Feb 17, 2017

Central Japan Winter Travel Itinerary (Takayama, Kanazawa, Gero and Nagoya)

UNESCO World Heritage - Shirakawago

This is actually my first winter travel in the last 7 years or so since I am back from UK. Most of the time I would avoid winter travel like a plague as I hated the heavy wrapping of layers of clothing and the frozen feeling of my toes and hands. However, this time I took the plunge and went ahead with a winter holiday in central Japan covering mostly Gifu area. We were actually lucky to score a good deal via Thai Airways which we flew to Osaka and back from Nagoya. The air ticket actually cost less than RM 1k (to be exact, its RM 980.90) and we transit for an hour each in Bangkok. We took the overnight flight from KL and reach Osaka the next early morning.
Kanazawa Castle
Day 1 - Kanazawa
We reached Osaka about 6.30 in the morning and we proceed to take the Haruka express to ShinOsaka and then the Thunderbird to Kanazawa. By the time we reached Kanazawa, it's about 12.30pm. As it's yet for us to check in, we decided to get the day bus pass which costs 500 yen and went to our first destination, sushi at Omi-cho market. It was raining the whole day and for the first time, KC actually disagreed with me to share a sushi platter but to have our own platter each instead. Our first sushi costs us about 2200 yen with 10 pieces and the feeling of sushi swimming in my tummy was enough to warm us up for our next stop, Kanazawa castle. We did not entered the castle but instead took some photos outside of the castle compound. Initially we wanted to enter the Kenrouken garden to see the hanging trees with snow but it was raining and no show, hence we decided to save the money instead. We went to Higashi Chaya, the old town of Kanazawa for some nice portrait shots before calling it the day and went back to our hotel for check in. We stayed in Oka Hotel for a night which costs us 5600 yen for one night. The hotel was old but it was comfortable and quite near to the train station. We hoping to catch some snow today but was disappointed that it rained instead.


Day 2 - Takayama
When we stepped out from our hotel the next morning, we were greeted with snow and lots of them. It was such a sight to behold as the last time I saw snow dropping down from the sky was 8 years ago in Edinburgh. The whole town was covered with snow but we did not have much time to admire as we rushed to the train station for our train to Takayama, the highlight of the trip. We took the Shinkansen to Toyoma station and changed to Hida train. We actually got the 5 day Takayama-Hokuriku pass which costs us 14,000 yen in Malaysia and the pass basically covers all our intercity train travel and also Nohi bus. We reached Takayama quite early, around 9.30am and it was snowing!! We were so excited but faced some difficulty in dragging our bags through the snow pavement. And since it's not time to check in yet, we dumped our bags at our hostel, J Hoppers and went out to explore the town. The first time we saw the famous red bridge in Takayama, we were totally blown away. Almost every corner was postcard perfect and we can't stop snapping photos. Plus I had my prime lens with me and every photo turn out great. I practically ooh and ahh at every single photo we took! We took a leisure stroll along the old town and ate soba for lunch. As we had an hour to kill before we can view the sake brewery, we went around the town and stopped by a grocery store. Bad decision as I can't stop buying ramen, soba, and all sorts of Japanese noodle to bring home. Meanwhile, KC was down with stomachache and had to rush off to the nearest toilet.
We joined the sake brewery tour with another two young Western guys as the rest of the guide only speaks Japanese. We get to sample some sake and I even bought a sake for myself eventhough I rarely drinks. I swore Japan has its way of making me want to spend all my money there! As KC was not feeling too well, we went back to the hostel to rest and while she slept, I was too hyper to sleep. Must be the side effect from the sake! We had a simple lunch as a nearby restaurant and went to sleep early.
On the way walking up to the observation point

Pretty gassho covered in snow

Stumble upon this while walking around the village

Day 3 - Shirakawago
I could say this was the highlight of the whole trip and we prepared ourselves with ear muffs, lots of heat pad, thick socks and gloves for the day trip to Shirakawa village. We took the earliest Nohi bus from the bus station and the whole journey was filled with heavy snow. I was a bit worried as we might not be able to get to the view point and we reached Shirakawago around 9am. It was still snowing quite heavy and we took some time to eat our breakfast, pile on the heat pad and a quick toilet break before embarking on the journey to walk up the observation point. Initially, we wanted to take the shuttle but after KC bumped into a girl in the hostel, she specifically mentioned that we need to walk up as the scenery is stunning along the way. As we still deciding to walk or sit on the shuttle, the snow began to stop and we just go ahead with walking. The girl was right! The scenery is stunning, so beautiful that every photo was just like a postcard. We can't stopped gushing at every corner and the 20 minutes journey up turned into 30 minutes. It was not a tough walk and fairly doable. Highly recommended to walk up instead of taking the shuttle. Many bus passes us by and I guess they probably felt pity seeing us walking up but we were actually pity them for not able to appreciate the scenery like we do, haha. Once we reach the observation point, it started snowing again and we loitered in the souvenir shop for some time for the snow to stop. The view? If I were to compare photos from summer/autumn with winter, winter wins hands down! Nothing compare to seeing the little gassho houses covered with white snow !

We spent some time exploring the village, taking photos in every nook and crook and not forgetting posing and using my modelling skills. Pity KC for being forced to model and taking photo of this fake model. When I looked back at the photos at home, every single one of them was gorgeous. I felt like a winter wear model, lol. And for the first time, I had so much good photos of myself instead of my travel partner. We took the 3.15pm bus back to Takayama and since we did not reserve the bus, we went to the bus station earlier. Luckily for us, we managed to get into the bus and reached Takayama around 4.30pm.

Day 4 - Gero
The following day we went to check out the market in Takayama and for the first time, I almost could not feel my fingers and toes. Forgot to bring out my gloves and did not check the weather forecast. Later only we found out that it was -5 degress outside. No wonder my toes and fingers were frozen. We did not stay too long outdoors and we took the 11.30am train to Gero. This is the day we will be spending a night in a ryokan and have our Kaiseki dinner and breakfast. I have booked us a cosy family owned ryokan and the owner was kind enough to fetch us from the train station to the ryokan. This time, the ryokan was larger than the one we had in Hakone but we had to eat at the dining hall instead in our room. I told KC that next time, I want to try out the resort style onsen. Gero town is small and we basically covered it in less than 2 hours. With nothing much to do, we went back to the ryokan and went for our onsen. This time we were not culture shock to shower naked in each otehr presence unlike the first time, lol. The onsen was great and it's good to dip our tired bodies into the hot spring water and unwind. It's time for our multiple course dinner and after that we went out to see the fireworks and a free Kabugi at the nearby hotel. Kabugi is basically like a Japanese opera but since it's spoken in Japanese, we can understand only bits and pieces of the play.

Nabana no Sato

Day 5- Nagoya
We set off from Gero station leaving towards Nagoya around 10am after taking a last dip at the onsen and our breakfast. As it stared snowing in Gero, the whole town was covered in snow. Kind of sad to leave the town when it started snowing and once we reached Nagoya, there was no snow, only rain. The main reason for getting to Nagoya is to see the famous winter illumination, Nabana no Sato. It is located a far bit from Nagoya and we got the package comprising of train, bus and entrance ticket amounting to 3,700 yen. At first, when the train ticket counter told us about the price, we were very shocked as we did not know that it comes with the entrance ticket as well. After getting some assistance from a lady who was stationed nearby the counter who can actually speaks English, only then we realised there's a package with train, bus and entrance. We took the Keitetsu line train from Nagoya station to Kintetsu Nagashima station and then the shuttle to the entrance of the illumination. The entrance ticket included 1000 yen voucher which we used for buying food.

Day 6- Flying back
It's the day to fly back to KL but not forgetting stocking up on Japanese snack in the airport.

Total Cost                                        RM 3,901
Flight                                               RM 980.90
Takayama-Hokuriku pass                RM 561.00
Hotel + Transportation + Souvenir  RM 2,360.00 (actual hotel costs are = RM 860)
If you do not buy much souvenir, RM 3,000 should be enough to cover the entire trip.


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