The trip southward

After a last visit to an izakaya in Shinjuku and exchanging some good-byes, James, Dom and me hopped on the night bus bound for Kanazawa. After a few hours with little sleep, we arrived at the station early in the morning, only to wait a few hours for the next bus which would take us to our actual destination: Shirakawa!

Driving into the mountains, the layer of snow around us slowly but steadily rising, signs warning us of bears on the road and less and less houses visible, we knew it was going to be a nice change from Tokyo.
Our inn was a family-run Japanese-style “Minshuku”, which we were lucky to find as most houses look very similar, and only a small sign had been dug out of the snow to indicate the place’s existence. We had a room for ourselves, separated from the next one by some sliding doors. While we were out exploring, the lady entered the rooms to prepare the futons for sleeping, and placing dinner on the tables next to the fireplace. The absolute highlight was the table, called a “kotatsu”, which has an integrated blanket to place your legs underneath, only to discover there is a hidden heating element to get your feet warm. Seeing how cold it was outside, once we got under it we barely wanted to leave it again, and even while sleeping it held us warm in the otherwise relatively cold (7°C) room.
During the day we mainly walked around, visiting one of the other houses which displayed the technique to build them, and instruments used for farming, etc. We had some delicious curry udon on a hill, next to a viewing platform overlooking the entire village. And in the evening had some relaxing time in the local onsen.

Returning to Kanazawa on the next day, it was rain instead of snow falling from the sky, which made the trip there a bit less comfortable. We got to see the “Ninja temple”, a building that gets its nickname from the tons of hidden stairs, trap doors, secret rooms and other awesome gadgets which the tour shows. A shame that none of it was ever put to use against a real attack.
We also got to see the small “samurai village”, some old style houses showing a few artifacts, but not as exciting as the name suggests. The visit to the castle ended up being quite short, as the shoes were soaked from the mix of rain and snow, and we were tired and thinking of nothing but going somewhere warm.
Thankfully, the hostel’s owner and his colleagues were extremely nice, first taking us (and a few other guests) in their cars to eat some delicious “white gyoza”, slightly different from the usual style. Afterwards, we spent the evening in the hostel’s lounge (with another kotatsu!) playing karuta, a game traditionally played on new years eve, and folding origami cranes. I think I have never seen such a motivated hostel crew, and i found it amazing that the guy had built up the place in a relatively short time, after having donated everything he owned to undergo some training as a buddhist monk for a few years.

The next day we got up extremely early and were served some “Nanakusa-gayu”, rice porridge with seven different herbs in it, which is eaten on the 7th of January to pray for a healthy year and compensate for all the unhealthy food eaten during the new year’s holidays.
Yet another bus ride later, we found ourselves in Kyoto, temple capital of Japan. Besides the obligatory visit to the Golden Pavillion we went to the big terrace of Kiyomizu-dera, and the neverending rows (literally thousands) of Torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine. With some girls dressed as Geishas and a city map sprinkled with shrines and temples, the only things missing for the perfect Japanese stereotype were some cherry blossoms.

The last stop before getting to our final destination of Kudamatsu was Hiroshima, where we had a few hours to spend before boarding our train. We had a quick look at the A-Bomb dome and Hiroshima Castle, but we will surely return later with more time on our hands, so I will cover it in another post!

Pictures of this trip can be found here!

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