Saturday, 9 August 2014

Rain, villages and food

Date: Saturday 9th August 2014

Weather: Heavy rain all day. At one point the temperature was 15 degrees!

MP3 track of the day: Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain – Jason Donovan (I have had rain everyday since my holiday began. Though this has made the temperature a lot cooler than I had expected, this was no compensation for the continual downpour. Due to the rain, I have decided to keep my 'mp3 track of the day' song the same until it stops. I see no reason why I have to suffer alone, and so you lot had better start praying to the weather gods so that I change my 'MP3 track of the day' from this terrible 1980's hit to something better.)

It would appear that, though friendly, last nights 'dorm mates' where unaware of hostel etiquette. I know it has been three or four years since I travelled around the world but I am positive that, when entering a dorm after 10pm, guests should try to remain quite and use as little light as possible. Not only did a couple of the other guests put on the main light, but one annoying soul decided to rustle plastic bags into the early hours. On the one hand, I was slightly worried as tomorrow would be a very busy day (I needed sleep) however, on the other hand I knew revenge was mine when I awoke at 6:30am the following morning.


Annoyingly, everyone within my dorm woke up at 6:30am. Highly confused I looked for another way to implement my revenge and I found it, by having a lovely, long shower. Once clean I packed the bits and bobs I had left in the hostel (last night I put most of my belongings in my car), went on the internet for a short while before leaving. Though my stay was short, I did have a great time chatting to the owner. It would appear that the owner is a single woman and, due to the workload, her elderly – and very happy – dad occasionally helps out. She had given him eight or nine lines of English to learn and he was doing very well.

Due to my hatred of driving through big cities, I decided to wait until I had got to the outskirts before I stopped for either petrol or breakfast. A cheap petrol station was quite easy to find however, before I knew it – and with only three mistakes made - I was surrounded by trees and vegetation instead of buildings. It mattered not; I had my snacks next to me and I knew that a small satellite town was not too far away however, once there I did something which annoys me … though I can't help myself.

As I entered this satellite town a 'Daily Yamazaki' convenience store appeared on my left. Anyone, who has been in Japan for a long stretch of time, will tell you that in the 'convenience store rankings', Daily Yamazaki convenience stores are not, shall we say, pushing for a podium finish. I decided to push further into town when I saw a Family Mart and a Lawson convenience store. Both of these are a fine breed of convenience store however, one meant that I had to cross traffic to get there and besides, did I really want convenience food for breakfast? Maybe I should wait as there could be something better around the corner...

of course there wasn't and I soon found myself heading into the mountains annoyed and hungry. I always do this. I always push my luck and hope for something better and, pretty much always, I miss my opportunity and end up with nothing. Still I suppose I couldn't call the scenery nothing; currently I was climbing into Japan's central Alps with trees and vegetation all around me. Due to not taking the highway, tunnels were limited meaning that I could see quite a lot; well I could have seen quite a lot if it wasn't for the abundant amount of clouds which had copious amounts of water falling from them.

A lot quicker that I initially thought, I arrived at my first 'site' for the day at around 9:15am. Once I had paid a 500 Yen (£4) parking charge I sat within the car park gazing at the little village before me. The villages name is Ainokura and according to my guidebook – which I agree – it is the prettiest of the three UESCO world heritage villages I was planning on seeing today. Why is Ainokura a heritage site, you may ask. Well it is due to how the buildings, within the village, are built. Gassho-zukuri is the architectures official name and this type of architecture consists of a thatched A-frame structure, which helps the deep winter snow fall off the, almost vertical, roof. These thatched roofs were enormous and extremely thick. Below the roof, is a building made mainly out of wood. Until the mid-twenteith century, this village – and it's two other neighbours – were pretty much cut off from the rest of Japan. Now, a highway has been built specifically to allow the thousands upon thousands of day tourists to get a peek at a more peaceful way of life which, for some, is probably what they are seeking.

98% of the buildings within the Ainokura(there was one hostel and a souvenir shop in Ainokura). I enjoyed winding my way though the small pathways, stopping here and there, to take the occasional photo. The rain was pouring down and so, today I mastered a new photographic skill; the 'how to use a SLR whilst balancing an umbrella using your head and neck' skill. Due to the rain numbers were light. Also the village wasn't humid at all; in fact I'd go as far to say that it was a little cold. Due to the rain I kept a good pace and after trekking to a point which over-looked the village, I was ready to leave. Out of the three villages, Ainokura is the only one halfway up a mountain. Surrounded by mountain tops, with small bands of white clouds around them, gave this place a magical and mysterious feel and that is why, I think, Ainokura became my favourite village of the day.

Once I was back at my car, it didn't take me any-time at all to reach the bottom of the mountain. It was here that I found myself within a narrow valley with a medium-sized river flowing through it and, it was here, that I found the second village. Suganuma village is the smallest of the three and was made of two parts; the first consisted of nine buildings and was laid out much like the Aniokura village, with these A-framed buildings located around rice paddies. The second half had five buildings and was located behind a steep mountain slope (which, conveniently, the authorities had dug a walking tunnel through to connect both parts of the village together) and within a wooded area. Once again I set about photographing the first area from under an umbrella. Today I was wearing my boots and because of this, my feet were still warm and toasty even though the rain was trying it's best to soak my boots through.

Once I had completed the rice paddy part of the village I left the other three tourists and went through the tunnel to the part of village which was in a wood. Halfway through the tunnel was an elevator back up to the main road above the village (which Bob, Bernard and Sue probably used). As I emerged out of the tunnel I realised, very quickly, that this wasn't the 'touristy part' of the village; the buildings weren't as well kept as the once located around the rice paddies and some weren't Gassho-zukuri at all. Still, to get my monies worth, I decided to perform a circular walking route around these buildings which meant that I would walk down the main road and back to the tunnel via the 'lakeside path'. Once in the middle of said 'lakeside path' I noticed that, what I thought was rain - splashing off the ground and hitting my legs - were actually flying insects. Indeed if I stood still for just a few seconds a swarm of unidentified flying bugs (not mosquito’s) landed on my shorts, shirt and legs. The umbrella didn't help as the flying bugs would occasionally crash into the under-side of the umbrella and coming falling back down on me. I ran for it – in a similar way to the opening scene to the Raiders of the Lost Ark - hoping to reach the entrance to the tunnel before my legs were bit into a thousand tiny pieces by these, unknown, killer midges. Once I was into the tunnel I realised that they weren't going to give up their prize of 'raw white stick-legs' that easily. I therefore started to jog backwards using my umbrella as a light-saber to remove the critters before I somersaulted into a closing elevator. One of the enemy had followed me into said elevator however, I managed to keep it at arms length before I reached safety. Though I still felt as though my skin was crawling I could only count one possible bite. I then walked back to the car park along the elevated main road occasionally wafting my white legs and taking photos of Suganuma village below. Once back at the car I did one final 'bug check' before I departed.

The final, and biggest village, was actually quite a drive away. I still hadn't had anything to eat and so, when a Daily Yamazaki came into view, I had to admit defeat and go in. Either this convenience store had been forgotten about – or it was only stocked every few months – but there wasn't a lot of choice. I opted for a piece of spicy chicken (which wasn't spicy), a bit of chocolate and a cake. Once bought I sat in my car and tried to look pleased as I consumer what I had just purchased.

At around midday I arrived at Ogimachi, the biggest and last A-framed UESCO village that I was going to see today. With it still raining I found myself under my umbrella once more. Though this was the biggest village the phase 'biggest is not necessarily best' rang true. A lot of buildings within this village were not A-framed at all and took away from the aesthetics of the place. Even though the weather was still terrible hordes of 'battle bus' tourists plagued this area like those insects on my legs in the last village, and so I felt as though I wanted to see all that this village had to offer in the quickest time possible. Luckily the village consisted of a lot of rice paddies, flowers and houses enclosed along two long roads making it very easy to see everything quickly. There were very few windy streets and at the villages northern end was a viewing area positioned slightly up one of the local mountains. Once I had seen all that there was to see I raced back to my car and left the hordes of people to the torrent of rain. With all sites covered, I decided to head for my overnight stop – Takayama – using a short mountainous road before following a, as of yet, unseen valley. Unfortunately the mountainous road I needed was closed (I couldn't believe it) due to falling rocks. There was another way into the city (by taking the '159' all of the way in) however, I was planning on using part of this road on my exit from Takayama. Still I had no choice and so I followed the '159', stopping only once to take a couple of photos of a very impressive, 'dam made' lake from under my umbrella.

Food is always an issue for me while travelling and so I hoped that Takayama wouldn't be one of these 'run-down' cities in the middle of nowhere however, as I approached the city centre's outskirts I saw a Lawson, Seven-Eleven and a Family Mat convenience store plus a 'Joyfull' restaurant. I also saw the petrol prices and I was glad that I had filled up in Kanazawa.

My Ryokan (a Japanese style B&B) was a lot easier to find that I had anticipated therefore, I was unpacking within my room at around 4:30pm. Due to the rain, my stuff had been put in any old place meaning that a total 'reorganisation' was required. This meant that I finally left my Ryokan at around 5:15pm in search of much needed food.

Having not really eaten well since the start of my trip I was determined to have something decent however, as I walked through the centre of town, all of the restaurants prices were astronomical. It would appear that beef is 'famous' in these parts of Japan therefore, famous apparently means you can add an extra £15.00 onto the price. Coming over all 'Yorkshire', I resisted all offers and came back to my Ryokan. I jumped into my car and went back to the 'Joyfull' restaurant I had seen on the way into the city. I have never been to a JoyFull restaurant before and, after getting a salad, fried chicken, rice, soup and a dessert for just over a tenner, I was indeed Joyfull when I left. Sure the fried chicken and rice were a little boring however, the salad was lovely and so too was the dessert. As I left the restaurant – immediately realising that the rain had paused for the time being – I thought about returning tomorrow.

At around 7pm I made it back to my Ryokan when I set too writing my blog before chilling for the rest of the evening.

So tomorrow is a bit of a lazy day. I plan to get up late before having a look at what Takayama has to offer. I also hope to possibly watch a film once back in my room if I have time. Monday will be a very busy day and, with such a crazy start to my holiday, a break is very much sort-after.

Toodle Pip!

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