June 18, 2010

like hands together in prayer

On a number of occasions I have shared different travel experiences that Philip and I had.  There tends to be a common denominator in some of our favorite travel memories - moms.  They have great ideas about places to see and things to do.  They also packs the most amazing snacks and sandwiches for road trips.  Phil still gets a bit teary-eyed when he remembers biting into one of my mom's hoagies at a rest stop in West Virginia {no joke, he mentioned this last week}.  And we never venture far without crackers, cheese and a couple of apples - staple road food of Phil's mom.

Our most recent travel adventure was an easy day trip suggested by my mom.  When mom went to Japan in the summer of 2007 she spent some time in the UNESCO World Heritage villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama.  Nagano prefecture is right next door to Gifu and Toyama prefectures where these historic towns are.  It took us almost two years to get in the car and drive, but arrived less than four hours after starting our journey.  The drive was enjoyable - back country roads and long tunnels took us up and over and through the Chuo Alps, and like the bear we were on the other side of the mountain to see what we could see.

We stopped at a combini and decided to grab some cheese and crackers.  He never fails to announce "OH! THESE ARE THE PERFECT THING TO EAT IN THE CAR!"  Eating them makes me smile and watching my husband's enthusiasm makes it easy to picture his mom divvying up the crackers and cheese to three rowdy and hungry boys in the back seat.

Around 9am we hit Takayama, a fairly popular tourist destination for Japanese people.  Apparently it is known as the mountain Kyoto.  There were throngs of tour groups crowding the small downtown area.  The streets were lined with butchers and various omiyage shops.  Sure enough.  Takayama is famous for its beef.

We made it to Shirakawa-go in the middle of the morning and spent quite a bit of time wandering around the village, peeking into the houses.  This remote mountain valley of Japan is famous for its high peaked thatched roofs - an architectural style known as gassho-zukuri {合掌造り} or hands in prayer.  These roofs can sustain the pressure of the heavy annual snows as well as provide very energy efficient heating for the families that lived here.  The homes often have four or five floors tucked under the eaves.  Traditionally families harvested silk from silk worms that lived in baskets in the attic.  The region is also well known for its traditional folk music and is a great place to pick up Japanese folk instruments.  Some of the more remote villages received paved roads and electricity as late as 1925.

Okay.  Enough talking.  Pictures.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day trip.  Mom once again made a great suggestion.  If you are in Japan for a visit or a longer stay - make it a priority to visit the 合掌造り of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama.  While you are there sample the soft cream - it is relatively inexpensive and really some of the best we have had in Japan.  And, if you know our moms, ask them for travel ideas.  So far we have them to thank for Ecuador, Angkor Wat, the Galapagos, the Trans Siberian railroad (a pre-Teresa trip that I am angling to get repeated...), snow shoeing adventures, innumerable spots in Japan and I hope the list continues long into our future.

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