Takayama: Onsen baths and Hida-Furakawa beef

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Going out to the country…

From Tokyo, we took the shinkansen bullet train to Nagoya and switched there to the Local train to Takayama, a mountain town in the Japanese Alps.

We were in for culture shock as we enterd our Ryokan, Omodo No kune, where we dropped our shoes at the bamboo mat and entered a sanctuary populated with gentle staff in traditional kimono style and slippers. They tried to get me to wear a kimono in town, but that was a bridge too far!

What wasn’t hard to adapt to was the natural hot spring baths in the inn called onsen. We were quick converts to the ritual of donning kimono robes and heading to our gender specific bath each tired evening. First, you scrub clean sitting on little stools, then you enter the bath to laze away as the silky water does its steaming magic.

Then back to our room that the staff has discreetly transformed from day to night mode. Out lay two tatami mattresses and soft comforters plus a pitcher of cold Hida mountain water.

The first day, we explored Takayama on foot, visiting the Farmers market by the river and tasting local snacks. Of course, we fully explored the local cuisine where Hida beef is the local luxury. Over the course of our stay, Andy had Hida grilled on a table side Hibachi, raw as sushi, cast iron seared and shredded. I coped with sushi and ramen!

But the best restaurant in Takayama is Heinraku, rated #1 in Tripadvisor. It’s a tiny chinese place with delicious food and ambience run by husband and wife team Hiroshi and Naoko.

Naoko runs front of house and she makes every guest feel like a long lost friend. She’s tiny and vivacious and loves to practice English on her guests. Hiroshi mans the open counter kitchen delivering tasty plates that focus on pork, chicken and veggies plus a full sake tasting service. It’s a must!

As for the Hida beef, it needs a new PR firm! It’s basically the same as Kobe beef, its way more famous brother. The same cows produce the beef that’s richly marbled throughout. The only difference is the provenance.

The second day, we took the train to Furakawa, where we had signed up for a 3 1/2 hour guided bike tour through the rice farms of Hida.

It was a great ride, mostly flat & with frequent stops for photos and farming facts. The amber waves of grain here were golden rice plants ready for harvest. It was a gorgeous ride with friendly fellow travellers from other countries. We rode through an afternoon of changing light and landscapes, returning home for dinner and a nice long onsen soak. I slept for 9 hours straight!

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