Day 6: Toyama & Takayama Festival

Friday 14 April 2017

Continues from: Day 5: Kabuki (Tokyo)

Now that Kate has arrived in Japan it's finally time to leave Tokyo and start sightseeing around the rest of the country.

Today the plan was to visit the cherry blossoms along the Matsukawa River in Toyama, before continuing on to the Takayama Festival, which is considered one of Japan's three best festivals.

For this we had both purchased 7-day Japan Rail Passes however, I lost mine last night!

I think this is the first major mistake I've made during a Japanese holiday and I was very upset.

Karakuri performance
Losing a rail pass can completely ruin a holiday as they cannot be replaced and, until recently, could only be bought outside Japan.

If you want to continue your holiday without one you may have to spend hundreds of thousands of yen on rail tickets.

Although it really sucked that I lost it before I could even use it once, I was lucky that I could buy another one from Tokyo Station and we were able to continue our trip with a delay of only around an hour.

So, first up this morning was a Shinkansen ride from Ueno station to Toyama in order to see cherry blossoms along the Matsukawa river.

The original plan was to get a bento each and then have a picnic along the river.

However, instead, we only had enough time to rush down to the river, have a quick look, take a few photos and then rush back to the train station.

Even so it was worth it to visit the river as the cherry blossoms were in full bloom and very beautiful.

After walking a short distance along the river, we took the next main street that headed back to Toyama Station.

Upon arriving we caught the next train into Takayama. Due to the festival I was worried that this train would be packed, so I made sure to reserve two tickets using my rail pass when I first arrived into Japan. Although I lost my original pass I still had the tickets so we were able to get seats.

Last time we came to Takayama it was covered in snow, so it looked quite different compared to then. It was also much more crowded, especially as we made our way to our ryokan which was located in in the main festival area.

The original reason we decided to go to Takayama was to see the cherry blossoms as we thought it would be too late in most of the rest of the country. The thing about the cherry blossoms is that they are only in full bloom for about a week (if there's no rain) and the timing varies quite a bit from year to year.

As it turned out we were actually about a week too early to see any in Takayama. We thought it would still be worth it to go for the festival so as a compromise I added our stop in Toyama, which is a lower elevation and therefore was already in full bloom.

As we walked along the streets of Takayama, we could see many closed flower buds, but no blooms yet.

As we neared our ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) we passed a one of the floats where a karakuri performance was being conducted. This is a kind of puppet show that is performed using sophisticated mechanical dolls which can move and dance.

We managed to reserve our stay at a ryokan called Hoshokaku (宝生閣) as I waited until bookings opened three months before our date and quickly booked it online.

Upon arriving we left our bags at reception, and then went out to have a look at the festival floats which were being paraded through the streets. Kate also enjoyed a meat bun.

Later, we left our shoes at reception, checked in, selected our meal times, and were shown our room. We were a bit tired from our journey so we enjoyed the Japanese snacks provided and relaxed before going down to the onsen to have a soak in a bath.

After the onsen it was time for dinner!

We went to the dining area and were served a full multi course kaiseki ryori meal. It was super delicious!

We also ordered some nihonshu (sake) to go with our meal.

After dinner we headed back out to enjoy the night festival, where the floats are lit by lanterns and are dragged around town for a few hours.

They were very pretty!

One thing about the Takayama festival, in contrast to others we have visited, was the lack of yatai or food stalls.

Usually there are heaps of stands were you can buy lots of festival food such as chocolate bananas, yakisoba and grilled octopus.

However Takayama didn't have much of this at all. There were no stalls but a few shops were selling things like dango. I bought a stick but actually didn't like the flavor of that particular one very much at all.

Anyway we were full from dinner so it wasn't an issue for us.

Tomorrow the plan was to wake up relatively early and head down to Hikone Castle, in Shiga Prefecture and then stay a night at an AirBnB located near the foot of Mt Ibuki which we were planning to climb the following day.

Continue reading: Day 7: Hikone Castle

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