipped everywhere and terribly. One girl fell with a scream and with a loud screech landed on her side on the icy surface. People all around stops and gathers around the sobbing girl, checking if she is alright. A man waving a orange glowrod rushes over and helps the girl up, waves over another of his colleague and together carries the girl toward the village centre where the first aid station must be.
Hope she’s alright.
I got back a few minutes earlier than 7:30 when the lights are expected to go out. I decided against going back to the village center for more shots, it is cold and chilling. Best to not test the limit of endurance.
My parents have already had shower by the time I got back. Since the owners can speak english they are able to explain how to use the shower and things.
The dinner table is already laid out and waiting for me to start.
It’s nowhere near luxurious like Yatsusan-kan of course, but very very delicious. A homemade style that’s easy on the stomach while very varied in taste and textures.