August 16, 2011

Summer Road Trip . Day 2

We got an early start today and headed out of Matsumoto into the mountains towards Kamikochi. We had planned on spending time hiking up at Kamikochi but we changed plans while on the road. Since POV's aren't allowed to drive into Kamikoochi you have to park in the closest town and either take a bus or taxi to the entrance of the park. We missed the town and decided to keep on driving towards Takayama and explore that area today since it was the farthest west we would travel on this trip. It was a good thing we changed plans because we spent all day exploring Takayama and Shirakawa-go. We would have been pressed to do this on our way home. First we drove into the old town of Takayama which sits in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture. Two of the main sites to see here are the beautifully preserved old town streets and the Hida Open Air Folk Village. First we spent time walking up and down the old streets and browsing the shops. The boys found some cool Gassho house piggy banks and I kept my eyes peeled for a red traditional paper umbrella. It was a bit hot and extremely crowded but nothing that a good ice-cream cone couldn't take care of. We saw some cool rickshaws and wanted to go for a ride but it was a bit pricey for all six of us to go on them so we enjoyed them from below instead. We didn't shop for very long knowing that it wasn't really something the kids would be interested in for very long.

After getting some souvenirs in town we headed to the outskirts of Takayama to explore the Hida Folk Village. This was definitely the highlight of the day for the kids. Everything in the village was hands on and FREE. The kids got to try on traditional hats and robes and pull carts. They also got to have fun with water pistols and traditional stilts and other wooden toys. Then we headed over to the main part of the village where there were a number of gassho-zukuri houses. The massive farmhouses with their steep, thatched roofs which look like praying hands ("gassho-zukuri") were moved here from the nearby Shirakawa-go region. The kids had such a blast going from house to house, up and down all the stairs in each house, and looking in each and every room. The village wasn't crowded at all and it felt like we were the only ones there which was really nice. Every gassho house had a description of the familly it belonged to and what livelihood was done primarily in that house. We got to witness a man taking big logs and chopping them down and making thin wood slats. It was really impressive. Another house had a huge rice pounder and Andrew and Emma had fun trying to get it to go up and down like a see saw.

After getting our fill of fun at the village we decided to head out so that we could drive even further to the town of Shirakawa-go where one of the original towns of gassho houses still exists. This little adventure was really for me as I desperately wanted a photo of the cool gassho houses. It was afternoon and the lighting was really good. I just had to be patient and wait for the right moments when the tourists were out of the way. I am so grateful for a good husband who dropped me off and then drove up and down the town looking for just the right houses to photograph. I have to give him credit for finding the perfect spot. I was completely enamored by all the perfectly green rice fields. It was a long drive back to the campsite but I couldn't complain after such a great day!