Morning arrives unnoticed. Though winter, the sky was dimly lit when I wake up near 6am.
As a side note, we woke up during the night as the heater while needed going to sleep, became too strong during the night. So we had a little midnight supper, appreciating the rice balls and shiitake mushroom tea. The shiitake mushroom tea is fantastic, a small bit of pepper in the mix gives it a pleasant, warming sting. Later on we would shopped for it, but alas could not find ones with pepper. The pepperless one we bought was found lacking depth in its taste.
Breakfast is at 7am so there’s plenty of time for a morning dip in the onsen.
Overnight the men’s and women’s onsen has switched sides. It’s a way for the ryokan to let the guests enjoy different onsen baths and experiences. There’s a few more people this time, but few enough to not feel like intruding on each other.
After a refreshing bath, we head to the same private dining room as the night before. Usually breakfast is served in the guests’ own rooms, since Yatsusan has its own dining rooms, it utilizes them instead. I’m sure if one requested they’d be more than happy to bring it to your room.
The dishes are served mostly as a whole this time. There’s a few hot dishes that are brought individually later.
Hoba Miso Hida specialty, it’s spring onion, mushrooms, veges mixed with miso placed on magnolia leaf, grilled over a fire and goes fantastically with rice.
After breakfast my parents goes back up for another nap, while I went exploring the maze of corridors of Yatsusan.
Since its founding, successive generations have gradually expanded the place with several wings, each with its own unique style and characteristics.
It is hard to describe the feeling of being in Yatsusan-kan. Aside from the impeccable service, the whole place is tended to with utmost care. You do not see it, but you feel it around every wooden beam and every paper door. Small artworks and trinkets are sprinkled about the place, populating and always piquing your interests, but never excessive to give the feel of getting in the way or distracting.
Clean and tidy, but not sterile. There are plenty of human touch, of hand written signs or notes when others might have opted for the convenience of a print out. Furniture and other fixtures are not uniform, keeping to the same theme but varied, it all contributes to a feeling of care and love, as though you can picture the owners personally placing every pebble and installing each light. A wonderful place which the owners invites you to share in its comforts and joys. You are not a patron paying, you are a guest welcomed.
Even the best experience must draw to an end. We checks out, leaving our luggage with Yatsusan-kan, and embark on a tour of Furukawa.
(Note, onsens in Japan often have a special “onsen” fee that’s used to maintain the onsen. Though some will choose to absorb this into the overall price, many will collect this as a surcharge when you check out. It’s not much, about 100 ~ 150Y per person)
Hida-Furukawa is not a very big town, nor many tourism spots. Its main attraction is a stretch of river canal lined with historic buildings.
There are two breweries in Furukawa, both apparently quite well known in the area. We bought a bottle of the gen-sake (undiluted sake), it’s almost milky in texture, full of flavour, almost a little too strong for me. (I still prefer my dessert wines)
Unfortunately the Hida-craft museum is closed today. (Why is a museum closed on Saturday? I have no idea)
We then decided to skip on the Hida festival museum and head to Takayama a bit earlier than planned.
I believe Yatsusan-kan does more than just ryokan, but also ryotei (high classed restaurant). There were a group of business looking men which we spotted leaving after dinner time last night, and while we waits for our luggage to be brought down to us, we see the same group of men entering.
The okami drove us to the station, just in time for the local commuter train.
It takes about 20 minutes to get to Takayama. We hop off and head to our hotel to drop off our bags first.
Our stay in Takayama is Super Hotel. There aren’t that many choices of accommodation in Takayama, at least not ones in the price range I look for. There’s Spa Hotel Alpina, a hotel that prides itself on its top floor 360 view onsen, but its price is at the top range of business hotels. There’s Country Hotel and Hotel Hana, both on the cheap end but I decided Super Hotel was the better value choice.
There’s plenty of homestays if that is your preferred choice, though they are usually not bookable through Jalan or Rakuten and you need to contact them directly. Too much effort to organize in the scheme of things during my planning.
The lobby of Super Hotel is already piled high with luggages when we got there. Quite clearly quite a few others agree with my assessments and also considers it the hotel of choice for tourists.
Relieved of our burden, we’re now free to look for lunch. Most people come to Takayama for Hida beef meals and magnolia leaf miso, but we’ve had a taste of that last night and this morning (and probably of finer calibre too). So instead I aims for something simple, I’ve grabbed a few potential eateries off Tabelog during planning, and intends to play it by ears.
Most of the eateries are just off the north side of the main street. The first one, Tsuzumi Soba (つづみそば), famous for its chinese soba (misnomer, decidedly not chinese style), is full with people lined up outside, so we continue past to Mitsui Shokudou.
As a shokudou (eatery), Mitsui does not have anything fancy, what it is is well priced and decent taste. (about 600 to 700Y for a don or udon)
There’s just one thing I forgot when I picked it…. Japanese are real heavy smokers and while some restaurants are non-smoking, or at least have a smoking section (usually ineffective, some better ones will physically wall off smoking area), that’s not a luxury a small eatery can afford. Halfway through our meal, a group sat down behind us and began smoking.
We had to quickly finish our lunch and escape the smoke. But otherwise the place was excellent, the taste is good and the portions generous.
Since we got to Takayama earlier than expected (I had originally planned to have lunch in Furukawa), it gives us a full afternoon instead of just half. I think Yatsusan-kan really left an impression on my parents, they probably worried this trip might be too much about them and I wouldn’t get enough out of this trip. They encouraged me to go off on my own, they’re more than capable of wander the area and getting back to the hotel.
A sound plan, Takayama’s main attraction is the 3 historic streets, which has a lot of small shops full of souvenirs and small crafts and trinkets. And I’m not a shopping person, my main focus is Hyouka sightseeing, which would bore my parents to tears.
Parting ways turns out to be a great idea, as there’s more to Hyouka than I originally expected and would not have been able to do in the time I had originally reserved.
Looking through the notes and Hyouka goods, I notice there’s a set of 4 limited edition coaster only sold at 4 places in Takayama. The design immediately caught my eyes. A little souvenir can’t hurt, right?
I walk out with a coaster in hand. I have an additional task ahead, Marutto Plaza only had one of the four available, so now I need to track down all 4 coasters.
Bagpipe is one of the places that sells the coasters I’m hunting. Unfortunately, it also only have 2 of them….
The hunt for the coasters continue. I did not enter Teacafe Katsute as I didn’t have to for another drink. Hopefully the last place has the remaining coasters.
The last place is Nakada Central Pharmacy (中田中央薬品), the owner must be a huge Hyouka fan, for it is the official host for the Hyouka Festival.
I’m in luck, all four coasters are in fact available here! (if only I looked here first…) With the coasters set now complete, I continue on my pilgrimage.
My pilgrimage now takes a short break. It’s nearing 3pm and it’s time to meet back up with my parents at Super Hotel and check in to our rooms.
Super Hotel’s concierge is a very friendly and experienced young woman. She quickly goes through the various rules and amnesties of the hotel (wifi in lobby, breakfast at lobby, help yourself to your preferred pillow from the pillow store…etc), she keeps her words simple and I found no problem understanding her. I knew most of what she was going to say, except the door lock. Super Hotel has no keys (not even swipe card), instead on each door is a number pad and a pin is generated to unlock it. Make sure to keep the printout of the pin safe.
After check in I continue my pilgrimage. All afternoon I’ve focused on the eastside, now it’s time to check out a spot just south of Takayama Station.
After rejoining with my parents once more, we head out for dinner. Originally I planned for us to have ramen, but my parents didn’t feel too much like noodles so we decides to go to the main street and see what’s available.
We decide on Tanyakyo, a place that specializes in Hida beef (aren’t they all). It’s very crowded during the day but at this time, it’s fairly quiet.
During dinner, my parents mentioned this woman they met while waiting at Super Hotel’s lobby earlier in the day. The woman and her kid was also from Taiwan and she and my parents had a conversation while waiting for the Hotel to open check in.
She was going to the light up also and was surprised when my parents mentioned we are going to the light up and will actually staying in Shirakawa-go. My parents said the woman was quite impressed that I was able to secure one.
Apparently she tried but couldn’t secure anything. She started planning from a year ago, tried to secure accommodations, even bought a fax machine so she can fax those homestays but they couldn’t understand english. In the end she had to book tour bus trips for the light up. The bus departs from Takayama and arrives in Shirakawa-go just before the light up starts, then comes back to Takayama after the light up.
Determined she would stay at a homestay, she booked one for Monday night all the same. No light up, but she gets to stay there.
Her reaction gave the wrong impression for my parents though. While I appreciate the praise my parents started to give about how good I had to be to have pulled this trip off, I must say getting accommodation for Shirakawa-go is not that difficult as the woman made it out to be. My priority were the English speaking, email bookable homestays, but if the woman was willing to go to the length of buying a fax machine, her options opens up greatly. Even up till early November I know people were still managing to secure accommodations. Some ryokans and homestays further out from Shirokawa-go also offered transports to the light up when you stayed with them.
Back in Super Hotel, I finally get a chance for a good night’s sleep. Super Hotel doesn’t have triple rooms, so I booked a double and a single. Curious enough, their double and single are basically the same, only double has a bunk bed on top so the second person can sleep up there if he so chooses.
I get to have a room to myself and can relax and roll around all I want on the bed.