I’ve been mentioning that we’ve settled on a home base for the next year, and I’m very excited to reveal that Japan is soon-to-be our temporary home. We’ll be leaving Thailand March 2nd, spending a week traveling in Indonesia, and then flying to Japan from there.
When I was a kid, there was a Japanese restaurant in my home town called “Ah-So Gardens”. I distinctly remember the familiar, good feeling of walking into the restaurant’s lobby, where the lighting was low, shamisen music played in the background, and beautiful koi fish swam in an enormous fish tank. The servers all wore brightly-coloured kimonos, and we dined in small rooms with sliding shoji doors. We took off our shoes before entering these rooms, and kneeled on silk pillows in front of low tables made of black marble. I loved Ah-So Gardens so much that my parents bought me a porcelain statue of a Japanese women dressed in a red kimono for my 8th birthday. In retrospect, I realize that the theme of Ah-So Gardens was almost an offensive parody of traditional Japanese culture, but regardless, ever since my infatuation with this restaurant, I’ve wanted to visit Japan.
While we’re planning to explore all corners of this beguiling country, our home base will be in Takayama – a place that Lonely Planet recently listed as one of the world’s 10 unsung places.
So why am I so excited to live in Takayama?
Takayama is found in a mountainous region of Gifu Prefecture. After living in numerous different cities over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that I’m usually happiest when I’m living near mountains or water. Our current home in Ban Pong, Thailand is not without its gritty charms, but I long to wake up to inspiring natural scenery on a daily basis.
Takayama’s location, nestled away in the mountains, has kept it relatively isolated from the rest of Japan. As a result, Takayama has developed a unique sub-culture, and many of its classic Edo period (1600-1868) buildings still remain in use.
Last night in Ban Pong, Brent and I went out for a relaxing dinner. We left the restaurant after dark, and were meandering lazily to our scooter, when 3 stray dogs appeared out of nowhere, charging at us with their teeth bared. The peaceful night was disrupted as Brent fired up the scooter in a panic, and I screamed “Go! Gogogogogo!” as the dogs chased us down the bumpy gravel road, nipping at our ankles and barking in a disturbingly flesh-hungry manner.
Yeah, so needless to say I’m kind of looking forward to the end of moments like these.
The combination of fewer rabid stray dogs and fresh mountain air also means that I can resume my running routine, which I have been missing in a very serious way over the past few months.
The Takayama festivals held in April and October are said to be among the largest and most beautiful festivals in Japan. The spring Takayama festival will take place just a few weeks after we arrive. I’ve been sending my wanderlusting-heart aflutter by looking at pictures of the elaborate costumes, and festival floats (yatai) decorated with life-like marionettes. Hotels and guesthouses in Takayama are typically booked up over 6 months in advance of each festival, but we’ll have front row seats for the action.
Takayama’s cuisine is a little different compared to Japan’s coastal cities. The town is known for its beef, soba noodles, sansai (mountain vegetables), and wasakana (river fish). Plus, I’ve been digging up the names of a few Western-style restaurants, which include a burger joint and a Mexican restaurant. I’m excited to dive into Japanese cuisine, but after living in Ban Pong for a year, where the meal options are local or nothing, it’s nice to know that I’ll be able to get some Western food once in a while when the craving strikes. Takayama is also known for its sake, with several old breweries located in town, some of which provide samples. I like samples.
Best of all, our new teaching schedule will be much more flexible than our current one, and they’re throwing in a car for us too. This means I’ll have even more time and freedom to travel around and to share my stories and advice with you lovely readers. Are you as excited as I am, yet?
Have you been to Takayama? Or Japan? What were your impressions?