2 1/2 hours northeast of Nagoya by bus, tucked away in the foothills of the Northern Japan Alps, is the smallish community of Takayama. It’s famous for its traditional architecture, nearby onsen (hot springs), quirky shops, specialty restaurants and ancient shrines (including one originally built in the 8th century which was later destroyed by fire; some of the present buildings on the site date back to the 16th century).
Last weekend, Hannah, Kim and I met for a girls’ weekend in Takayama. Kim and I took a bus from Nagoya and Hannah arrived from Kanazawa, after a few days of exploring that region. We had a fine time walking all around this lovely hamlet, ducking in and out of shops, eating at local traditional restaurants, perusing the morning markets, strolling along the paths that meandered through the forested grounds of a local temple and enjoying the camaraderie that goes with such trips.
It was during a walk after dinner at a tiny family owned restaurant, that I was struck again with the privilege of getting to choose this life. It was so ordinary – walking with two friends after a satisfying meal. But it was beyond that: I was walking along a quiet street, otherwise dark except for the muted street lights along the route, in a mountain community in Japan, with two people with whom I shared several values, namely, a love for travel, other cultures and teaching. And there we were: we had made independent decisions, applied for a job, finagled some logistics (a lot of logistics, actually), boarded a plane for Japan, and, on this weekend, ended up in Takayama. And as we walked on that road, on that chilly evening, I considered the simple reality of it. How did I end up here when I could have been anywhere else? I’ve been fortunate to have had other situations in which I could have asked the same question – from any peak, valley or trail I’ve ever hiked; from dirt roads, cafes and hutongs in Bolivia, Boulder and Beijing. But in this moment, I was in the foothills of the the Japan Alps and could not be more thankful for it.
Everyone has their own story, however easy or difficult getting to where we intend might be. I’ve been in a long season of getting to travel and work and it’s never lost on me how lucky I am. This little excursion was another reminder of that.
Meeting Kim and heading to Nagoya Station to catch our bus!
Excited trip faces – ready to go!
First thing to do: eat some traditional food. This was the best ramen either of us have had yet.
We met Hannah and began our tour of Takayama.
Sacred temple grounds.
Rickshaw on the bridge.
Robyn on the bridge.
Tiny corner neighborhood restaurant. We all agreed this was a highlight of Japan so far.
The food was served in several small dishes. More was to come after this photo was taken.
Our newest favorite Japanese restaurant.
On our second day, we took a train 15 minutes away from Takayama to Hida-Furukawa. While there were lots of tourists in Takayama, we seemed to be the only foreigners in Hida-Furukawa. This was a small, unassuming community that seemed not to notice (or care) that only a short distance away was a place that drew travelers from all over the world.
Finding the way in Hida-Furukawa.
Hannah captured the moment perfectly.
There were two shrines that seemed overwhelmingly large relative to the size of the town. The first…
After all the walking and shrine-looking, it was time for…coffee!!
Somehow we just knew this was the place.
Japanese-style coffee time.
A unique display we saw along the street.
Tiny stairs engraved into the rock.
Ready to head back to Takayama.
We stayed at J-Hoppers, a cozy, clean hostel run by very nice and helpful staff.
(Maybe it was too early for pictures…)
We had a fantastic time in Takayama. I was there for two days and one night and felt like that was plenty of time to take in the richness and essence of the town. Hannah and Kim stayed for another night and visited a nearby onsen, which I heard was beautiful and relaxing.
Takayama is now one of my favorite places in Japan and I’d love to return sometime for another visit.