Bright and early this morning I hopped the train to Hida-Takayama after a quick breakfast at Denny’s. Yes, I know. Why am I eating pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage (as well as salad) in Japan? Don’t judge me. It was right outside the station and open early. Plus, I haven’t had American food in a while and felt a tiny craving for it.
The ride to Hida-Takayama was uneventful. I’m getting used to the train systems in Japan and love how efficient they are. I also admire how the people are so orderly despite the fact that there are so many people trying to get on and off the carriages. Some busy stations have painted lines on the ground that people queue at for the upcoming train. It’s quite brilliant if you ask me.
Anyhow, after dropping my bags off at the hostel I had a wander around town. Hida-Takayama is known for its carpentry and many of the buildings remain in their traditional form. I felt like I was walking back into history as I strolled down the lanes. I could just imagine townsfolk bustling about as they do in shows such as “Tōyama no Kin-san” or “Abarenbō Shōgun.” It was truly amazing.
Hida-Takayama is found in the Japanese Alps so the weather was perfect for sightseeing on foot. Even though the sun was out much of the day, clouds hovered above and there was no humidity. I arrived in time to catch what looked like a block party. I’m not sure if the celebration was for a festival or religious holiday, but several blocks were designated pedestrian-only thoroughfares and vendors set up booths to hawk their goods. You could find all kinds of food and crafts along this road, and I stopped at a few to take a look.
Next I headed for the Higashiyama Walking Course, which wound its way though innumerable temples, shrines, cemeteries and neighborhoods. It was a wonderful experience for me. I felt very peaceful and serene in my isolation. During the time it took me to look around, I only managed to come across two other people.
By around 5 p.m., the streets were empty of foot traffic. I don’t know where all the tourists (not that there were many) went, but I suppose people retired early in these tiny hilltop towns. Before returning to my hostel, I stopped by a small restaurant and ate curry katsu while a Japanese game show played in the background.
Being alone gave me the opportunity to think about my journey (and life) thus far. I was loving my time in Japan and can honestly claim that it is my favorite country I’ve visited. Even though I have strong ties to New Zealand because of the length of time I spent there and the memories I created with so many new friends, Japan simply tugs at my heart in a way that no place ever has.
Perhaps it’s because my ancestors came from here and I grew up in its culture (albeit slightly altered a bit through the American and Hawaiian lens)? Perhaps my years of Japanese language studies throughout high school and college prepared me more for this place than any other? I can’t really put my finger on it. I just feel very much at home here – despite the language barrier, traveling alone and foregoing any type of trip planning.
The only way it could be more special is if I had a native as my own personal tour guide to show me all the secret places. But even then, it would be a completely different journey than the one I’m on, and this would change the adventure completely. I feel so lucky to be experiencing this place at this time in my life. What could be better?