A short bus ride away from Takayama is a small village which preserves the old thatched houses of yesteryear. The thatch must be near a meter thick, and the roofs so steeply gabled that the snow must slide off relatively easily – at least the weight of it doesn’t buckle the surface like happens with less steeply sloping roofs.
We didn’t have breakfast before setting out, so we stop at the first place along the road to fill up with a local dish. I’ve ordered from a picture, and when it arrives, it turns out to be fried tofu with a topping I guess by the taste is shaved fish slivers, which wave appealingly at me in the heat of the dish. I’ve never eaten anything that waves at me before.
Fortified, we wander on with all the other tourists, exploring the village. Not every house is in the traditional style, but there are enough to make for scenic joy. Several of the houses have new thatch, and it seems from the photos that it’s a whole village affair to replace a roof. What seems like the entire population climbs up on the house to work together to bind the structure in place. The houses themselves are constructed entirely of wood, the beams roped rather than nailed in place. Each house has three levels, the upper storeys entirely open, with a paper panelled window at each end. The smoke from the fireplace seeps up through the levels, and before long I smell like I’ve been camping out. It’s freezing, and there is still a lot of snow lying about in various stages of decay from pristine white to slushy brown.
I meet a dog, and needless to say, I have to say hi. He doesn’t say much, but by the expression on his face he’s happy to have his tummy rubbed. Tied up outside, I guess he has enough fur to keep him warm – I would guess that in Japan dogs are mostly outside; after all, they take their footwear separation seriously, outside shoes stay in the lobby, and house slippers are de rigeur – since dogs don’t wear shoes, I guess their feet are not clean enough to be allowed inside. Maybe they have indoor slippers? Who knows.
It doesn’t take long to walk around the whole village. We stop to inspect one of the open houses, 300Y and remove your shoes – of course. We make the mistake of slipping on the slippers outside – no, no comes in Japanese, the indoor slippers are inside – of course. Silly me.
It’s not too long before the chill has sunk into W’s bones, and we are ready to be off; but if you get a chance, you must visit Shirakawa – just go… Hee hee.