I'm currently sitting in the kitchen of the hostel that I'm staying at in Takayama. I'm in the fairly small, very quaint old town of the city which is set in the heart of the Japanese Alps. The views from the train journey here were stunning - so much green! Tree covered mountains and rocky, fast flowing rivers flew past the window of my train - 4 hours from Tokyo with a change at Nagoya.
It's Sunday evening, the 8th October and day five of my trip. This hostel is great and really feels like the perfect place for me to be. Sitting around me are a couple from Australia, and Israeli, a girl from France, a guy from Canada and a retired lady from Spain. All swapping stories of our trip, where we've been, where we're going and how long we're in Japan for.
Having just stayed in Tokyo for four nights as a guest in an airbnb it feels lovely to be amongst other visitors to japan. We all have this in common so there's lots to talk about.
The Airbnb in Tokyo was one of the sweetest homes I've ever been in. Tiny and full of character; the owner Marine makes a living as a flower arranger. She teaches classes in Ikebana and mainly does freelance jobs - Japanese flower arranging for weddings, offices, shops etc. so the house was full of flowers, pots and interesting looking vessels. The aesthetic for a Japanese boutique is different from the west and not just in its arrangement; as you would imagine it's far more sparse but surprisingly the colours of the flowers are more muted. We like bright, colourful, healthy looking plants but Marine's flowers, although fresh, looked almost like dried plants - lots of browns and greys.
Marine was warm once I got her going. When I talked to her about my day, I'd get a smile, but mainly she kept herself to herself which made me feel a bit of an intruder in her home. However on my first day I met with Yusuka, a friend of a friend of a friend, so it was really lovely of him to meet up with me. We went for dinner and then on to a bar where he introduced me to his friends, who are all amazing! It turns out that one of his friends and me, share a birthday at the end of November so we've planned to have a party in Golden Gai, Shinjuku in a tiny bar that his friend runs, I'll let you know how that goes...! Another friend of Yusaka's is Kai (his name means Ocean in Japanese). Kai is a really good photographer, who loves art. He took me around Tokyo on an art day, and we visited several small commercial galleries that I never would have found on my own. I'm really amazed by how friendly, kind and generous people are in Japan.
Anyway, back to Takayama, today has been my first day here and I've come for the biannual, 300 year old festival. Historical puppets, floats and lanterns equally old come out of their museum and are paraded through the town towards the main shrine called Sakurayama Hackimangu.
I can't wait for tomorrow, it's why I've come to Takayama and pretty high up on any tourist list of things to do in Japan throughout October.
Regardless of the festival this town is awesome - really buzzy but also gentle, calm, very friendly and beautiful. It's a long weekend in Japan so perhaps it's not usually so full of people but walking around the narrow streets kind of reminds me of Borough Market on a Saturday. Heaving with people trying different, delicious food. Japanese like to queue (they form an orderly queue to board underground trains!) I passed a queue, I'm not exaggerating, 20 metres long. Really intrigued to know what could be worth the wait, I discovered they were waiting in line for just 2 or 3 pieces of sushi served on a rice cracker. Takayama in famous for its beef, called Hida Beef and eaten raw with raw egg...! It's Oishi - delicious!