Many of the buildings in Takayama’s Old Town have been preserved from the Edo Period (1600-1868). It is like walking through a historical drama movie set. Only it is beautifully maintained and many of the buildings are working sake breweries, so it was a little like Disneyland for Super Sake Boy and I. When we chose to visit Takayama, we seriously had little idea that the area is very famous for its sake brewing and we were very surprised at the accessibility to these breweries. Most of them are in the narrow streets that make up the Old Town precinct. The other thing the area is famous for, is Hida Beef. Hida is the next town up the mountain from Takayama, and the beef is famous, not unlike Wagyu or Kobe. We set out to find out more about the local specialties and to see what else we could find.
I love adventuring in a new town, and after a very decent sleep-in, until 10am, our latest morning by far, (it was too bloody cold to get out of bed), we set off to see what we could find. Traditional handcrafts, zakka (kitschy, retro, cool stuff), wood and ceramics. So many beautiful things to look at. The most famous local handicraft is “sarubobo” さるぼぼ。Sarubobo means “saru” monkey and bobo “baby”, in the Takayama local dialect. These cute little dolls, with pointy arms and legs and no faces are everywhere. The reason they have no face is unknown, although it is suggested that grandmothers usually made the dolls for their grandchildren and chose to leave the faces blank so that children would use their imagination to give the doll a face. They are really cute. And ubiquitous.
After strolling around the shops, and given our late start to the day, we were hungry and looking for something warm and delicious to eat. We certainly found it. Kihachiro is a tiny restaurant, that specialises in Hida beef steamed buns. They also have curry and a few other things on the menu. We ordered at the front, and went in to sit along the counter. It was a very funky little place. Aesthetically charming, and along with our lunch, Super Sake Boy and I ordered a local sake and delicacy tasting plate. Wow…. This was super good. The curry was exceptional. The beef was melt in the mouth tender and the sauce was hearty and comforting. Perfectly cooked rice accompanied the dish. The boys really enjoyed the beef buns. The sake tasting plate came with three local sakes, the first was paired with local woodchip smoked edamame, the second with a Hida beef chutney type of thing (superb) and the third was paired with edamame that had been boiled in a rich consumme. The umami flavour was mind blowing. The whole meal was excellent. And, the girl who served us was so beautiful and very friendly, and SSB and I used the opportunity to have a conversation in Japanese, to the best of our ability. The Japanese are very complimentary when you try to speak their language. I have had many “あなたの日本語が上手です”. (your Japanese is good). It is very encouraging and motivating.
After lunch we made our way to the Takayama Showa-kan. A museum of Showa era everyday items, set up like an old town. The Showa Period was 1926-1989, the reign of Emperor Hirohito. It encompasses the time of WW2 and a lot of Japanese pop-culture was born from this time. This, as well as American influence and massive leaps in technology make this era one of great interest. The museum was very cool. So many recognisable things from my childhood and things I knew my Dad had been into. Original movie posters, so many cameras, reel to reels, records players, video games and toys. Furniture, a car, a school room, a family home living area, cafes, a doctor, a barber shop. Overload of funky, retro-ness. My uncle would have been in heaven with all the Walkmans, casette players, and music paraphernalia in general.
After the nuseum, we headed home. The kids were tired and cold. They all cosied up, the boys watching Japanese TV and the girls under the kotatsu. We headed out for two reasons. One, to scout of somewhere for dinner, and two, to see if the information office or the sake brewery was still open. I will leave the sake brewery story to my partner in crime….. and not bore you with the details of a mediocre dinner in a mediocre place…..