Monday, June 04, 2007

Day 15 - Kouichisan's Takayama Fun Facts

We have been extremely fortunate when it came to weather on our trip. Our second full day in Takayama started out as beautifully as the first. Today, our guide was Kouichisan, Kanchan's husband who is a life long Takayama resident and whose family has lived in the area for generations. His pride in his city was evident with every step of our day, and it was so rewarding to experience the city with him. He also told us tidbits of information throughout the day that we found both fascinating and amusing.

Fun Fact #1
Did you know that Takayama was the last place in Japan that had Coca Cola advertisements? This either shows that Takayama is such a remote place that Coke had no idea it existed, or that the locals couldn't be bothered to post up the ads.

He started our day by walking us to the Asa-ichi, or Morning Market. The morning market is open daily along the river.

The part of the river on the left is a "sakana machi" - fish street (or fish ladder) that is for the fish who swim upstream.

The morning market was a great place to see everyone - locals and tourists alike - shopping and enjoying the morning air. You can buy food, handmade items, flowers, souvenirs, anything you can think of.

Along the way, we stopped by a candy store whose owner has a unique collection on his second floor. He collects "fukusuke" or happy gods. The owner thought he had about 1000 in his collection, and that it was a unique collection in Japan. It was so fun to see all of the different types of fukusuke he had.

Definitely an advantage to touring with a native - getting to see places we wouldn't have access to otherwise.

Fun Fact #2

Did you know that Takayama dango (grilled mochi rice balls) are different from the rest of Japan in that they are salty instead of sweet?

Salty or sweet, I loves them!

Next, we toured an area that is know for their old buildings. This area is one of the main tourist attractions in Takayama, but it's still fun to walk and see the different buildings. The fun facts came fast and furious in this area.

Fun Fact #3

These streets don't have electrical wires running through them to keep the illusion of living in the past alive.

Fun Fact #4
There are small streams running along each side of the street. These aren't for sewage, they are for fire fighting, since fire was a constant danger in Takayama.

Fun Fact #5

Did you know that Takayama has a large number of doctors in the city? Kouchisan says this is because Takayama has so many sake breweries in the city, and therefore there is more need for doctors!

There are many cute stores along the area - one of them featured the image the Japanese see in the moon. A rabbit making mochi! (really, once you see the rabbit in the moon, you can't see anything else)

I love all of the maneki nekos (happy cats) in Japan.

Fun Fact #6

Outside of the sake stores, there were these large balls. These balls are made of pine needles, and every year, when the sake is ready, the owner puts in green pine needles in the ball. It's easy for everyone to see when the sake is ready, and the longer the brewery has been around, the bigger the ball gets.

Another thing Takayama is famous for is its twice yearly festival featuring amazing floats. Each area in Takayama has its own float, and there are tall buildings that store them throughout the city.

We crossed the river, which was beautiful with green trees.

Fun Fact #7

The hill behind us is where the Takayama Castle used to be, until the Tokugawa shogunate came to town and forced the local warlord to tear it down.

We continued our tour by visiting the second morning market, where we bought more souvenirs.

The next place we visited was the Takayama Jinya, or governmental offices. These offices were used until 1969, when a modern building was built. It was great to see a building that wasn't a temple or a castle, it was more functional and yet still beautiful.

Fun Fact #8
These rabbits were used to cover the nail heads in the doorways. Aren't they cute?

Of course, it's not a Japanese tourist site without a funny sign.

And it's not a fun Japanese tourist site without a torture room!

Rob was enamored with all of the roofs of the warehouse area. There were shingles all around ready to replace ones that were blown off.

And it's not a super fun Japanese tourist site without people in costume!

We met up with Kanchan for a "small" lunch, which turned out to be a super huge lunch. But it was so delicious we all ate quickly.

Fun Fact #9

My favorite fun fact! Did you know that it takes longer to get from Takayama to Tokyo than anywhere else in Japan? That's because Takayama doesn't have an airport. Takayama is often called "Japan's Tibet". Well, after a moment, Kouchisan did say that there is one plane that flies from Takayama to Tokyo, but it's the "spinach plane" because it delivers spinach daily from a spinach farm to Tokyo. So it doesn't count because it doesn't deliver people!

After lunch, we stopped by the store where Kanchan works on the weekends. It's a super cute store full of pottery, furniture and other small items. Kanchan chooses much of the pottery that is sold in the store, and we bought lots for gifts and ourselves.

Kanchan has an old Singer sewing machine set up for the slower times of the day. I wish I had this for myself!

Not only does she make small sewn items for the shop, she makes these sweet plant holders made of leather.

We still had a few sights left on our itinerary, including an old merchant's house.

This house is especially dear for Kouichisan because he lived in it from age 4 to 18, and then again after Kanchan and he got married. His father was the manager for the owner of the house.

Fun Fact #10
This house was almost bought by a Rockerfeller and transported to New York to be reassembled on one of their properties in the 1960s. There was such an uproar the sale was stopped and the preservation movement begain in Takayama.

Another reason this house has sentimental value is that when my family visited Japan when I was four, Kanchan and Kouichisan threw a big party in this house for us. I remember the night vividly because we had sparklers and the smoke made me faint, and I woke up in a futon in the main room. Everyone was clapping and singing songs, where I joined in the clapping. Everyone saw me and laughed, and I was so confused why people were laughing! Good times.

I think we're pretty close to the place I was sleeping.

Our final tourist stop was a museum where they display four of the floats for the Takayama festival. They are so beautiful and amazing. There was a video that showed the festival and floats in action.

Our favorite float had three puppets on the top that did acrobatics.

We rewarded ourselves with another trip to an onsen. This onsen was in the middle of nowhere, and I'm sure it's not a place where tourists ever visit. The claim to fame for this onsen was its special spring water, which comes out of the ground clear but becomes brown within 24 hours. It was invigorating and relaxing at the same time.

Kanchan cooked another feast for dinner and we were stuffed.

Riki waited patiently (well, if you count whining incessantly being patient) to get her nightly ear massage from Huay.

Next - even a visit to a factory is fun with family!


yumi said...

What great fun facts about Takayama and Japan. And you know, I remember that time when you were 4 and the fireworks. All the sights look great!!!

MinaG said...

I learned so much from this entry! Also, Takayama dango are the best! Ever since I tasted those, it's hard to go to the sweet stuff!