Day 2 (3/3).
The weather fluctuated throughout the afternoon. After lunch, we headed back up to Shiretoko National Park from Utoro to check out Shiretoko Nature Centre, the visitor centre near the park entrance. The centre houses a large screen theatre showing films of the park, service counters for hikers to obtain trail information, a cafe serving excellent coffee and ice-cream, and a shop selling all kinds of outdoor outfits and souvenir. After watching a film about a family of Ezo Red Fox at the theatre, we decided to do a short hike.
Only 20 minute of easy walk would bring us to coast of Sea of Okhotsk, where the The Virgin’s Tears or the Furepe Waterfall awaited us.
In the past few decades, efforts had been made to reforest the area after years of pioneer development.
Weather was changing quickly. At one moment, clouds and mist were moving away from the Shiretoko Mountain Range.
At Furepe Falls, we could only admire the cliff of the waterfall from the opposite side.
A small group of seabirds gathered at the tip of the rock cliff.
From the opposite side, we could see the top part of the Furepe Falls. The waterfall originates from ground water surfaced near the top.
A wooden pavilion was built across the cove from Furepe Falls as a lookout.
Despite the sun was out at Furepe Falls, clouds and mist continued to cover most of Shiretoko Mountain Range.
We slowly walked back to Shiretoko Nature Centre.
Back at Shiretoko Village Guesthouse, we had another tasty dinner after a pleasant bath at the inhouse onsen. That evening, we were served with local salmon ruibe. It had a delicate texture and would melt in the mouth.
Each of us was served with lamb nabe, herring with sea urchin miso, dried flounder, butter scallops, steamed razor clams, etc.
(Foreground) Ruibe, translates as “melted food”, is half-frozen sashimi. It is an Ainu culinary specialty from Hokkaido. Fresh fish was traditionally stored under snow during winter and eaten without defrost. (Background) Kichiji is a local fish with red skin and big eyes. We tasted the deep dried kichiji which was crispy and delicious.
Steamed razor clams were full of aroma of local sake.
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.
The 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.
It was delightful to start the day with a close encounter with a wooden Daikokuten or the God of Luck near the Kaji Bashi Bridge.
Colourful 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).
Originally 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.
It was a pleasant scene to have a few rows of colourful koinobori over the calm water of Miyagawa River (宮川).
Some 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.
Time was still quite early and there weren’t that many visitors around.
We would have to imagine if it was a little later in the day and with finer weather, the market would be much busier.
We would love to get some local produces but we just couldn’t bring them along with us for the rest of the trip.
An 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.
Seven-favored spices is a famous local product. We got a mini bag of spices from the old lady.
After 7am, more stalls were opened as well as the souvenir shops along the opposite side of the pedestrian walkway.
A 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.
An 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.
Local honey vendor was about to open his stall.
Our first snack at the market was the takoyaki or octopus dumplings.
Watching how the takoyaki was made by the vendor was an interesting event in itself.
After takoyaki, we moved to the next stall for fish-shaped mini cakes with various sweet paste.
The 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!
Steady 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).
Surrounded by mountains in the Gifu Prefecture, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山) or simply Takayama (高山) is a delightful destination for all tourists who have make the effort coming to the central mountainous region of Honshu. Takayama serves well as the base for travelers to visit the surrounding attractions, from Kamikochi and the Japanese Alps to the east, to the gassho-zukuri villages of Shirakawa-go (白川郷) and Gokayama (五箇山) to the north. Takayama is best known for its morning market at Miyagawa River (宮川), high quality sake and world famous Hida beef, but the most remarkable thing for most visitors is how well the historic Sanmachi Suji District (三町筋) has been preserved. Wandering in the historic heart of Takayama makes us felt like going back in time to the Edo Period (1600-1868, 江戸時代), when the city was a wealthy and prosperous merchant city. On the other hand, a visit to the castle ruins at Shiroyama Park (城山公園) on the mountain next to the historical centre reminded us the city’s shogunate past in the Sengoku Period (1467-1568, 戦国時代).
We arrived at Takayama from Shirahone Onsen at around 12:30pm. Our hotel J-Hoppers Guesthouse was just a few minutes away from the railway station.
Our tatami room was simple and clean, with a window overlooking the city’s post office across the street.
Just a short walk from J-Hoppers brought us to Sanmachi Suji (三町筋), the historic district that most tourists linger when they come to Takayama. Most tourists wandered around Sannomachi Street, the atmospheric street flanked by old timber houses.
In the charming historic district, even the street gutter can provide a lovely picture.
One of the most enjoyable activities to wander around Sanmachi Suji District is to sample the diverse local snacks, from beef croquettes to mochi. The rice cracker of Senbeidou (手焼煎餅堂) on Sannomachi Street is also popular with tourists.
At Sanmachi Suji, one of the most popular shop we encountered was Ohnoya Paste Shop (大のや醸造). Ohnoya had been around in Takayama for the past 250 years selling soy sauce (醤油) and miso paste (味噌).
At Ohnoya, we bought a bag of aka miso (red miso 赤味噌), a bottle of yonen (4 years) shoyu, a soy sauce made from aka miso, and a bottle of kibiki shoyu, a special soy sauce made with a traditional recipe.
A poster on a shopfront reminded us the famous Takayama Matsuri or Takayama Festival. Held annually in spring and autumn, Takayama Festival (高山祭) is often considered one of Japan’s three most beautiful festivals.
During the Takayama Festival, the city’s splendid festival floats (yatai) would be paraded throughout the historic streets. Throughout the year, the floats are stored in special storehouses scattered across the old town.
On Sannomachi Street, we walked by the beautiful gate of Fujii Folk Museum, a small museum with exhibits of artefacts and local art pieces.
Before heading up to the Shiroyama Park (城山公園), we stopped by a sweet bun shop.
The sweet buns looked pretty and tasted delicious.
While wandering the historic centre, we passed by the interesting Takayama Shōwa-kan Museum (高山昭和館). Named as one of Takayama’s top attractions in Lonely Planet, the museum showcased objects dated back from the mid 1950’s to 1960’s Japan.
What looked like an antique shop across from Takayama Shōwa-kan Museum (高山昭和館) was in fact a hairdresser (バーバー文助) decorated in a vintage look.
On our way to Shiroyama Park (城山公園), we passed by another old miso shop (丸五味噌(醤油)屋).
After our walk up the Shiroyama Park and Higashiyama Walking Course (東山遊歩道), we finally reached the beautiful Miyagawa River (宮川).
The hotel staff at J-Hoppers recommended us to check out the 1200-year-old ginkgo tree (銀杏) at Kokubunji Temple.
The 37m tree is a designated natural treasure.
Hida Kokubunji Temple (飛騨国分寺) was originally built in 764 AD by Emperor Shoumu. Over the years, the structures had been reconstructed. The three-storey pagoda was rebuilt in 1821 to replace the earlier five-storey pagoda that was itself a replacement of the original seven-storey pagoda.
Together with the pagoda, the bell tower at Kokubunji Temple is also a fascinating old timber structure.