ultramarinus – beyond the sea

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DAY 6 (3/6): SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県), Japan, 2018.05.30

After a leisure stroll in the picturesque Ogimachi (荻町), at around 11am we crossed the suspension Deai Bridge (であい橋)over to the main parking lot / Open-air Museum Gasshozukuri Minkaen (合掌造り民家園).  The rain was quite heavy and instead of visiting the open air museum, we opted for a lunch break at Soba Wakimoto (蕎麦脇本), a lovely soba restaurant housed in a traditional gassho-zukuri building.  The lunch was a delicious soba noodle soup and a mini bowl of Hida beef rice.  After lunch we crossed the bridge back to Ogimachi, and paid a visit to the Myozen-ji temple complex.  The visit included seeing two gassho-zukuri buildings, the Kuri (former residence of the monks) and the worship hall.  Before leaving Shirakawa-go, we headed up to Shiroyama Observatory Deck (城山天守閣展望台) for the spectacular birdeye’s view of the village and the surrounding mountains.  At around 1:40pm, we headed back to the bus station, picked up our backpacks, and boarded a “world heritage bus” heading to Ainokura (相倉) of Gokayama (五箇山), where we would stay the night in a 300-year-old gassho-zukuri house.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the other side of Deai Bridge (であい橋), the tour bus parking lot and the Open-air Museum Shirakawa-go or Gasshozukuri Minkaen (合掌造り民家園) didn’t look busy at all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor tourists who arrive by tour buses, Ponte Deai (であい橋) would be their point of arrival into Ogimachi.

DSC_7606Just a stone throw away from the tour bus parking lot, we arrived at Soba Wakimoto (蕎麦脇本).  We decided to go for a bowl of soba and a cup of hot tea.

DSC_7612Two “raccoons” welcomed us at the front lawn of the soba restaurant.

DSC_7609It was 11am, and we were the first to sit down in the dining hall of Soba Wakimoto.

DSC_7610We ordered two soba sets.  Both came with a seafood soba, and a bowl of Hida beef rice.  The meal was fantastic and gave us an opportunity to dry up our jackets.

DSC_7605After lunch, we headed back to Ogimachi.  Outside of a tourist restaurant, a sarubobo (さるぼぼ) doll offered visitors a photo opportunity with this amulet of Takayama.  The faceless doll was a traditional gift made by grandmothers for their grandchildren as lucky charm.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack in Ogimachi, we passed by Myozen-ji Temple again and decided to paid a visit.  Built mainly in the early 1800s, Myozen-ji Temple presents a rare surviving example of gassho-zukuri temple architecture.

DSC_7570In the Myozen-ji Temple, we could visit the Bell or Shoro Gate, the Kuri, and the main worship hall.  All three structures were constructed with the unique thatched roof of the gassho-zukuri style.  These temple structures were built in the early 1800s.

DSC_7503The Kuri of Myozen-ji Temple is one of the largest building in the village.  Our tour of the temple complex began from here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe spacious attic of the Kuri building had been converted into a two storey museum.  Back in the old days, attics of many gassho-zukuri houses were used to make washi paper and raise silkworm.

DSC_7659Outside the Kuri, the gassho-zukuri houses and reflective rice paddies offered us a glimpse into the fading rural lifestyle of Japan.

DSC_7645The upper levels of the Kuri building allowed us a closer look at the straw eaves of the thatched roof.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the Kuri, a zigzag corridor led us to the main worship hall of Myozen-ji Temple, where the interior was decorated with a series of paintings depicting the Mount Fuji.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the ground level of the Kuri, we arrived at a beautiful fire hearth where visitors gathered around to smell the burning natural wood.

DSC_7700Before leaving Shirakawa-go, we walked up the hill near the bus station to Shiroyama Observatory Deck (城山天守閣展望台).

DSC_7704The Shiroyama Observatory Deck (城山天守閣展望台)  offers the iconic postcard view of Shirakawa-go’s Ogimachi.

DSC_7711Despite the rain, the village of gassho-zukuri houses looked spectacular with the lush green surroundings.

DSC_7743Although most tourists prefer to visit Shirakawa-go in the snowy winter when the gassho-zukuri houses were lit up by flood lights at specific weekends, we didn’t mind to visit in late spring to see the village with its reflective rice paddies and lush green surroundings.

DSC_7720It was touristy, yet the scenery of Shirakawa-go and its traditional gassho-zukuri houses made the visit to this UNESCO World Heritage site more than worthwhile for us.

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DAY 6 (2/6): OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県), Japan, 2018.05.30

The illuminated Gassho-zukuri village houses blanketed in thick layer of snow make a fairy tale like postcard scenery have attracted visitors from close and afar, making Shirakawa-go an extremely popular tourist attraction at specific winter weekends.  Situated in the remote snow county of the Japanese Alps, gassho rural regions such as Shirakawa-go (白川郷) and Gokayama (五箇山) have been historically isolated from the outside world.  A unique rural lifestyle and special vernacular architecture have been developed in the past few centuries to tackle the snowy and wet climate of the mountains.  Gassho-zukuri (合掌造り集落), which literally means “hands in prayer”, refers to the exceptionally steep thatch roofs of the regional farmhouses due to the heavy snowfall of the area.  These steep roofs have become a unique symbol of the region.  In 1995, three of these remote Gassho-zukuri villages: Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go (荻町), Suganuma (菅沼) and Ainokura (相倉) in Gokayama were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Due to its proximity to Hida-Takayama, most visitors opt for a day trip (or half-day trip) to visit Shirakawa-go.  Few would venture farther into Gokayama and even less so would stay the night at one of the mountain villages.  In recent years, a number of the centuries old Gassho-zukuri farmhouses have been transformed into guesthouses, allowing visitors to experience the villages’ unique beauty and tranquility after the departure of the daytrippers.  Being the largest and most accessible Gassho-zukuri village, Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go is the most developed in terms of its tourist facilities.  A number of its old farmhouses have been converted into museums, restaurants and souvenir shops.  There is even an area called Gasshozukuri Minkaen Outdoor Museum, where historical farmhouses have been relocated and grouped into an open air museum.  Taking the 8:25am bus from Takayama, we arrived at Shirakawa-go bus station in about an hour.  When we arrived at one of Japan’s most picturesque farming village, steady rain kept on coming down with no end in sight.  We stored our backpacks in a locker at the bus station, picked up a village map and bought a transparent umbrella from the tourist office, and off we went to explore touristy yet charming Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go.

DSC_7465Just outside the bus station, we had our first peek of the rural charm of Shirakawa-go.  Rhythmical rain drops rippled across the flooded paddy field of lush green rice seedlings.

DSC_7471Despite the rain, we were delighted to enter the tranquil world of Ogimachi.

DSC_7477It was 9:20am.  Not too many tourists were around.  We stopped by the pond of waterlilies in front of Wada Residence, one of the largest gassho style house in the village.

DSC_7478Ogimachi has a extensive network of irrigation channels.  Visitors may occasionally find carps in the water.

DSC_7518A row of cute scarecrows offer an amusing background for photos, and a friendly reminder of Ogimachi’s rural past.

DSC_7493Straw from farm crops are harvested in the autumn, dried as a snow fence around the gassho style house, and used to repair the thatched roof in the spring or autumn.  Due to the need of a large labour force, neighbors in the village would come over to help on repairing the thatched roof.

DSC_7621Many gassho style houses, including the Yamaainoie Residence (山峡の家), have been converted into cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops or guesthouses.

DSC_7635The small gassho style house serves as a charming little cafe with splendid views of rice patties.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe entrance of the cafe is decorated with plant pots, wood lattice and a “thinker” statue.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 1961, the construction of Miboro Dam at Sho River in Takayama was completed.  several villages and shrines were submerged, along with about half of the surviving Gassho-zukuri houses.

DSC_7622Today, the biggest concentration of Gassho-zukuri houses are found in Ogimachi, Ainokura, and Suganuma.  Important structures, such as the Myozen-ji Temple in Ogimachi, have become rare survivors from the bygone period.

DSC_7628Thatched roof repair works can still be seen in Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go.

DSC_7627The steep angle of the thatched roof of the Gassho-zukuri houses help to prevent snow accumulation, though people, especially outside visitors, have to be cautious of the falling snow below the roof.

DSC_7624A number of Gassho-zukuri houses in Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go have been turned into guesthouses.

DSC_7755Fire hydrants are important in the farming village because of the combustibility of the Gassho-zukuri houses.

DSC_7754Because of the rain, the mountains beyond Ogimachi were covered in beautiful mist while we were there.

DSC_7749Newer houses in a distinct architectural style can also be found in the village.

DSC_7631Due to the unique appearance of the Gassho-zukuri houses and it natural setting, Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go is often considered one of the most picturesque farming village in Japan.

 

 

DAY 6 (1/6): MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県), Japan, 2018.05.30

Before leaving Takayama we made a brief visit to the Miyagawa Morning Market.  Everyday from 6:30am to noon, market stalls selling farm produces, local crafts, snacks, and souvenirs will be set up at the Jinya-mae Market in front of Takayama Jinya and Miyagawa Market along the Miyagawa River.  These two morning markets have become popular tourist attractions.  We arrived at Miyagawa River at around 6:15am, while a number of vendors were setting up their stalls.  We took our time strolling along the river, and were delighted to see a few rows of koinobori (鯉のぼり), the colourful carp windsocks, over the water to celebrate the Children’s Day (子供の日) on 5th of May.  They were meant to bring good health and bright future for children.  As more vendors got their stalls ready, we turned to the delicious snacks for breakfast.  Steady rain began soon after we had our first snacks.  We hastily finished them and got ourselves a few local products (miso, dried mushrooms, spices, etc).  After returning to our guesthouse to pick up our backpacks, we made it just in time to catch the 8:25am bus for Shirakawa-go, our destination of the day before moving on to stay the night at Ainokura of Gokayama.

DSC_7374.JPGThe sky was grey and Miyagawa River (宮川) was calm as always.  We thought the market stalls wouldn’t be up and running right at 6am so we took our time to stroll along the river.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was delightful to start the day with a close encounter with a wooden Daikokuten or the God of Luck near the Kaji Bashi Bridge.

DSC_7390Colourful koinobori (鯉のぼり) or carp windsocks were set up (probably for a few weeks around the Children’s Day on 5th of May) over the Miyagawa River (宮川).

DSC_7396Originally the windsocks were used by samurai warriors during battles. In modern times, koinobori or the carp windsocks are meant to bring strength, good health and courage to children.

DSC_7433It was a pleasant scene to have a few rows of colourful koinobori over the calm water of Miyagawa River (宮川).

DSC_7398Some signs said the market opened at 6am and some said 6:30am.  Even at 6:30am, not all stalls were set up and visitors were scarce.  The grey weather and rainy forecast just made things worse.

DSC_7389Time was still quite early and there weren’t that many visitors around.

DSC_7397We would have to imagine if it was a little later in the day and with finer weather, the market would be much busier.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe would love to get some local produces but we just couldn’t bring them along with us for the rest of the trip.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn old man let us try the samples of the dried shiitake mushrooms.  The sample tasted gorgeous and led us to buy a bag of the dried shiitake mushrooms.  This bag of dried shiitake turned out to become the best dried shiitake we had ever had at home.

DSC_7435Seven-favored spices is a famous local product.  We got a mini bag of spices from the old lady.

DSC_7436After 7am, more stalls were opened as well as the souvenir shops along the opposite side of the pedestrian walkway.

DSC_7438A few stalls were selling beautiful flowers and plants.  We would soon found out that flowers were inseparable with village homes in the Japanese Alps area.

DSC_7440An old lady was selling all kinds of miso (味噌).  We picked up a pack of Hoba Miso, a regional sweet miso wrapped in a dried hoba leaf (magnolia).   Traditionally, the leaf was meant for wrapping the miso and cooking it over the fire.

DSC_7441Local honey vendor was about to open his stall.

DSC_7447Our first snack at the market was the takoyaki or octopus dumplings.

IMG_8461Watching how the takoyaki was made by the vendor was an interesting event in itself.

DSC_7454After takoyaki, we moved to the next stall for fish-shaped mini cakes with various sweet paste.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe takoyaki vendor recommended us to try the award-winning custard pudding at NOIX de COCO (ノアドココ).  It was a fabulous suggestion.  The vendor was friendly, the pudding delicious, and we got a chance to take a photo of the cute pikachu wearing a pudding hat!

DSC_7464Steady light rain continued and more visitors arrived at the market, but it was time for us to take the bus and move on to our next destination: the traditional gassho-zukuri village ares of Shirakawa-go (白川郷) and Gokayama (五箇山).

 

DAY 5 (5/5): HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県), Japan, 2018.05.29

In Kyoto, Higashiyama (東山) is a famous historical district of temples, shrines, pagodas, and old streets. In Takayama, Higashiyama Walking Course  (東山遊歩道) that ventures into the quiet side of the city, the Teramachi Temple Area.  The 3.5km trail meander through a dozen or so temples and shrines in about 1.5 hour of walking, and does offer a Kyoto-like experience of temple hopping in the eastern side of the Takayama.  The Higashiyama Walking Course provides a great alternative from the crowded scenes of Sanmachi Suji District.

DSC_7218After touring the touristy Sanmachi Suji, we turned to the calmer side of Takayama.  Following Google Map, we found our way up to Shiroyama Park (城山公園), the lush green hill southeast of the historical district of Takayama.

DSC_7231Apart from lush green mature trees, the Shiroyama Park (城山公園) also contains the ruins of the former Takayama Castle (高山城).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs the castle of the former governor of the Hida Province, Takayama castle was in use from 1588 to 1695.

DSC_7247_01On our way down to the Teramachi Temple Area, we passed by a stone stele depicting the Three wise monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

DSC_7249We passed by Dairyuji Temple (大隆寺) and its cemetery, continuing to walk downhill.

DSC_7256We left Shiroyama Park via Dairyuji Temple, crossed a canal and entered a quiet residential neighborhood dotted with temples and shrine.  The first temple we passed by was the torii gate and stair that led up to the Nishikiyama Shrine (錦山神社).

DSC_7272We continued the Higashiyama Walking Course and reached the next temple: Soyuji Temple (宗猷寺).  Located in the southernmost area of Teramachi Temple Area, the Buddhist temple of the Rinzai sect was built in 1632.

DSC_7275We walked over to Zennoji Temple (善応寺) a family temple of the lord of Matsukura castle.

DSC_7282We were then attracted by the flower blossoms, trees and shrubs around a dry garden of Hokkeji Temple (法華寺).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe beautiful wooden structures of Hokkeji Temple (法華寺) are the only Buddhist temple of the Nichiren sect in Hida.

DSC_7285It was already quite late when we arrived at Hokkeji Temple (法華寺).  We had both the temple and the popular stone bridge all by ourselves.  Although small in scale, the pond and stone bridge at the forecourt evoked a strong sense of nostalgic charm .

DSC_7297Sogenji Temple (素玄寺) is a Soto Zen sect stood next in line in our tour of the Higashiyama Walking Course.

DSC_7301The main hall of Sogenji was relocated here from the ruins of Takayama Castle.

DSC_7309Opposite to Sogenji stood Daiouji Temple (東林山大雄寺).  We were particularly drawn to a small shrine with stone statues and a vivid picture of Hell.

DSC_7310Towards the end of our tour of the Higashiyama Walking Course, we reached another tranquil temple complex, the Unryuji Temple (雲龍寺) (many visitors would consider this temple the beginning of the walk).

DSC_7317The gate tower of Unryuji was relocated from the Kouun Pavilion of Takayama Castle.  Through the gate, we could see a tranquil residence district down below.

DSC_7318After wandering around the Unryuji Temple, it was time for us to head back to the city centre for dinner.  We walked passed a small cemetery near Unryuji and turned left down to the Edogawa River.

DSC_7321We wandered in the small alleyways near Edogawa River, trying to zigzag ourselves back to the touristy city centre.

_5291145.JPGIt was lovely to walk along the river.  We followed the water for a while, slowly admiring the traditional houses under the late afternoon sunlight.  It did feel like walking in some old neighborhood of Kyoto.

 

DAY 5 (4/5): YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県), Japan, 2018.05.29

Other than the Hida beef and sake, the other two places we planned to visit in Takayama were the Miyagawa Morning Market (宮川朝市) and Yoshijima House (吉島家住宅).  According to guidebooks, for anyone who are interested in architecture and design, Yoshijima House is a must-go in Takayama.  The Yoshijima House has been published in various design magazines and is considered an excellent example of machiya or traditional townhouse architecture of the Hida region.  Built in 1907 by master carpenter Nishida Isaburo (西田伊三郎), the student of the fourth Mizuma Sagami (水間相模), the timber house of Yoshijima exemplifies the supreme craftsmanship of the traditional Hida carpentry.  Today, the house is designated as a national important cultural property and a popular tourist attraction.  From Sanmachi Suji (三町筋) or the old town, Yoshijima House is just a few blocks to the north beyond a water channel.

 

DSC_7098The sugitama (杉玉) outside of Yoshijima House reveals its original identity as a well known sake breweries in Takayama.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom outside, a traditional outer wall conceals the inner garden of the Yoshijima House.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeyond the entrance vestibule, we entered into a large and airy hall.  The middle part of the hall with hard flooring indicated where the sake shop was once situated, whereas the raised tatami areas belonged to the living spaces of the Yoshijima family.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were told by the museum staff to take the wooden stair and visit the upper level first.

DSC_7106On the upper level, we walked through a series of tatami spaces.  These spaces were used by the children of the family back in the old days.

DSC_7109The simplicity of design details and building materials express a sense of minimalism that is still dominating Japanese architectural design.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOccasional design elaborations such as the painted cupboard panels provide a touch of artistic beauty and focus.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Level difference is being used as a means to define two separated spaces.

DSC_7117The wood stairs are beautiful but a little steep.

DSC_7125Small architectural details throughout the building  highlight the level of family status and quality of the carpentry.

DSC_7122The ground floor of Yoshijima House reveals the flexibility of partitioning in a traditional Japanese house.  All rooms are interconnected with sliding doors, allowing utmost freedom for space planning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is no specific function for each 6-tatami room.  When a table is set up in the tatami room then it will become a dining room.  And when bedding is arranged, the same room will be transformed into a bedroom.

DSC_7127When all sliding panels are removed, the ground floor will become one large space for special uses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALike many Japanese houses, a courtyard flanked with verandas provides pleasant semi-outdoor spaces for the house users.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring our visit, artworks and magazines about the Yoshijima House were on displayed at the former sake making and storage area, where beautiful jazz music was playing in the background.

DSC_7133The most famous feature of the Yoshijima House is the prominent posts and beams at the main hall.  The spaces with the charcoal brazier set were used as living and dining room for the family.

DSC_7150The high windows allow light to create a pleasant ambience at the main hall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe beauty of wood is essential to the interiors of the house.  The wood beams and posts are covered with thin layer of lacquer, and have been periodically polished with cloth by the family since completion.

DSC_7157The antique clock on the wall reminded us the Meiji Era at the turning of the 20th century when Japan opened its doors to welcome Western technologies and knowledge and went through a rapid process of modernization.

DAY 5 (3/5): SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県), Japan, 2018.05.29

Sake (日本酒), or Japanese rice wine, is a light coloured, sweet taste alcohol made of multiple parallel fermentation of rice.  The earliest record of sake drinking in Japan dated back to the 3rd century.  Nowadays, it has become a popular alcoholic beverage around the world along with the growing popularity of sushi and ramen.  Outside of Japan, sake is just an option of alcoholic beverage.  However, within Japan, sake is a living tradition, a national heritage that connects to the local landscape and climate, and a representation of purity and simplicity in the Japanese culture.  In the old days, sake was drunk at Shinto festivals, ceremonies and offerings to the gods, and production was made mainly by temples and the imperial court.  Then in the 12th century, the general public began to make sake and led to the flourishing scene of sake makers in certain regions in Japan.  Not much has changed in the  making process since the 16th century.

With its cold climate, pristine water from the Japanese Alps and local rice “Hida-Homare”, Takayama is known as one of the best places for sake production in Japan.   In its heyday during the Edo Period, Takayama had 56 sake breweries.  Today, there are a handful of the traditional breweries (some say six) remain in the splendid old town of the city.  Most of them would offer sake tasting and even a facility visit.  Just look for the sugitama (杉玉) hanging outside of the liquor shop entrance.  If the sugitama is still green, that means the making of the new sake is underway.  If it is brown, then the new sake has reached maturity.  Visiting the traditional breweries and doing rounds of sake tasting is one of the most interesting ways to explore Takayama.

DSC_7063With its signature brand Sansha (山車) famed for its muscular umami (うま味) or savory taste, Harada Sake Brewery (原田酒造場) is a highly popular sake brewery in the old town.  The brown sugitama (杉玉) indicates that the new sake has reached maturity.

DSC_7062Apart from its shop, visitors may also find the aging tanks in Harada Sake Brewery.

DSC_7065Across the street from Harada stands another popular brewery, the Funasaka Sake Brewery (舩坂酒造店).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith over 300 years of history, Funasaka Sake Brewery has combined generations of experience, innovative technical developments and a new business model.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe complex of Funasaka Sake Brewery includes a shop, bar, restaurant, and a pleasant courtyard.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the courtyard, large sake barrels are on display at the Funasaka Sake Brewery.

DSC_7082Also with 300 years of history, the Oita Sake Brewery (老田酒造店) has transformed its original brewery at the busy tourist street Kami-Sannomachi (上三之町) into a large shop and bar, while the main brewery has moved outside of the city to Kiyomi, where new technologies and computers are introduced in the sake making.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOita Sake Brewery specializes in very dry sake and shochu (焼酎) or distilled liquor.   Dry sake was considered unfavorable as compared to sweet sake in the old days.  However, the trend has gradually changed and dry sake has become popular with soba and steak restaurants.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust like most other breweries, the store of Oita Sake Brewery designated an area of the store for a causal bar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASake and shochu are used at the bar to make cocktails with fruity favours.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShōki (鍾馗) or Zhong Kui in Chinese is known in Chinese mythology as the king of ghosts and evil beings. It is commonly seen as a guardian spirit to ward off demons.  The icon is also popular in traditional Japan.  Due to its unpopularity in the old days, dry sake was called “Oni Koroshi” or demon killer, meaning that even demons would die after drinking the dry sake.  Oita Sake Brewery (老田酒造店) considers itself the original brand of the “Oni Koroshi” dated over 300 years ago.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEstablished since 1695, Niki Sake Brewery (二木酒造) is another old sake maker in Takayama that has been in business for 15 generations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANiki Sake Brewery is famous for its ginjo sake, a premium category of sake that uses rice grains polished to less than 60% of its original size, and fermented in lower temperature in longer period.  Ginjo sake is considered to be lighter in taste and more aromatic.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKawashiri Sake Brewery (川尻酒造場) has been in the industry of sake brewery since 1839.  It specializes in jukusei koshu or “aging sake” that uses locally grown rice “hidahomare” and takes two to four years to age.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKawashiri Sake Brewery (川尻酒造場)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe traditional look of Kawashiri Sake Brewery gives visitors a glimpse of the old Takayama in the Edo Period.  Large timber post and beam construction is a Takayama tradition.

DSC_7206Being the smallest brewery in town, Kawashiri rejects new technologies and computers, and relies on the hands of its four brewery employees to produce high quality sake at an affordable price.

DSC_7202Each year, six of Takayama’s sake breweries will open their doors to offer brewery tours.  Kawashiri Sake Brewery is one of the participating sake makers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor 500 yen visitors can get a taste for three of Kawashiri’s sake.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf course, we couldn’t resist to sit down for a sip of the sake in an interior full of heritage of the magnificent Takayama, the centuries old city in the Japanese Alps.

DAY 5 (2/5): HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県), Japan, 2018.05.29

Unless you are a vegetarian, almost all visitors who come to Takayama would sample the Hida beef (飛騨牛), the renowned wagyu beef (和牛) famous for its fine marbling, soft texture, juicy quality and rich aroma.  Since winning the “Wagyu Olympics” in 2002, the reputation of Hida beef has risen on par with the legendary Kobe beef (神戸牛).  First introduced in the 2nd century AD from China, Japanese cattle were raised mainly as working animals until Meiji Restoration in 1868, when foreign cattle were imported into Japan and cross-bred with the local cattle to produce the four main breeds of wagyu: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn and Japanese Polled.  Out of the three strands of Japanese Black, the Tajima bloodline is probably the most well known.  Only pure Tajima bred, raised and slaughtered in Hyogo Prefecture (兵庫県) will be certified as the famous Kobe beef.  In the 1980s and 1990s, Kobe beef was introduced to the world and made a huge impact for its exceptionally high quality.  Yasufuku, a bull from Hyogo Prefecture was considered to be genetically ideal for creating offspring with high quality meat.  It was introduced to the Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県) in the 1980s, and produced 39,000 offspring during its lifetime.  Yasufuku is also known as the father of Hida beef (飛騨牛).  Today, all cattle of the Hida beef are bred and raised in Gifu Prefecture.  In Takayama, there are multiple ways to appreciate the Hida beef, from high-end steakhouse to takeaway beef sashimi.

DSC_7046Opened in 2001, French Restaurant Le Midi is one of the most elegant restaurant in the city to sample Hida beef.

DSC_7048A side store of Le Midi offers takeaway snacks.

DSC_7051Custard pudding topped with local honey is one of the shop’s signature dish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther than pudding, Le Midi’s Hida beef burger is also highly popular among tourists.  The Hida beef hamburger and custard pudding were the first two snacks we tried in Takayama, and already we were quite impressed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAcross the street from Midi, we also picked up a Hida beef skewer from Kyoushi (梗絲), one of the restaurants in Takayama specialized in Hida beef sushi.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven the imitation display of the Hida beef snacks looked mouth-watering.

DSC_7070In the historic Kamisannomachi Street, the Hida beef sushi from Hida Kotte ushi (飛驒牛壽司) is perhaps the most anticipated street snacks in Takayama.  Visitors can choose to enjoy the sushi at the seating area in the souvenir shop behind the sushi counter.

DSC_7075Hida beef sushi combo on rice crackers were truly amazing.  We finally got a taste of beef that would “melt” in the mouth.

DSC_7336Near the railway station, there are butcher shops such as Yamatake Shoten (山武商店) offering a comprehensive Hida beef experience from picking the meat to devouring the grilled meat all under one roof.

DSC_7359For dinner, we chose Hidagyu Maruaki (丸明) to have Hida beef yakiniku (焼肉).

DSC_7358At 7:15pm, we put down our names on the waiting list at Hidagyu Maruaki (丸明).  In less than ten minutes a staff came out and removed the waiting list and put a sign at the front door to stop any newcomer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter an half-hour wait, a staff led us into the yakiniku dining hall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe ordered a highest grade Hida beef (最とび飛騨牛) and a A5 Hida beef sirloin.  The yakiniku dinner was basically a DIY barbecue experience.

DSC_7355The highest grade Hida beef (最とび飛騨牛) was full of marbling.

DSC_7354A5 Hida beef sirloin.

DSC_7357At the restaurant entrance, photos of Hida beef breeders were displayed on the wall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABar codes of the Hida beef for the night were also on display.

DSC_7360Certifications and newspaper articles about Hida beef breeders were displayed at the shopfront of Hidagyu Maruaki (丸明).