Takayama, Japan (April 11, 2023)

Our day started by exploring the historic village of Ogimachi in this mountain region famous for its, of all things, farm houses. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, the village is home to several dozen well preserved gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. The farmhouses were designed to withstand the harsh winters (think seven feet of snow) while providing a place to work and live. Their steeply pitched, thickly thatched roofs are responsible for their name which translates to ‘praying hands.’ Many of the farmhouses are now restaurants, museums, and B&Bs. We toured multi-storied Kanda house and learned about the silkworm industry that was carried out upstairs and the gunpowder industry in the basement. Both were cash producing sidelines for this farming family.

Our next stop offered a total contrast to the seemingly simple country life of Ogimachi: Takayama Jinya, a branch office of the Edo government from 1692-1868. A National historic site, this complex of buildings is the only one (there used to be 60+) of its kind still existing in Japan. We strolled from room to room and saw the court, conference room, offices, guests rooms, rice storehouse (taxes were paid in rice), bathroom, living room of the head official, and on and on. It’s now a museum dedicated to life under the Tokugawa Shogunate. The ornateness of the trim or lack of trim altogether on the tatami was pointed out to us and it was explained that the rank of the people working or living in a space was indicated in this way. No trim whatsoever = servant or low ranking. Trim of a single color with no design = a mid-level worker. And trim with a design woven in = someone influential spends time in the space.

My favorite meal in terms of food (versus artistic presentation) was lunch today. I found everything on my plate wonderful from the cold, grilled fish to the hot bites of local steak to the pickles to the rice to the salad and sweet little red beans. The only thing missing was dessert, but Hiro surprised us with a small, delicious cake once we were back on the bus.

With full stomachs we were off to explore the intricacies of brewing the national beverage, sake. This wine is made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove some of the bran. Despite the name Japanese rice wine, sake is produced by a brewing process more akin to that of beer except for two difference. The conversion from starch to sugar and then from sugar to alcohol occurs simultaneously and the alcohol content in sake is considerably higher. We enjoyed three samples, my favorite being the one flavored with the local citrus.

We are staying at a beautiful mountain resort tonight. Determined not to make last night’s mistake, I plan to head to the hot bath decked out in my yukata and slippers in about 10 minutes.

… On a Personal Note …

Each of our experiences bring back such fond memories of Dan’s parents and his sister, Deb.
They lived in Japan one of the three years we were here.
We took a few trips together, stayed in traditional inns, bathed in communal baths, slept on the floor, saw lots of interesting sites, and ate delicious as well as strange-to-us food. It’s where Deb and I got acquainted and became fast friends.

Our besties were our neighbors, Mary Kay and Gary, who were always up for an adventure, shared meal, party, or trip.
Cormorant fishing … Hong Kong … Toba.

We had a chance to visit our bowling partners, Ann and John, when we were in the Northwest last year. Going through their scrapbooks brought back memories of some embarrassing outfits, many homemade, as well as fun adventures like the Fertility Festival. Ann and I taught English as a second language with another Ann who was not home (darn) when we were in the Northwest.


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