Nagoya to Kanazawa
After visiting the Toyota factory the day before I decided that our hire car should be a Toyota Prius. I’ve never driven a hybrid car before and everything I’ve read about them has convinced me that while they are a good idea in practice they are not much more efficient than a new diesel engine car. Time to see if I was right…
Picking up the car was easy but driving away wasn’t so easy. The woman showed a few buttons and pedals, assumed I knew what they meant and left me to drive off. I’ve only driven an automatic once before and never one with a park button or the handbrake as a pedal near the clutch rest. The gear stick selects which mode to go into then pops back into the middle and the park button is used to stick it into park once stopped. Figuring that out in the city centre at traffic lights was fun! Also it won’t go into drive unless the brake pedal is pressed, I found that out when revving the car to pull away from the lights and going nowhere…
Our first destination was Inuyama Castle. This is on the outskirts of Nagoya and is one of the four castles that are classed as a national treasure. We parked in the castle car park and walked up the very slippery slope to the castle. We were offered an English speaking guide to show us around the castle, for free, obviously we said yes. Our guide offered to take a photo in what is supposed to be the best photo spot, but the trees covered most of this tiny castle.
Inside, the bottom floor, which was used for storage, was tiny. Along its ceiling is a huge wooden beam supporting most of the next floor. It’s original and over 400 years old. Up the steep stairs was the first floor. This had the usual windows to fire arrows out of. There were also boards at the edge of the room to allow rocks to be thrown down onto enemies climbing the walls. We went up another floor and saw where the lord of the castle would sit, on a raised section in the middle of the room. Surrounding him would be his warriors. On display were a number of samurai suits of armour. They were brightly coloured and very decorated making suits of armour in Europe look very plain and boring. On the helmet of each warrior was the family crest. This could be a flower, or horns, etc. Our guide told us about the family crests and how everyone in Japan has them. Unlike in Europe where the coat of arms have died out for ordinary people they are still going in Japan. On the upper floor we had a great view over the plain which starts near at the foot of the Japanese Alps and goes all the way to the sea.
We took almost no photos because there wasn’t really anything special to take photos of. It was very small and plain with no information boards. We could only walk around the front of the castle, the back descended steeply towards the river. The guide explained things very well so it wasn’t too bad that there was so little information in the castle. We tried to get a clear photo of the castle then we left.
We took the motorway north towards Kanazawa. Incredibly the speed limit was 50mph (80kph) although most cars weren’t sticking to it. As we slowly made our way north the scenery quickly changed. The hills all around us were covered with trees. Everything was bright green, even more so than the green in China. This was extremely densely forested hillsides. It looked great!
We pulled off the motorway in a small village called Shirakawa-gō to see the traditional houses. These houses had been moved here from around the area to be preserved and opened to the public to show how the people in this region used to live. The houses are known as gasshō-zukuri, “prayer hands construction”, because of the triangle shape. It is what was known as a Minka, a commoners house. They mostly have thatched roofs which are high and have a steep slope and a large overhang from the roof. In this mountainous area of Japan it snows a lot in the winter, many metres deep and these features were essential in any house because of the strength of the design.
Inside, the houses were all centred around the hearth and most houses had two hearths. They were big houses with decent sized rooms and usually quite a few rooms, plus there was a huge storage area above. We spent quite a while wandering around this little reconstructed village in the blistering heat of Japan’s summer. Funny, considering that most features on the buildings were designed for the harsh winter.
We then took the scenic route to Kanazawa. The Japanese Alps look just like their Swiss namesake, densely forested and incredibly green. The drive through the winding, narrow roads was good fun, even more so having not driven for over 8 months.
The car sat nav took us straight to the hotel and we were upgraded to a large room. It was an enormous room and very comfortable.
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