There is one thing I certainly won’t miss–the tiptoeing around in the morning so as to not disturb your fellow bunkmates. As I quietly got my things together, along with a quick good morning/evening to David, I said my goodbyes to my host–though not before correcting an English email he was sending (at his behest). I made my way down to the station and found my platform. I braced myself for what would be my most involved train day. For whatever reason, I ended up getting booked on 3 different trains (both transfers being about 5 minutes). My first train was a limited express, similar to the other trains I’ve taken thus far. It was only 40 minutes before I rolled into Toyama. Now it’s amazing how your luggage never tips over when you walk normally, but when in a hurry, it flops about like a fish out of water. As I urgently hauled it up the stairs, I soon realized there was no signage indicating where my next platform would be. After going down the wrong flight of stairs, I finally accosted a pair of workmen who looked it up on the (Japanese only) chart. Thankfully, I made the train, barely, getting onto the single-car train and finding a seat. Sweaty and tired, I knew I wouldn’t be getting any work done. It was an hour on the slower, ricketier train car, but we eventually got to Inotani. Mercifully, being such a teeny tiny train station, it only had 2 platforms, so the other train was waiting when I got off. It was a beautiful and relaxing ride through the hills, meandering along next to a wide river, ducking through tunnels occasionally.
It was 12:30 pm by the time we reached Takayama, and what would be my final stop on my whirlwind Japanese tour. J-Hoppers Hostel was quite easy to find, just a 3 minute walk from the station. I was too early to check-in, so I left my luggage and headed off for ‘Old Town’. I’d been to Takayama before, but I had always enjoyed the traditional merchant houses (dating back to the Edo period, 1600s), with shops selling artisan pottery and wood carvings, as well as, of course, the ubiquitous sarubobo doll. Sarubobos are associated with Takayama, and apparently, stems from a tradition where grandmothers would make these dolls for their granddaughters as a charm for good luck in marriage and children. The town is also known for its sake brewing, and so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to snag a couple (small) bottles. I wandered back to the hostel and sat in their lounge to get some work done. I suppose I didn’t feel the great push to sightsee, as I’d already seen much of the town before, and largely because I was tired. I definitely wanted to save my energy for tomorrow’s festival which, by all accounts, will be a mad house.
Showered and refreshed, I headed back out in the evening to find dinner. A French restaurant had caught my eye earlier, specializing in preparing Hida beef, French-style. I tried to look around for other potential restaurants, and I was content to walk the quiet, dimly-lit streets. Takayama is appealing in that it seems to have retained a sort of small-town charm, unlike most Japanese cities which are hotbeds of modernity, bustling with activity. It’s funny…I did notice that there were no curbs really, or just massive long curb-cuts (I tend to look out for these things when I travel), which I later discovered was as a result of the city endeavoring to make itself “barrier free“. Thumbs up from me. I circled back to the French restaurant, but first took a peek at an Italian place across the street that was quite a bit cheaper. In the end, I decided to save my monies, and opted for Italian. It was a cute, European-styled restaurant, with what looked to be only 4 tables in the house. I settled on an oldie but a goodie (carbonara), which was quite tasty and actually just the right portion size. It’s amusing to me that your gut reaction sometimes when they set the plate down is “oh that’s somewhat small”, perhaps because we’re so used to gigantic portion sizes. But in the end, the slightly smaller portion was just enough to fill me without over-stuffing myself. This, of course, left room for dessert, and I can’t resist tiramisu, which was surprisingly tasty. A good meal in my belly to fuel me for tomorrow, I headed back to the hostel for the evening.