Jan 5th – Takayama to Kyoto.
I was quite sad to leave Hirayu Onsen and the Hodakaso Saganoyu Ryokan, I had really enjoyed my stay there as well as the hot springs – although I could only stay in there for short periods, as unfortunately I was still suffering with the cold which nothing could kill – any form of medication, full heating in the room, even the hot spring wouldn’t kill it. I then made my way back to the bus, for the 1 hour trip back to Takayama, then the 2 hour 16 minute ride back to Nagoya. The bus trip was fine, and actually a newer luxury coach as it happened, the train however posed it own problem – overcrowding. Unfortunately there were no seats left, and actually no standing space left on the entire train, luckily the guard managed to find a small only partially occupied standing space on a far carriage to shove me into, and I began the 2 hours and 16 minute journey – standing the entire way.
From Nagoya, I took the Hikari superexpress 377 to Kyoto, another luxury trip on the Shinkansen, from there is was a single stop on the subway to my hotel, the Aranvert.
Jan 4th – First Full day in Hirayu Onsen.
My accommodation, the Hodakaso Saganoyu Ryokan, was a traditional type of Japanese Inn, featuring a public bath and hot spring. This was probably the most traditional Japanese experience possible, and without any English except for the basics by the front desk manager, it made this part of the trip very interesting indeed. The first thing to understand is the slippers – as a new guest I was whisked to my room and bypassed the outdoor shoes to indoor slippers manoeuvre on arrival, and so didnt at first understand the purpose of the slippers in the room. However, by use of pointing, hand gestures and allot of patience from the Japanese staff, finally everything was explained to this hopeless foreigner on what to do. I must say here that the people at the Ryokan were the nicest and kindest people I have ever met, even despite us having almost no common language, they took the time to explain everything from when to use each type of slippers, to the bath, they even helped me with cooking and preparing my food, both breakfast and dinner each day. I cannot thank them enough for their kindness and patience, again a truly memorable stay which I will never forget.
Part2 is continued here.
Jan 3rd – It was finally time to leave Tokyo and head out for 3 days of relaxation Japanese style. I began by taking the subway via a few lines until I got to Tokyo JR station. By this time I had already activated my JR pass, which gives unlimited travel on the JR rail network across Japan. I then boarded the 10:36 Shinkansen Hikari Superexpress no 369 to Nagoya. If you have never been on a Shinkansen or “bullet train” as they used to be known in the west, these a quite an experience. Surprising to me, being a train fanatic, is that they are actually standard adhesion-drive based locomotives (they have electric motors which turn the wheels as opposed to magnetic or tyre based drives on other types of track – like a normal train basically) This is a surprise given they travel at over 200mph, and are always ontime, and have never had a single accident (the one reported incident where a train derailed, the train was not in service, and this was during a very strong earthquake, with no injuries).
After arrival at Nagoya, I then changed onto the 13:03, Limited Express Wideview Hilda no 9 for the 2 hour 16 minute winding journey through the mountains to Takayama. Words can not explain this journey, and the photos out of the window are not even close to the incredible snow covered scenery for the second half of this trip. Truly breathtaking, seeing mountainous ravines, and slopes with pine trees covered in snow, and endless deep rivers with ice and snow all the way.
As it turns out, this was the first time I would see a Japanese train late. It arrived only about 6 minutes late, but made my connection all the more tricky. I ran and got the bus ticket, only to get back to the queue to find the bus was too full, and to not be allowed on. Luckily, they pulled another bus from somewhere and we set off on an hour long bus ride still further up the mountains and snow covered slopes to Hirayu Onsen. The road was so so heavily covered in snow the bus was crawling for most of the trip, and frequently had to drive on the fresh snow to avoid shaking it to pieces on the caterpillar tracks left by the snow plough from earlier that day. We finally made it to our stop, and then I had fun of trying to drag a wheely case over the snow to my Ryokan, this 1 minute walk was not a problem, except for the driver of a car who had managed to spin his car and get stuck on the only road through the village. All hands to the rescue as everyone able tried to help push the car back on to something it could grip – in the end a passing motorist got out a tow rope and the rest of us went on to our Inns.