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FIVE THOUSAND MILES One Prew's adventures in Japan. April, 2014.

Day 7: Shirakawago

I got up and packed away my things, this time loading more into my rucksack as I was to be travelling to Shirakawago without my suitcase. My suitcase was to be forwarded on for me to Takayama where I would pick it up the next day. So travelling light, or as light as one full-packed rucksack can be, I checked out of my hotel and had some breakfast before leaving.

I took a little wander down to the river again as I still had plenty of time to get to the train/bus station, then got a bus about 10am. My bus to Shirakawago didn't leave til 10.50 so I just pottered around the station a bit then found my bus stop. Conveniently there was a Starbucks next to the stop so I could steal their wifi for a little bit. My reserved seat was right at the front of the bus which was nice.

Road systems don't really seem too different to the UK – they drive on the same side as us as well! A lot of the journey was inside tunnels through the mountains but what bits were out in the open were very pretty.

The bus stop for Shirakawago was not in the centre of the village but equally it's not a very large village so it was a short walk over a bridge and into the centre. The bus stopped next to the tourist information place which was helpful and I picked up a map there. I circled where the bus stop was – would be needing it the next day for Takayama – and where my hotel was located. In my info pack it suggested I get a taxi but I was in no hurry.

I wandered across the bridge and through the village heading for the viewpoint high above the village, stopping to photograph the quaint little homes and shops on the way.

This is a whole family of tanuki, below – these things creeped me out (read about them here). There were a lot of them in Shirakawago for some reason.

I somehow befriended a Japanese guy when he asked me to take his photo, then in turn took mine. He said he was studying car mechanics, I think, and just happened to be on a day out. He'd been to Australia to study English but really wanted to go to England. When I said I was from England he said “oh! Doctor Who!” I let him add me on Facebook because he seemed genuinely friendly and it may be helpful to know someone in Japan in the future!

Yes, that is a random big mound of snow there! It was not cold at all.

Lizard of some sort!

Strange looking dog. More like an ugly teddy bear.

The water of the river was so blue.

Next, I followed the signs for the viewpoint and then realised that it was going to be a very steep but hopefully short trek up the cliff side. Ordinarily this probably would have been fine – I'm not that unfit – but I did have a heavy over-night rucksack on my back. But I went slow and did make it to the top, of course a little short of breath.

It was well worth it because the view of the whole village, river and surrounding mountains was stunning. It's a shame the sky was a bit hazy and the mountains weren't as clear as they could have been but still beautiful.

Admiring the view whilst eating another of my mini green tea kit kats. Plus the first of a few outdoor mirror selfies I took.

I spent a while at the top, enjoying the fresh air and scenery before heading back down. There was actually an easier way to get down than the treacherous way I had come up. A longer, flatter and less steep pathway was the route I took down. Lots of nice pine trees about.

I took the photograph below purely for the addition of the satellite dish.

So much My Neighbour Totoro!

The first, but not the last, alcohol I consumed in Japan. Bought by accident… I totally didn't notice the ‘3%’ part.

Quite pleased with this bird shot!

Loved these fish flags.

Vending machines really are everywhere in Japan, even remote villages like Shirakawago. This one isn't even a drinks vending machine, it was for cigerettes (boo!). I liked the post box too though.

Ice cream Totoro!

I spent the rest of my time just generally wandering around and found my minshuku – traditional Japanese style inn – at about 3.30/4pm (pictured below).

I was a bit confused as to where to go when I entered the building although I knew to take my shoes off at the door and put slippers on my feet instead when inside. In the end I had to ask another guest who I found in the communal bathroom/sink area. There wasn't any kind of reception as such, just an entrance hall and then corridor with several sliding doors offering no clues as to where they went. Of course I couldn't just open them to find out, that would be rude if there was someone in there.

When I did get shown to my room and told the times for dinner and breakfast plus pointed to notable locations on the village map – most of which I'd already seen – I was able to relax a little.

The room was fairly large with a tatami mat flooring – no shoes allowed. The sliding doors were not made of paper, thankfully, but wood and glass. Everything still looks very authentic, including a nice crane and tree illustration on some doors on the far side of the room. A teapot, tea bowl, tea bag and some kind of wafer biscuit had been left for me so I enjoyed these whilst deciding what to do next.

Reading through the information given to me – the English was amusingly worded – I discovered that this minshuku did in fact have wifi. The modern world! I think it helped me to have the Internet available to me this far into the trip, not only to share photos on Instagram and posts a few things to Twitter, but to not feel quite so alone. I'd met a few nice folk and generally people are friendly but it's no secret that I am rather shy. I very much enjoyed the travelling and exploring on my own but really it would have been quite nice to have someone with me, someone I already know. Next time, eh?

Here are some real ‘tanuki’, among other weird and wonderful things, in the minshuku entrance hall.

I went out for another short wander, spotting some mandarin ducks paddling in the stream down below a high bridge and taking a few more photos.

I should probably point out that these houses, with their tall sloping roofs, are called ‘gasshō-zukuri’ and they are what Shirakawago is most famous for – read a bit more about them here.

Here are those ducks I mentioned (super zoomy camera).

Dinner was served at 5.30pm and I had my own place in the ‘dining room’ assigned to me. I think mostly because I wasn't going to be having Hida beef – a specialty in the area but not for my pescetarian palette. I stupidly didn't take my phone or camera in with me – I'd have had my phone in my pocket had I not left it charging in my room. So no photos of the dinner but there were lots of little dishes including tofu, tempura vegetables, pickles, Japanese purple rice, miso soup, aubergine, orange slices and a small whole fish of some sort, head and all. I ate everything. Well, not the fish’s head or tail but I ate the flesh… even when it was staring at me. I've eaten fish for over two years now, since being a strict vegetarian for more than ten years prior to that, but I still find it a little weird. I could happily settle for being a vegetarian again, but not in Japan. In Japan it would be difficult. Although! All Buddhist monks are vegetarian.

During the meal I spoke to three friendly Malaysian people. Two of them had lived in England in the past, in both London and Manchester. And they spoke fluent English too, which I guess surprised me after not experiencing that from most Japanese people. It was nice not to just sit in silence and eat, as I was on my own. I have found eating to be the hardest thing to do alone on this trip. I mean, it's fine to do but you feel uncomfortable about it and end up just wanting to quickly eat and leave. It's a shame because the food I've had has been great!

I was well and truly stuffed after the meal. Did I mention I'd had some sake and almost a full (larger than a pint?) bottle of Asahi beer? So, I didn't do much after the meal. When I returned to my room, I found my bed had been laid out for me in the middle of the room. I was originally concerned I might be cold in the room – thin walls – but the bed had lots of blankets.

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