Not much to report, because today was a traveling day. I gave up trying to visit Iya Valley, so from Kochi we took a train across the highlands of Shikuku (very scenic), crossed the largest suspension bridge in the world to reach the island of Honshu, sped along the southern plain (and gaped in awe at the solid urban mass that starts in Kobe on the west and ends in Tokyo on the east; wow, there is a lot of people living elbow to elbow here), and eventually took the slow train to the mountainous heart of Honshu. This is the region called the Japanese Alps, and as we slowly climbed the landscape became more and more alpine. Oh, my God, there is a thick carpet of snow!
We finally got to the town of Takayama, with no idea about where we were to stay. But our good luck held, and we found a great youth hostel a few blocks from the station: J Hoppers. Now, I have already told you that youth hostels are really the best place to stay in Japan, but I should add that besides the old-fashioned youth hostels, like those at Sakurajima and Matsuyama, there is a new generation of private-enterprise hostels that seem to be mushrooming across Japan. The two that have caught our attention, and which deserve our most energetic praise are K's Backpackers Hostels and J Hoppers. Do yourself a favor and check their websites if you ever plan to come to Japan. They are clean, roomy, helpful, have full kitchens, and --most important as far as Chris is concerned-- are attracting the kind of fun people who you want to meet at hostels.
We have decided that we like Takayama. It is a nice mountain city with lots to do (which we will do tomorrow), lighted streets, lots of shops and restaurants, and a healthy nightlife. Their claim to fame is very good mountain beef, so Chris and I decided to splurge and go for a nice carnivore dinner. It was our first visit to a typical Japanese restaurant, with low tables and sitting in cushions (but I am sorry to say that neither Chris nor I are built for the lotus position). The dish was delicious, but tiny! Yes, we came out licking our chops but still hungry, so we had to go to the supermarket and buy a new meal all together. Japanese cuisine is for gourmets, not gluttons!