Ski Japan 2012 - Snow, Onsen, Sushi - Part 2

There is something about Takayama that immediately made us regret staying in this wonderful place for only two nights.

While this quaint little city was quiet in the winter season - and its not really that big (only around 100,000 inhabitants) - we found it somewhat magical in its tradition and style. Not only that - you could walk everywhere quite easily!

The city of Takayama developed during the 16th century, but its location high in the Japanese Alps ensured it was left to develop its own local quirks and culture. Now, many of the old merchant quarters are still well-preserved and, in other seasons, this is a popular tourist spot for Japanese.

The tradespeople of Takayama were known for their clever skills in carpentry and woodwork, and that is still evident today. The ancient houses in this region have wonderful wooden frontages. A ball of cedar hanging from the eaves denotes the residence is a sake brewery (many of which are still operating today).

Travellers to Japan and Takayama would be well-advised to check out Hida-Takayama's excellent Facebook page for information about local festivals, customs, culture and other activities. Along with free WiFi in the city centre, it all adds up to a very welcoming city for tourists.

Onsen - We had spoiled ourselves a little with the hotel in Takayama. It was a beauty - this hotel couldn't come more highly recommended.

Takayama Ouan Hotel is a stylish blend of old and new. With tatami floors throughout, the snow-dampened wheels of our luggage were towelled down by the concierge to dry them before touching (and damaging) the tatami!

Today's onsen experience was in the hotel itself! Takayama Ouan's five onsen are on the top-floor of the hotel with brilliant views over the city by day or by night. Three private onsen with views can also be reserved. What better way to relax after a day's skiing and sightseeing than to relax in a rooftop spa overlooking a city as its lights come on as the sun sets.

Dinner - We dined out in the Takayama city centre at a tiny tempura restaurant we had read about online. There was probably room for about eight people along the bar of Ebihachi. The husband and wife team delivered us a mouthwatering selection of tempura seafood and vegetables which we enjoyed with cold beer. What can be better than that?

Lots more pictures of Hida-Takayama and the wonderful Takayama Ouan Hotel and Onsen can be found here.

Takayama to Shirakawa-Go

Nagareha Onsen Trail Map
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Hida Nagareha Onsen
Altitude - 750-1400m
Lifts - 7
Runs - 7
Snow Depth - 220cms

After a fond farewell to Takayama and not least our hotel's awesome buffet breakfast, we headed towards our next destination.

Of course, on the way to Shirakawa-Go we stopped off for a morning ski at another of the Hida region's many ski areas.

Nagareha Onsen is a bit off the beaten track in a valley 45 minutes north from Takayama. Also known as "Star Spur", the ski station is based around one main lift.

From the top ski lift you can take a variety of "spurs" down to the base station in the valley. The first spur was a lovely, long cruisey ski run with nice views across the valley. The second was a bit challenging with an extremely steep start ... and the third was closed off because of a landslide ... interesting!

So we decided to go up the last short ski lift and see the summit which, on the piste map, is show as a small area of a few short runs and a restaurant. Well ... no! This was where all the snow was, where all the interesting terrain was, and where the powder was! Great variety of terrain and fall lines, which is sometimes unusual in Japan.

More pictures from Nagareha Onsen are here (including the landslide!), while I also have a short video clip on YouTube.

Source: Nagareha Onsen website
Onsen - With a name like Nagareha Onsen you'd expect there to be an onsen here to soothe sore skiing legs! And there was ...

The onsen here was very different from previous ones so far on this trip. While the onsen visited in previous days have been sedate and picturesque, Nagareha was modern, and with heaps of features. Like the smartphone of onsen! There were jacuzzi and various physiotherapy contraptions in water - none of which I knew how to operate but I felt healthier just being near them!

I shared the jacuzzi for a short time with a family of three generations - a young boy, his dad and grandfather enjoying the bubbles. I suppose this is how families bathed in earlier times. I entertained the child saying konnichi-wa.


Through winding mountain roads in the more remote wilds of northern Gifu, and then by an expressway the entire journey of which is through a tunnel, we reach our next stop - for just one night!

One night only as this is Shirakawa-Go, a preserved traditional farming village that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The village is nestled here on a rare piece of level land next to a raging river. All around the forested mountains rise up imposingly.

The huge three-storey farmhouses dotted around this village have thatched slanted roofs to keep the pressure from the heavy snow off the wooden beams. There is about a metre of snow in the fields in this area in January.

Our farmhouse and home for the night is called Kidoya and we are the only guests on this snowy winter's night. We are welcomed by an elderly lady who shows us down the central passage to a room separated from other empty rooms by sliding screen doors.

In the centre of our little tatami room is a kotatsu, a low table common in many Japanese rooms, but with a heating source underneath here. You sit at the table to warm yourself, with your legs underneath the covers while you have tea, eat, read or watch TV.

We head out into the snow to explore the historic village and take in the sights. When it becomes dark and the lights in all the farmhouses are switched on, it is very special - a bit like a more realistic (cos its so cold!) snowy fairytale perhaps.

Dinner - Dinner is served in the farmhouse tonight! We eat in the house's single dining room which is a tantalising blend of old and new. There is a traditional iriri, or hearth, but also a huge flat-screen TV!

We are provided with lots of lovely little plates of food, as well as a big hotpot bubbling away on a burner on each table.

There is fire-grilled whole river fish, soft and juicy daikon, warming miso soup, tofu, honey potatoes and various vegetables, crunchy pickles, and more, plus a milky glass of sake!

We sleep remarkably well in this huge, peaceful, old house.

More pictures from Shirakawa-Go can be found here.

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