taking takayama (japan part I)

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We've all heard that sometimes it's not about the destination, but about the journey. In this case, visiting Takayama, Japan was about both. The high-speed train ride up the mountains showed glimpses of rice paddy fields, communal and family farm plots, homes with traditional glazed clay tile roofs, and some mountain scenery to rival anything we've seen in places like Alaska. I could have just done the train ride and been happy!

We chose Takayama by accident. Finding an available ryokan in Kyoto proved challenging (and grossly overpriced) so we expanded our horizon and looked for a similar, culturally charming town with easy rail access. Takayama fit the bill perfectly on paper and exceeded expectations in experience.

It was a quiet time in Takayama: mid-week, after the popular autumn festival, and before the colourful fall foliage. I can only imagine how gorgeous the city looks when the leaves turn to bright reds and yellows. The backdrop of Edo Period homes and shops, all in shades brown and black, would really make those autumnal colors pop. But even lacking the seasonal changes, Takayama was breathtaking. During our first walk in town we went to the main temple, but got sidetracked on an older, obscured stone stairway.  It led to a smaller and more modest temple perched on a hill surrounded by tall cedar trees and peek-a-boo views of the city. After reaching the top, the wind started blowing, leaves started bustling, and music started playing on loudspeakers mounted in the trees. It sounds silly but it felt like such a magical spot. I know that the music was for the ceremonial performances happening down below but it felt like it was meant just for us to hear at the top of that path. From that moment on we knew that we were in for a great couple of days.

We spent the rest of our time strolling the streets stopping to indulge in local specialties like Hida beef, sweet dumplings (mitarashi dango), buckwheat soba noodles, and lots of locally brewed sake. We drank sake like water and it was wonderful. Also wonderful were all of the shops filled with locally produced goods in wood, ceramic, and paper. We didn't hold back in buying souvenirs as we're big fans of the Japanese design aesthetic. Okay, we did hold back a little because there were plenty of hand-crafted chairs that I would have liked to take home with us. It's amazing how they work natural materials so beautifully, everything is treated with the utmost respect and love.

That's the way the entire area felt. The locals were proud of their heritage town and treated it with respect and love. Everyone from our ryokan hosts to the cashier at the riverfront snack shop showed genuine interest in, and gratitude for, our patronage, offering nothing but smiles and good cheer. The streets were pristine and clean, centuries old homes and shops were well maintained and revered, and every effort was made so that visitors had all the info they needed for a positive visit (i.e. directional signposts, tourist info desks among the shops). Even with all the helping hands, Takayama didn't feel overly touristy. It was just right. Just the right amount of traditional charm, ease, and comfort.

At the end of our trip I couldn't help but think "Thanks, Kyoto, for being so popular that we couldn't book ya'". Takayama, may have been a second choice but it sure came out on top.





I always wanted to travel. Even when I was a little kid I was fascinated with seeing the world. The desire escalated when I saw that my school friends were going to Europe, Asia, or Hawaii for their summer vacations. My family didn't have the same means as my well-off peers so we went camping at Kern River just outside of LA instead. Despite having longing thoughts of being in a seaside hotel, I loved our trips up to the mountains. They taught me how to rough it, enjoy and respect the outdoors, live simply, and most important, be perfectly comfortable squatting behind a tree/boulder/bush when nature calls (I promise, this skill is strictly for the mountains).

As I got older I knew that if I wanted to see the world, I was going to have to make it happen on my own. In college I began traveling within the States to visit friends and racked up airline miles and credit card points to go to Colombia with my mom. No, I wasn't racking up debt, too. I worked at Nordstrom that has a commission based pay structure so I did pretty well for myself as a college kid.

After graduating I decided that whatever job I got, I wanted it to give me the opportunity to travel. I didn't know what type of job would grant that wish to a 22-year-old but luckily, I had interned at TOMS Shoes (now just TOMS) and was offered a position to coordinate their Shoe Drops, or shoe giving trips. I had the time of my life working there and got to travel to Argentina, Africa, and all over the States while helping children in need.

Flash forward to today, I'm living in London with my man and we're going for the "1,000 Places To See Before You Die" list. What's crazy is that six months before Joe's  job offer (he works in engineering, if you're wondering) we had agreed that in 2012 we would stop whatever we were doing, quit our jobs, and travel around Europe for several months. We decided how much money we'd need to save for expenses and even put the departure date in our calendars. Now, with Joe's job contract, we're able to cover housing and other needs while having some extra cash to travel with ... it put us two years ahead!

I share this because I'm getting ready to buy tickets to Berlin and I still can't get over the fact that the world is so accessible on this side of the pond. I guess I'm just reflecting on how I got here and am feeling really grateful. Also, I'm sure some of you have wondered what Joe does for a living and how we're able to live here (I know I wonder that re: other blogs!) so there ya go.

Okay...it's time to book our next trip...

book given to me by my fellow wanderlust friend, Tina | wire bike from South Africa | map from Sicily | vintage camera bought in Margate, England