After a couple of days spent on Japan’s north coast in the pleasantly untouristy Kanazawa, we set off on a train journey that would slowly climb into the mountainous interior. The train journey itself was spectacular, with great views along the route to our destination of Takayama where we were staying. Our accomodation in Takayama was one of the highlights of the trip – we were staying in a Zen temple. Unlike the temple we stayed at in Koya-san which was still fully operational, here it was much more geared towards tourism. This didn’t detract from what a great place it was to stay, with beautiful rooms and gardens both of which were located just off the main temple hall. In main temple hall is Kaidan Meguri, a narrow staircase leading to a dark passage which continues in a loop under the temple. The passage is in complete darkness and it is a really intense path to follow, especially when you are about half-way around! The goal is to locate (by touch) a sacred lock, which is located directly below the temples main altar. It sounds simple enough in theory, but it was with great relief that we emerged back into the light!
The plan was to spend the first afternoon and evening exploring the town itself, before taking a day trip further into the mountains the following morning. We enjoyed a pleasant walk in the area of the town adjoining the river before embarking on the task of finding somewhere for dinner. It was another non-Japanese effort that night, as we decided to eat in a tiny Mexican restaurant called Chapala. This turned out to be a great decision, so after a lovely meal we back to get some sleep – it seemed wrong to make it a late night when you’re staying in a Zen temple!
The next morning we set off to head deeper into the mountains and specifically to the area known as the Japan Alps. We were planning on spending the day walking in the high mountain valley of Kamikōchi. In order to get there we needed to catch two buses, initially to Hirayu Onsen where we changed buses to make the final part of the journey. The valley of Kamikōchi is car free, with only buses being allowed into the access road at the lower end of the valley as far as the bus terminal where we began our hike.
We made our way along the track which followed the south side of the river as far as Myojinkan. This part of the walk is very popular with the many day trippers, who cross the bridge here and return to the waiting buses via the path on the other side of the river, a walk of about two and a half hours. As we had a bit extra time, we decided to deviate a bit from this route and carry on up the river a little further to Tokusawa. This had the added benefit of taking us away from the more busy tourist areas. The benefit of the quieter trails paid off, and we saw lots of monkeys as we continued our walk.
After a short lunch stop at the hut in Tokusawa we returned to Myojinkan the same way, and crossed over the Myojin bridge heading for the Myojin pond. The views from the side of the pond are spectacular, with crystal clear water which beautifully reflect the forested slopes of Mt. Myojindake.
From here it was a pleasant walk back along the river, crossing it at Kappa bridge and returning to the bus terminal ready for our bus back to town. After a sleepy bus ride back to town we just had time to grab some dinner before catching the train back to Tokyo. This part of Japan is famous for it’s Hida beef, so we decided that steak was the way to go when finding somewhere to eat that evening.
It was to be an eventful onwards journey though. An hour or so after the train had departed it came to a stop between stations, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There were some announcements, but nothing in English, and lots of discussion amongst the passengers, it was clear that something was going on. Fortunately the passenger who was sat next to me, a doctoral student returning to Osaka for his studies, explained to us what was going on. Apparently there had been an earthquake, something not all that uncommon in Japan, and as soon this has happened all trains within a certain distance are halted whilst checks are performed on the tracks. It turned out that the earthquake had been a fairly minor one, and after a delay of about 45 minutes we were on our way again. This did however mean that we were really tight for time in making our connection at Nagoya, and our train onwards towards Tokyo. The station was in absolute chaos, but it seemed all the trains had been delayed in the same way, so we just about made it!