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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Diving into another world: Japan, Part 3: Nagano to Kanazawa

Time to go more north, again by train, this time with a little bit more luck getting some reserved seats for us. In Nagano, we needed a few moments to get back the orientation. Somehow we didn't know where to go and the guesthouse we have picked was more or less hidden than obvious located. A free drink (Sake, of course) helped to cool down a bit. Nagano itself didn't offer that much from the touristic point of view. However, the Zenkō-ji Temple is worth a visit, built back in the 7th century and therefore, it still looks so much alike. I felt like thrown back in time. The small street leading to the temple is packed with shops offering traditional goods for all interests.

The dinner was adventurous too. The first challenge was finding an appropriate restaurant which is serving not too fancy food, neither too cheap nor too overprized. An undertaking not that easy - we usually walked through half of the city before making the decision of entering a specitic restaurant. You never knew what to expect when checking through the window from the outside or overlooking the menu pictures. Basically, it goes how it always goes with those things. You finally choose the first available. The restaurant was crowded - couples and some bigger groups were arguing and discussing vociferously. We were guided to a table, barefooted, and not really surprisingly, it was getting more and more complicated because no one was capable of the English language. So here they come, the problems of misunderstanding and miscommunication, I thought. Not in Japan, they have a solution for everything. The waitress pulled out her mobile phone, typed something in and showed the translation - our way to communicate. As we had no idea what to eat we ordered the same dish all other guests had by pointing at a metal bowl in the middle of our neighbour's table. It contained hot water and additionally, they served some plates with vegetables, raw ham, noodles and hot broth. We looked at each other and had no clue what to do with it. Luckily the waitress noticed our overextension and she tried to explain gesticulating in Japanese. It helped a bit. I am still not sure if we did it the right way by furling the veggies in the ham and boiling it shortly. Quite a procedure, but with a certain fun factor.

The journey continued, again by train, again more north. We headed to Takayama, located in the Gifu Prefecture. It's still well known for its sophisticated knowledge in carpentry. It's said their carpenters have worked on the most famous temples in Kyoto and surrounding. The inner city is famous for its wooden buildings. Loads of tourists promenade through the streets day-in, day-out, but it's getting noticeably less crowded in the evening hours, especially after dinner time when people have tried the world famous and high-class Hida Beef. One highlight was the overnight stay in the Hodakaso Yamanoiori Hotel. Shoes had to be left near the entrance. Elsewhere, only slippers were allowed. The room offered coziness, and two single mattresses placed on the floor. Best thing and a not-yet-known experience: "Onsen" bath! The Japanese way to relax and free the mind. With 40°C it's quite hot and you can't stay in there for too long.

Next stop: Kanazawa ("march of gold", when, according to the legend, farmers found flakes of gold while digging for patatoes). Geisha areas (Higashi District) still exist, however, we didn't see any. The traditional houses are still made of wood with its common sliding shutters. The Kenrokuen Garden is well known and one of the most beautiful gardens in entire Japan filled with various trees, plants, flowers, ponds and waterfalls. Nagamachi, the ancient Samurai area, was on our route before it was time to catch the train.

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