The Japanese Alps
We’ve been in Japan for 2 weeks and it has taken me a while to get round to the blog. For various reasons, but mainly we’ve been on the go constantly, the Wifi is rubbish and we’ve had to desperately look for accommodation on the internet each and every night! Tip, anyone fancying a trip to Japan, book everthing thing in advance!!
Well, we have at last settled in to this faboulous country, what a place! A country of contradictions, oddities and some of the friendliest people on earth. An Asian country so far removed from Asia, it really is a little world in its own right.
We touched down in Tokyo and left briskly, after buying hats and scarves, the cold was a little bit of a shock……we are to return towards the end of our time in Japan! The little I saw, I loved, and I’m looking forward to going back. We decided to head out to the Japanese Alps, and have spent the last 8 days whisking around the mountains, taking in castles, amazing zen gardens, stunning views, snow, mountain lakes and beautiful Autumnal trees.
At the beginning of our time in Japan, I think we had a little South East Asia come-down, going from one of the cheapest places to travel in the world, where you can live like royalty for very little, to the most eye-wateringly expensive place I’ve ever been (and we live in London!). From what I can see no one lives like royalty, life is simple, efficient, luxuries are scarce and everyone seems quite content. What I’ve learnt to love most about the country is its peacefulness. The people are serene, very well turned-out, polite and magnificently orderly, even the pre-school kids!
Freda stands out like a sore thumb with her crass, disruptive, manic behaviour, sorry Freda! But, even though she’s the only person constantly moving, shouting, rolling about on the floor, people seem to love her. People rush up and give her presents as they welcome us to their country……little origami cranes, stickers and sweets, she’s in heaven!
We started our trip on the edge of the Alps in Nagoya, a large port city at the bottom of the mountains, not really visited by many tourists but interesting none the less. We had our first Tatami room, basically beds on the floor, which we have gradually begun to get used to. I also realised that our bathroom in Tokyo was not going to be the worst bathroom of our travels, but rather a normality, see below.
We went to the zoo, Mitch was a dab hand at zoo keeping.
We checked out the botanical gardens and took in our first Japanese castle, finding out quickly that most are reconstructions, having been destroyed in the various wars. But we were not disappointed for long, there are also lots of surviving ones.
Getting around Japan is a dream, the transport here is mind blowing. We bought rail passes for the first 3 weeks, although incredibly expensive, they are allowing us to see so much and at speeds on the Bullet trains that you can hardly get your head around. No distance is too far when you have a Shinkansen going there. We all love them, especially Mitch and I as Freda gets to go on her iPad and we hear nothing out of her for an hour or two!
After Nagoya, we caught another train up to Kanazawa, the gateway to the Japanese Alps. Here we saw our first glimpse of the Japanese Autumn in full swing, Aki. All the trees gradually go red, sweeping their way down the country and we’ve been lucky enough to have been following them.
In Kanazawa we got a taste of old Japan, wandering around the former geisha and samurai districts, beautiful zen gardens and a great castle (although another reconstruction…..don’t get me wrong they’re nice, but I was looking forward to seeing an original soon).
We left Kanazawa and set of off on the Alpen Route, which consisted of nearly every type of transport you can imagine to get over the Alps. The scenery was beautiful and Freda loved seeing snow, although this felt a bit odd after having been in Vietnam only a few days before.
Freda had a small meltdown on a ‘no talking bus’, as she realised that she had left some of her few and very prized toys on one of the previous forms of transport. We think it was the tram, but hard to say! Needless to say it was quite embarrassing in the silence as she cried her little heart out, I had to shut her up with one of the many sweets we have accrued from kind old people. But, she did get to stand on top of a very big dam! Luckily Mitch didn’t drop her over, but I was getting a little anxious!
The tears dried up and we finally arrived at our next destination, Matsumoto. We were all feeling the loss of the small dogs (Jazz, Tuffy, Hotdog 1 and 2, and Salsa, see bath shot above for dogs in happier times) so we headed sombrely off to bed. The next morning brought us a beautiful, original castle, which brightened the mood. Freda climbed all the way to the top, a pretty mean feat as some of the steps were nearly as big as her.
I love Japanese food, but it can be a little intimidating due to obvious reasons, i.e. you can’t read the menu or understand what anyone says. We are gradually becoming better at daring to just enter restaurants and grab food wherever we can, and Matsumoto was definitely a turning point. We’ve now stopped worrying what might happen when inside and what Freda might like etc. With this in mind, I’m learning to love picture menus and can even abide the plastic models of food plates in the windows, amazing!
Anyway, I have to say we are now dap hand at eating in Japan with a 3 year old……thankfully it’s not only our favourite past time, but seems to be Japans as well! We are all getting on well with the food, Freda is obsessed by ramen and miso soup, Mitch and I by gyozo (dumpling)…..and as I type this, he’s frying some up!
We had our first (and only) luxurious night in a hotel, which initially was a massive disappointment, but after a bit of moaning (you can’t complain in Japan, people are too nice), we were upgraded to a Japanese style suite, which was very nice indeed. We then got all Kill Bill, in our Jinbei, after discovering wine is cheaper than beer (and just about palatable!).
The next day, we took a bus across the Alps. It started snowing and was magical, although bloody freezing……..our summer clothes leave a lot to be desired in the cold!
Next stop Takayama, lovely old town, bit touristy, but you can see why. The city boasts lines of beautiful crafted houses, wonderful temples and yummy Hida beef. The Japanese have some very tasty cows!
We spent the day wandering around the old town, walking between wooden, serene hillside temples that are a world away from all the gold bling of Asia.
Afterwards we left the stunning tranquility of the Alps, on a magnificent train journey down the mountains and made our way to Hiroshima, for a somber few days.