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Things to do


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March, 2016

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On route by bus from Takayama to Kanazawa, we stopped in the village of “Shirakawa-go”: to see the traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses which are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After picking up a helpful map of the village from tourist information, we walked across the suspension bridge over the Shakawa River and followed a pedestrianised path to the village centre.

Gassho-zukuri means ‘constructed like hands in prayer’ and the houses have a steep, thick thatched straw roof said to resemble the hands of praying Buddhist monks. The village was covered in snow and it was very cold – the roofs are designed to withstand large amounts of heavy snow and many had long icicles hanging down. They are made without nails and apparently the large attic space is used for cultivating silk worms.

The snow started falling and we needed warming up but struggled to find a café open. We eventually stumbled on Coffee Hina which had an English menu. There were only four tables but we sat up at the dark wood counter. There were 10 types of coffee beans to choose from ranging in bitterness. We opted for Ethiopian beans (to remind us of our last holiday) and then watched the ceremony. The beans were ground and the temperature of the water checked before being poured through the filter in stages. The cups were warmed with hot water, the coffee tasted and then served in bone china cups accompanied by a minute white jug of crema and a chocolate. Classical music played and we found it relaxing and reviving. There was a fabulous display of around 50 cups and saucers on shelves behind the counter and Japanese folk dolls which are said to bring good luck.

We then still had time to kill but the Museum was closed in winter and although there was a couple of houses you could go round, they looked really busy, so we contented ourselves with walking around as much of the village as we could to simply soak up the peace and tranquility and admire the houses.

Although we tried to find somewhere for lunch, they were either Japanese with no English signs or very small (one said it could only take 6 people). So we settled for another coffee and beer, in a place near the bus station and unfortunately not as atmospheric as our first stop, before catching the bus onto Kanazawa and our next adventure.

Helen Jackson

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