Thursday, January 21, 2010

Japan - Day 17

For starters here are the web portals of the two youth hostels I spoke about yesterday:

K's House Backpackers Hostel is

J-Hoppers is

As I said, both are top notch hostels here in Japan.

OK, back to the narrative, today in the morning we took advantage of the offer made by one of the hosts, piled in his car, and went to see the town of Shirakawa Go about an hour's drive away. Thos town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is basically a typical Japanese mountain town of a couple of centuries ago. It is a real town, though, with farmhouses that were built two hundred years ago. They are BIG farmhouses, four or five stories high, where the family lived in the ground floor with the animals, workers in the second floor, and then two or three floors used for raising silk worms, weaving, or whatever it is that farmers do over the long winter nights. The basement was used for "curing" niter, a key component in gunpowder done out of a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and human pee.

The town was pretty cool, but the weather was Scheisse. There was at least a meter of snow on the ground, but with the rain it had turned into slushy roads. I held true to the notion that "Tourismus muss Weh tun", and stubbornly visited farmhouses, Buddhist temples, and quaint rural streets.

Back in town I changed socks, and promptly took the train to the neighboring town of Hida-Furukawa, where I visited the Annula Festival Museum. It turns out that for the last 400 years the town has had this festival, where these floats are paraded. The floats are amazing, four or five tiers high, with remarkably sophisticated puppets and children Kabuki theater players. Anyway, they have made a great display of these floats, some of which are 200 years old, so you can wonder about the details of workmanship and the art of the puppeteers. They also have a great 3-D film about the whole festival, so you can really feel like you are there.

Next I went to the carpenter's museum. It turns out that the woodworkers of this region have been known throughout Japan for the last 300 years, and are widely recognized as the masters of the art. Chico, Lucienne, and Dan would regard in awe the mastery of these folks, who with basic tools are the architects behind the great temples and carvings of most of Japan.

I finished my visit with a delightful stroll through this charming city, looking at sake breweries, quaint shops, and all sorts of artist ateliers.

Later in the evening I cooked for Chris and I, a delicious meal with lots of veggies (some sort of leek, mushrooms, and broccoli) and a big pile of the famous Hida beef. Tonight, for once, we ate to our heart's content!

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