Tempura and Rickshaws

Wednesday, June 21
Exploring Takayama!

Finally, a real Japanese town!  This is what we were looking for: narrow streets, a beautiful river, the morning market, shop after shop of foods, boxes, furniture, clothes, etc.  First we went to the Takayama Float Museum. They have a spring festival and an autumn festival, and for hundreds of years they have been having a parade of these ornate, huge, wood-carved floats. Some have wheels, but some do not. They weigh several tons! The ones without wheels require 20 - 30 people to lift and carry through the streets. We saw some old ones, and some of those are still in use.  Others are housed in "garages" throughout the city.

Then we walked to another beautiful Shinto shrine.

Along the way we saw groups of school children in uniforms who waved to us and said "Hello!".  Then we walked through the main part of town. At lunch time, our guide said we could eat wherever we wanted, so a group of 6 of us set out to find a particular tempura restaurant that was on our guide map. We followed the streets and actually found it, but it looked like it was closed.  We tried pulling and pushing the wooden door but it didn't open. We were standing there trying to decide what to do when I suggested we try to slide it open! Sure enough, that worked.  We walked in and the whole thing was two sit-on-the-floor (no leg holes) tables and a counter with 6 seats. How fortunate!   So we sat and ordered the "regular tempura".  We were all very thirsty, so we ordered the "Beer large" ($8).  The glasses were so big it took two hands to lift them!  They must have held 24 ounces!

The "chef" was on the other side of the counter. He began cutting up stuff and coating it and putting it into a big rusty pot that looked like it was from the Ming Dynasty period (ok, wrong country, but you get the idea).  It was better not to look.  After 10 minutes or so we got bowls with rice on the bottom and then tempura shrimp (2 large ones), eggplant, nori (seaweed), a leaf of some sort (yummy), a piece of squid, and some unidentifiable vegetable (pumpkin?).  It was all sooooo good!  Not heavy at all. And we pretty much finished the beers!  Then the two of us went back to the center of town and took a genuine rickshaw ride!  Our "driver" said he didn't speak English but we said that was ok.  So he gave us another tour of the town.  He stopped to say "river", "garage", "sake factory". He took our picture with a "Hai...cheese".  Awesome fun!
Then, back on the bus to the hotel, and before we knew it, it was time to eat again!  Wayne had just about reached capacity, so he stayed at the hotel (as did the other four from our group), but Wendy went with the others for shabu-shabu.  This is where they give you very thin slices of the best grade of beef and you dip them in boiling water.  The heat melts the fat and cooks the beef very quickly.  They also give you vegetables.  Wendy said it was very delicious.  She came back around 9:15 and we watched the end of "Singin' In the Rain" on TV, in English with Japanese subtitles.  Don Lockwood-san!

Thursday, June 22 (a 6-month anniversary day)
Back on the bus for another winding, tunnel-filled ride to Shirakawago (almost sounds like "Chicago" when Toshi says it).  This is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It is famous because there are about 175 thatched-roof houses in the area.  Some of the roofs are almost 4' thick and contain 4,000 yards of thatch!  Then we walked through the village and over a bridge on the rushing river. A beautiful spot.

Back on the bus to go to lunch and....UH OH!  The bus won't start!  So, many in the group opted to get soft serve ice cream cones made from the local milk. Delicious!  After about 30 minutes we borrowed a bus from another tour group to go to the restaurant in Kitano-sho.  We walked in and there were long tables and each place had about 15 little dishes with different kinds of food and those little stoves cooking beef.
Do they eat like this every day??  And, of course, more beer!  When we were done our bus was still not fixed so we had to stand around, and some folks had another soft serve cone!  Finally, the bus came and took us to an overlook above Skirakawago.  What a beautiful sight.  Then a 40 minute ride, through one last tunnel, and we were out of the mountains - the gorund was flat!  And the houses in this area all had black tile roofs.  Toshi said we were getting close to the Sea of Japan.  Strong winds come off the sea, so they need the heavy roof tiles.  We stopped at a fisherman's wharf (gift shop and fish market), and then back on the bus.  Wendy has been supplying everyone with various treats on the bus, so it was time to stuff ourselves again with various cookies!

Then, into Noto and the Kagaya Hotel.  This is the most fantastic place! Beautiful views, architecture, painting, tapestries.  Everyone expected a little place (since the rooms are "authentic"), but it is a big hotel.  But the rooms are really Japanese.
We have a suite and each room can be closed with sliding paper walls.  Tatami mats on the floors (no shoes).  A low table in the center.  Each room comes with a personal assistant (ours was Yoshiko). She sat us down (on the floor) and brought us green tea and some gooey sweet dumpling candy.  Then we had to get "dressed" for dinner.  Ha Ha!  Getting dressed means just underwear plus your yakuta - white with blue flowers for ladies, blue with white flowers for men.  See, the thing is, everybody in the hotel walks around wearing these!  Kind of weird to see everyone the same, but fun in our group.  Plus, little slippers. So we all went down to take out group picture.  How fun!   Then into a large room for dinner.  You had a choice of sitting on a cushion on the floor or on a new invention - the chair!  Wayne lasted about 2 minutes on the floor.
Dinner, as you can see, was about the same as lunch - tons of delicious beautiful food in small portions - but they kept bringing more and MORE and MORE and M-O-R-E!!!   Vegetables, sushi, beef, chicken, fish, pickles, soba noodles, miso, rice, watermelon, cherries, grapes, sake, beer!  Then, back to our room where magically the table was gone and two futons (really just mattresses) were laid out on the floor. Sleepy time!  End of Day 7 (only 7?????)

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