No sooner had Tom and I arrived in the thriving city of Tokyo, the shinkansen whisked us away the next morning into the beautiful Japanese countryside and to one of its most charming towns, Takayama, which has still retained much of its traditional beginnings, including 3 main streets where the architecture has been painstakingly preserved from when they were originally built in the 1800’s.
Firstly though a special mention to the shinkansen; rightly famous for its speed and comfort (even in economy), what is well less well known is how quiet it is if you’re a passenger. Everyone is encouraged to switch their phones off and not play music loudly, so ideal if you want to do work or get a bit of reading done. I shall definitely reminisce the next time I’m scrunched next to someone’s newspaper listening to someone’s gangsta rap music, no doubt delayed somewhere on a Southeastern train.
So back to Takayama, Tom and I managed to see the best of the town easily in a day along with its hillside temples and shrines. It was here we also got our first real glimpse of the autumn foliage which I was never to get tired of seeing. Takayama also had a lot of atmospheric restaurants fitted out in their traditional wooden interiors which I just loved.
Close by to Takayama is the heart of Japanese alps, Kamikochi, where luckily for us from a photography point of view some of the trees were still clinging to life. A favourite among locals as well, we enjoyed an easy flat stroll around the river for about 3 hours. Nearly everyone we passed called out a friendly “konnichiwa” which made me smile. In one particular spot there was a slightly ominous sign warning us of a recent bear sighting at the lake we were heading to. The only wildlife we found however was 2 random ducks waddling around intent on stealing whatever food there was. And speaking of food, it was here that Tom and I got our hands one of the region’s specialities, hida beef in a steamed bun, which forgive the pun were going like hot cakes. The taste of it was so good I still have random cravings for it now 2 months later.
The next place we were headed to was Nagano, which in contrast to Takayama definitely has not escaped development. While pleasant enough with a good selection of restaurants and shops its main draw is as a convenient base for the nearby alps and the sprawling temple of Zenko-ji where the monks are kind enough to open their doors each morning for the public to see their prayer sessions.
Out of the many excursions nearby, Tom and I chose to go to Togakushi which is renowned for its 3 lakes and shinto shrines. While the lakes were pretty enough, we got by far our most impressive and unexpected view from a ridge you had to climb to get from one lake to another. From here you could see over a wide expanse of vivid autumn colours to the rolling mountains in the distance, a view I hope I’ve done some justice to in my photos.
Feeling the pinch of our wallets from the extortionate prices coaches charge, Tom and I stuck closer to home for our final side trip from Nagano and went to the smaller town of Ueda to wander round the park, made more noteworthy as it happens to have the remains of a castle at its centre. Some men had also decided to dress up that day in old Japanese feudal uniform, definitely more amusing that authentic!