We started the day with a trip to the Hida Folk Village. It was a bit closer than we expected, arriving at the car park about 30 seconds after leaving the ryokan. We drove back, parked the car and walked back up to the museum. The museum contains houses which have been moved from villages in the area to display here and also to prserve the heritage of Japan. They are all original houses and hundreds of years old. It’s similar to the village we visited in Shirakawa. We wandered around the houses for about an hour. It was interesting and informative to see the houses. In some ways the rooms are similar to the ryokans, sliding walls as doors, tatami covered rooms, hallways, etc. Traditional Japanese houses were simple and efficient affairs. The roofs were unique to the area they came from. Different valleys got vastly different amounts of snow in the winter, so the slopes and overhang would be adapted to the weather. Some would have longer, more sloping roofs to ensure that snow would not sit on the roof and also to provide a covered working area. Shorter roofs existed in places with less snow.
After lunch we decided to find some natural onsen. An onsen is a natural hot spring which has been used as a public bath. The bath houses in Japan have developed from these onsen and the same rules generally apply. The natural onsen often have mixed bathing and a piece of clothing is provided for the men and woman in the mixed sections. We wanted a nice relaxing onsen in the mountains which was outside and had a great view of the mountains. We found one in our guide book and set off to find it.
An hour later we found a tiny road which the GPS said the onsen was next to. At the end of the road was an exclusive looking hotel, so we went in to ask about the onsen. The onsen wasn’t there, but it was at the end of the road, near a car park. So we parked up down the road and I went to take a look. The road was about 5m higher than the river level, with a road on both sides of the river and two bridges linking both sides. The onsen was down near river level and almost directly below one of the bridges. The views would have been of concrete and bridges. Plus people on the road can walk along and stare down. It looked crap so we left.
We found another OK looking onsen not too far away. It was just off a small back road. In the car park there was a guy sitting and he gestured where to park. We parked up and walked over to him. He spoke no English but we guessed he wanted money so I just handed him a few notes and waited to see what would happen. He gave me some change and pointed to the back corner of the car park. The onsen must have been ¥800 each, £4 each. Down some steps were the changing rooms. I went in and found baskets to store clothing, nothing else. Most people had a towel with them. So I left the changing room and found Annemarie stood outside waiting for me. She had found the same issue. We had no idea what to do, how to do it or where to get anything from. But we knew we needed towels. So we went back to the guy and gestured for towels. He walked off and came back with a few towels, for a fee of course. Now we went back to the changing rooms and we had the luxury of following a family, so we could copy what they did. The guy stripped then walked into the pool. So I did the same. Luckily for Annemarie she learnt that women could keep the towel wrapped around themselves in the springs, that might have been an embarrassing mistake…
The water was pretty hot but nice enough. There were a few women sitting around with their towels and quite a few men either sat in the water or on the rocks and they were all stark naked. Men with friends, men with wives, men in their own, this place had a full mix. We went to another pool further up and the water at the edge was cool enough to relax in, but when we moved nearer to the waterfall where the water got a lot hotter and we struggled to sit in it. In total we sat around in the various pools for about 45 minutes. It was nice to sit outside in the hot water with a view of the mountains but the water was just too hot for us to properly relax in it. We were sweating and burning up and turning beetroot red from the heat. Nice, but not the relaxing sensation that it’s made out to be.
We left there and went to find the onsen that Annemarie had planned for us. It was within a hotel grounds and they had a restaurant which served Hida Beef which is a local speciality and supposedly some of the best beef in the world. The hotel was enormous and we walked in just as another coach load of visitors were arriving. We were quickly shown to the changing rooms and paid to hire a towel each. By the mixed sex pool we were handed a piece of clothing to cover up with (changing areas and about 4 pools are all single sex before entering the mixed area). The pool was tiny and there was not much of a view. It was also pretty busy, men getting in, sitting around for a few minutes then leaving again. It was nowhere near as nice as the first onsen, plus it only had the one mixed pool. Sitting alone in the single gender pool is just boring. We decided after a while to go and try the single pools. The water was hot, really hot! I struggled to spend more than a couple of minutes in each pool. So it was back to the changing room to dry myself with a tiny towel. We were then told that the restaurant was a Chinese restaurant and didn’t serve Hida Beef. So we drove back to Takayama to find an alternative.
Using the mobile internet Annemarie found a decent sounding beef BBQ restaurant in town so we drove there. Inside we were told there was a waiting list and it would be about an hour. Usually we would just leave and find an alternative but I really wanted Hida Beef BBQ and the smell outside was delicious. The smell was like the best BBQ ever times a thousand! So we put our name on the list and went off to buy breakfast and put it in the car.
Almost exactly an hour after we put our name down the guy came to tell us our table was ready. Around the tables was all tatami mats, so we left our shoes by the edge (even the waiters have to take their shoes off to serve at the table). In the middle of the table was a burner. We ordered a huge plate of meat which had a huge variety of cuts of meat on it. We also ordered some local apple juice and a plum liquor. The drinks tasted great but the meat was absolutely delicious. This was one of the best meals on the trip!
After eating it was back to the ryokan to sleep. We were stuffed.
Posted from Takayama, Gifu Prefecture, Japan.