UNESCO sites are just the best and well worth seeing. We have visited a fair few UNESCO world heritage sites on previous trips and they have never disappointed.
Originally we planned to visit Mount Aso but due to the high levels of volcanic activity from its recent eruption earlier this year we re-planned our trip and decided on Shirakawago.
As with most UNESCOs in Japan, the JR Pass didn’t allow us to travel directly to it. Instead we caught an early morning train from Osaka to Kanazawa and transferred to a bus for Shirakawago. We didn’t have much of a plan for Kanazawa but from our recent trip to Hiroshima we knew the Tourist Information would sort us out so headed straight over!
We spent the morning exploring Kanazawa. Omicho Market has lots and lots of fresh produce for sale. It’s a great place to stock up on food and we saw quite a few restaurant owners picking up their supplies. There wasn’t anything we could buy as we were unable to store the food, but the market was interesting to wander around.
From the market we walked over to Kanazawa Castle. The gardens are really well kept and the castle looks really impressive.
We walked around the grounds before heading over to Higashi Chaya district, well known for teahouses. It’s full of cute little streets and we loved wandering around. After a disappointing search in Kyoto we were really happy to stumble upon a quaint traditional Japanese teahouse, just off the beaten tourist track.
Apart from one other couple we had the entire place to ourselves. During our visit to the teahouse in Tokyo we didn’t order any traditional Japanese sweets so this time we gave them a try. I ordered the “Goro-jima Kintoki” – sweet potato cake and Sam ordered the Green tea Uiro and Boucha Uiro, in the picture below:
Not the type of sweets that I’m used to but they were enjoyable and went well with the matcha green tea.
The teahouse was really lovely but the beautiful teahouse in Tokyo is still the winner. We definitely peaked too early on in the trip!
Shirakawago is a small village found in the middle of a valley, surrounded by thick forests. Such a beautiful place full of Gassho-style houses – the only ones of their kind in the whole of Japan.
Initially I didn’t think the two hours we had to spend there would be enough but it worked out plenty. The village is very small and took about half an hour to walk up to the view point, the farthest point of the village. This is the beautiful view:
The village even had pretty drain covers! I’m actually obsessed!
We stayed in a guesthouse a few kilometres outside of the world heritage site. It’s surrounded by a thick mountainous forest. I have never seen forest like it! We were told the forest is home to bears and sometimes they make their way into the village. Apparently a local had his ear ripped off by one a couple of years back. That got me completely freaked out. We needed to go to the local shop to pick up dinner. It was dark and I was on look-out, ready to leg it if I saw one. Although I’m sure the bear could out run me, even after all the half marathon training!
Luckily we managed to make our way back to the guesthouse without encountering any bears! At this point of the trip I thought my chopstick skills had improved leaps and bounds since arriving in Japan, but apparently not! After failing to teach me, the really sweet Japanese lady who runs the guesthouse passed me a fork!
The following morning we caught an early morning bus from Shirakawago to Takayama. I loved Takayama and it was my favourite place out of the three.
There was a great morning market selling lots of food and homemade produce. Check out these chargrilled fish on skewers:
We ended up taste testing at the sake stall which was so much fun! There was also a sake brewery around the corner and for 200 yen (£1.60) you were able to taste test all the different sakes. There were about 12 bottles and you got to keep the shot glass at the end… BARGAIN! What better way to spend our penultimate day in Japan than getting tipsy on sake!
After our mid-morning sake binge we went on the hunt for some food. I have never been to a place where so many shops offer free taste testing. We were pretty full by the end and didn’t end up needing lunch. We did find the most amazing ice cream parlour called L’Arte del Gelato. It was the best ice cream we found during our Japan travels!
We caught the train back to Tokyo late afternoon. We booked our tickets in advance and it was a good job we did because the train was full. We spent our final night in Tokyo. We found some pretty cheap accommodation on booking.com. It looked remarkably like the inside of a prison!
It was fine for our needs. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay there longer than one night though. It was an easy, convenient place to crash so we were ready, in time for the opening of the national sumo tournament the following day!