Moving on from Takayama , we are going on a bus ride with the Nohi-bus co. And we do not have reserved seats! It seems that everyone is travelling on our bus, and with luggage! We are off to a place called Shirakawa-go.
Travelling by bus and train in Japan, we had a feeling that everything is grey. Tokyo is very much so , but understandably as it along with many other Japanese cities and towns were fire bombed during the war, so it was with a pleasant surprise that we drove over the mountains to this very picturesque village , which is in fact a World Heritage site.
It is situated about 350 kms from Tokyo, in the mountains, in fact in the White River area.
Modern life seems not to have arrived here, though of course that is not true,there are cars, but they keep to the outskirts and the tour buses come in their droves. The day we arrived the sun was shining and so we did a self guided walking tour, checking out the houses that were now museums and of course we found a local café. This was the Japanese equivalent of GBK or Pizza Hut, it was small, seated about 16 people around a bar, but all of the food was cooked to order, everything was clean, neat and tidy, and the lunches arrived in no time at all. Everything was based around Soba noodles, which I am told the chef would have made himself that morning.
Looking around the village it was clear that Spring came much later here. The cherry blossom was still only in bud and the paddy fields not yet planted. There was a very intriguing system of diverting streams to flood the fields.
The traditional houses, are today guest houses in the old Ryokan style. Whereas the original ones with three stories and thatched roofs are museums. Interesting to see, as the house was heated with open fires and consequently everything was blackened by smoke.
Our Ryokan was called Kidoya and was luckily situated over the pedestrian bridge, not far from the bus station. Kidoya has five rooms to let, there is a Hot Tub of sorts, along with a shower. The hot tub is wood and big enough for two. It has a lid presumably to keep the water hot, but again I have my doubts, not sure when the water is changed or how it is kept clean? There are communal toilets which have heated seats, thank goodness and a communal washing/ teeth cleaning trough! Shades of a YMCA perhaps. At the entrance to the Ryokan, it is as in many places necessary to remove your shoes and then there is no heating, apart from the dining room. Two pairs of socks did come in handy!
So once again, whilst eating dinner, which I have to say was more than passable, our futon were prepared for us. However, dinner was served at 6 pm, so what to do for the rest of the evening, with nowhere to go and no chairs to sit on? A conundrum , which we solved by rushing into town and buying a 1.8 litre of Sake ( apparently this is the traditional size), and I can assure you, none was left.
Our nights sleep, could have been better, but we did find extra futon in a cupboard, turned our bed around so our head was against a wall, in order not to lose our (rice filled ?) pillows in the middle of the night. But it was COLD, hence the heated toilet seat was a blessing.
Breakfast was not particularly memorable, except we watched some Japanese “Soaps” whilst eating. However it was absolutely pouring hard, so any further thoughts of exploring the village were shelved and thanks to our intrepid Japanese friend, she was able to get us all on an earlier bus out of town! So onwards to Kanazawa!
However IF you fancy your hand at making Soba noodles yourself, here are the instructions. A bit like making pasta really, maybe a bit more difficult to handle, but on the other hand it does not have to be rolled as thinly as pasta. So give it a go.Hut be warned, it does crumble easily!
1 1/2 (180 grms) buckwheat flour, 3/4cup ( 75 grms) plain flour and about 1/2 cup water.
I use a food processor, much easier than doing the whole shebang by hand. So put the flours in the machine and with it running slowly add the water. It should make fine bread crumbs that when pressed together stay stuck. Remove from the machine and tip onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough forms a smooth ball. Now if you have a pasta machine, Bingo, just cut the dough into manageable sections and feed through the machine, ( but only up to number three thinness) and then using a spaghetti cutter, cut it into strips. Hang in the first instance, if possible.
When ready to use, boil some salted water and cook for only a minute. then can be added to consomme type soups and add an egg for something more substantial.
So himself tried it for dinner last night, it looked pretty aithentic, like in the photograph, with vegetables seaweed and an egg.!