Sunday, 10 August 2014

But I am not complaining

Date: Sunday 10th August 2014

Weather: The day started with rain but then, at around 10am, it stopped … for almost 3 hours! After that dry period, heavy rain – probably caused by Typhoon Halong passing just below me – followed for the rest of the day

MP3 track: Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain – Jason Donovan (you came so close to be rid of the 'Donovan').

As today was suppose to be a relaxing day, I didn't set an alarm. Even so, I naturally awoke at around 7am. With my blog updated I, for the first time, was aware that a bright light was beaming through my traditional Japanese paper blinds. Curious to discover what it was, I slid back the blind to find actual sun light. Confused at first, I soon reminded myself what sunlight was. I therefore got ready quickly; so quickly in fact that I found myself ready to head out of my Ryokan just in time for the rain to start pouring again. As I was just about to leave my Ryokan, the lady in charge ran towards to tell me that a typhoon warning had been posted for later. I, of course, was thrilled with this gem of information and decided to try and make the most of the time I had when the rain wasn't set at 'typhoon strength'. I, of course, am not complaining; just making an observation.

As I walked towards the centre of town the rain changed strength every few seconds making it hard to decide whether my umbrella should be up or not (it however, was never typhoon strength). Soon it didn't matter as I was approaching the cities only McDonald’s where I consumed another 'pancake breakfast'. Once eaten I read my guidebooks entry on Takayama and devised a route which would allow me to see everything as quickly as possible and, hopefully avoid any potential typhoon weather. My route would start on the west-side of the river for a short stop at Takayama-jin' ya – a small style palace which is the only one of it's kind left in Japan - and a morning market. After this I would cross the river and wander around the old merchant quarter of the city – called the 'San-machi Suji. Next I would head north and towards the towns main temple – Sakurayama Hachiman-gu – with an over-priced museum next door which housed a collection of this cities famous festival floats (which I wanted to see however, at this time, I was umming and arring over the £6 entry fee). Once completed, this led me to the start of the 'Higashiyama walking route' (West mountain walking route) which took in most of the cities temples and shrines and finished within the cities park (Shiroyama-Koen). This would be an almost circular route leaving out nothing of interest. Content, I put my rubbish within the bin and put my tray in the allotted space before heading back out into the rain … without complaining.

Due to the 'famous festival float' museum costing the earth, I declined to pay the entrance fee to the Takayama-jin' ya palace and instead, I took cheeky photos of it (and the surrounding area) from the outside. In front of the temple was one of the cities morning markets. Well, when I say it was a morning market, it depends whether you would call a handful of tents selling local vegetables a market. My guidebook had promised that the markets here would contain handy crafts however, this one must have not received the memo. Without complaining I headed across the Miya-gawa river and towards the San-Machi Suji area, where the other morning market was supposed to be held.

The San-Machi Suji area is Takayama's pride and joy. This is the cities old merchant quarter and because of this, the houses were very grand (for the nineteenth century). The roads were narrow and formed a grid patter. The buildings themselves were almost entirely made of wood and resembled Samurai houses I had seen in other parts of Japan though, the wood used here was a lot darker … almost black in some cases. As the time was about 10am, the roads were still quite quiet.

All of a sudden, I noticed that a few other people's umbrella's weren't up. As I walked further I failed to see any erect umbrellas and, with the sky brighter than usual, I realised that the impossible had happened. It had stopped raining. With every minute of dry weather, I could see that the crowds were becoming larger. I therefore decided to try to finished this area as quickly as possible by walking in a zig-zag pattern. Luckily for me, there seemed to be only one street with souvenir shops on and, as we all know, tourists flock to the shopping area leaving any street without a retail outlet virtually undisturbed. This meant that once the 'shopping street' had been done, I was able to walk around the rest of the area without anything annoying me; sure the other streets weren't quite as pretty as the main shopping street however, without any complaints, these other streets gave a few photo opportunities.

Soon I had finished the old merchant area and was heading off in the direction of the cities main temple; Sakurayama Hachiman-gu. The road leading up to the temple was lined with the same design of building which I had found within the old merchants quarter however, this road was a lot more spacious and had the occasional tree.

Once at the temple I found it to be … like any-other temple I have seen in Japan. The museum, where the cities festival floats were housed, was just to the right and, even though it was £6 to enter (and the rain had stopped) I gruellingly handed over the asking price and went in to meet a woman – with an uncomfortable looking smile – holding a camera. She said that today was a special day and that she was taking everyone's picture, which of course you could buy when you left the museum (or not). After I lost fifteen seconds of my life, I proceeded into the main part of the museum which housed five of these floats within a two-storey glass case. I was informed that, photos without a flash were fine to take and so I did take a few, but not that many due to the reflection in the glass. I then proceeded into a small TV room where a ten minute video – with one translated English word for every 200 Japanese ones – was on loop. This video showed the cities main festival which is considered one of the best in Japan. As I watched the video I did do a small calculation within my head on how much it would cost to come and see this cities festival. A lot, was my final estimate and, though the festival looked fantastic, Kyoto has a similar festival which has similar floats and is supposed to be better.

Once the video was over I viewed the floats for the last time. It is difficult for me to describe these floats but I shall try; each one has a large decorated wooden box as it's base with poles, for people to hold, pushed through it and wheels underneath. On top of this box are four giant poles which then connected to a higher 'platform' box – with a roof - where decorations and puppets would be placed. Each one is different and each one has a different meaning. If you are still unsure, please check out my Flickr account. They also have their own 'house' around the city where they are stored until the next year's festival.

Once I had finished looking at all this museum had to offer I by-passed the 'photo stand', without even looking at my photo, and went outside to photograph the temple grounds. Included in my ticket was entry to another museum which house a model replica of Nikko's famous temples. I didn't really understand this. Firstly I am not in Nikko and secondly this is only a model meaning that a visit to Nikko would still be required. Why have an attraction, within a city, which is about something in another place is beyond me and so, for that reason, and the reason that I have seen the Nikko temples in real life, I zoomed through this museum without really looking at the exhibits. The ticket lady, noticing that I had only spent thirty-seven seconds inside the museum must have thought that I had come out to complain; but I did not.

Upon leaving the museum I soon embarked on the 'Higashiyama walking path' which flowed south-east through a line of ten mountain shrines and temples. Having lived in Japan for two and a half years, I didn't really give these temples a lot of my time (as I have seen hundreds of similar temples and shrines) and I was soon flying through these temples stopping for the occasional photo when the rain allowed. Yes people; it had started to rain again.

Once the temples had been completed I had only the park left on my 'to do list'; most notably, the ruins of a castle within the centre of the park. The only problem was that the rain was coming down harder and harder plus, a gentle breeze was starting to move my umbrella a little bit more than I wanted it to. The park was still in the same direction as the main part of town and so I walked towards it weighing up my options. If this was the start of the typhoon then, being in a park was a very bad idea because of the hundreds of potential objects – i.e. trees – which could be uprooted and land on top of me. On the other hand, this was the last thing on my list to see; and I guessed that it would only take twenty minutes or so. My 'travelling conscious' got the better of my 'safety conscious' however, my 'safety conscious' did lay a few ground rules:

  1. go as quickly as possible
  2. once seen, leave
  3. get back into the main part of town after.

I darted up the parks steps always following the signs to the ruined castle. Most of my concentration was focused on the continuous set of wooden steps in front of me however, I did notice that this park was very steep and covered in a lot of trees. Once at the ruins (there wasn't much to see) I took shelter and double-checked my guidebook, to make sure that my 'travelling conscious' would be happy, before I darted back down. The whole episode only took twelve minutes or so however, it felt much longer. By now the rain was extremely heavy however, the wind was still light. Due to running through the park I was very sweaty however, I pushed into town regardless and found myself on the main street of the old merchants quarter.

From every shop entrance, all down this street, a handful of heads could be seen waiting for the rain to reduce its ferocity. I too went into a shop however, it wasn't really to escape the rain (the rain was falling vertically and so, I actually found the driest place to be was under my umbrella within the middle of the road). The time was around 1pm and I had decided – with the weather stopping any further adventurous exploring – to do a bit of souvenir shopping. On everyone of my holidays, I have always brought back a small token of my trip. As I darted between the shops I made mental notes of 'token contenders' however, I didn't buy anything until I had finished the whole street. This turned out to be a good plan as, almost at the end of the shopping street I found something for a special friend of mine which was a little more expensive than I would have liked. I can't got into much detail; all I can say is that I could have bought a cheaper one however, it would have made it's use rather limited due to the size. I therefore bought something which I felt as though my friend could use on a daily basis however, this meant that my own souvenirs were reduced in price – and therefore quality – however, I wasn't that bothered.

Once I'd finished my shopping I found the time to be around 2pm. Though still early my feet were wet through and the rain showed no sign to reducing. Annoyingly, all of the local restaurants lunch menu stopped at 2pm therefore, on my way back to my hostel, I stopped at a local supermarket to re-fresh my 'snack bag' and to buy something for lunch. Once back at my Ryokan an assistant warmed up my lunch to 'lava level'; I gingerly took it upstairs to my room where I consumed it – after letting it cool a little – before uploading my photos from today onto my Flickr account and writing as much of my blog as possible. As I did, the wind, and the rain, picked up and I was thankful that I was somewhere dry.

At around 7pm I prepared to leave my Ryokan once more. Whilst putting on my, still wet shoes (both my trainers and boots are wet … luckily I have brought some spare pairs of socks), I spoke to one of the people who work here regarding the typhoon. Apparently it didn't hit Takayama and instead, it passed a little north of us. If true, this is good news as I am heading south tomorrow. I thanked him before heading out into the night. As I walked to my car only a slight drizzle of rain remained.

As yesterday's dinner was full of joy, I decided to return to the Joyful restaurant (see what I did there). I ordered the same salad as yesterday however, this time I opted for a pizza. To save money I skipped dessert and once consumed I returned to my Ryokan to upload this blog, get ready for bed and watch some TV. As I am in no real rush tomorrow I went to sleep when sleep took me, and not before.

So tomorrow is a day of peace, followed by period of manic action. Why, you may ask. Well I have all day tomorrow to get to a small town called Gujo Hachiman (71km away). It is here that a very famous dance festival is held throughout the summer however, the dancing occurs at night. This means that I can see myself being bored until around 6/7pm when I will watch the festival – weather permitting – before driving into Nagoya late at night. It is going to be a strange day however, I am not complaining.

Toodle Pip!

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