Off on the shinkansen (bullet train) – it is an amazing sight seeing these dolphin nosed machines zoom through a station. We arrived at a blissfully small town, a huge relief after the concrete and neon of Tokyo. We arrived at our first ryokan. Our room was small, but appeared spacious due to the lack of furnishings. A bare tatami mat floor with a low square table holding tea-making equipment was in the centre of the room. Having already forsaken our street shoes downstairs for house slippers, we slipped these off also to go into the room. At the back of the room there was a rice paper screened door behind which was a narrow planked area for our backpacks (offending clutter to be hidden). On returning in the evening we found that our futons had materialised and been rolled out. The rooms smelt of fresh linen and the dried hay smell of the tatami mats. Let's not mention the rock-solid-rice husk-stuffed pillows...oh yes, and the other commonly committed sin by westerners is to wear your slippers into the toilet – arrrgh! No No NO! You slip them off and slip on the toilet slippers. It took a bit of getting used to, particularly as there was barely turning room in the loo to slip them off the right way for the next person.
Takayama was belatedly celebrating a national festival a bit later than everyone else so we had the pleasure of seeing families out in the main street all kitted out in full kimonos (yukatas) and wooden clogs (getta). There were street stalls all along the main street selling sticks of barbequed rice balls, sausage-on-a-stick, fairy floss made to order and other yummies. One feature was a stall that had strips of paper that you could scribble a wish on and tie to some nearby trees (similar to a feature of Shinto shrines where the papers contain prayers). We saw some gorgeous little pigtailed girls of about four in their yukatas posing bashfully for the camera. Sitting down and eating an ice cream (the Japanes consider it rude to walk and eat at the same time) the stall behind me was playing 70s western music and the young guys manning the stall yelled out the English words they new in spits and spats in order to get my attention.
The next day we cycled around Takayama (known sometimes as little Kyoto) in the morning. Takayama is famous for its woodcraft. In the times of the Shogun, Takayama had to make a special appeal regards paying taxes in rice, as the country was too mountainous for them to even grow enough to feed themselves. They negotiated and sent some skilled carpenters to work for the Shogunate to pay for their taxes. So in the afternoon it was wonderful wandering the little side streets and popping into the traditional crafts shops (and enjoying the air con wherever possible). Luckily the ubiquitous drink machines keep you going and I have rediscovered the joys of grape Fanta and learned to like Pocari Sweat (a local sports drink). Please don't ask me what a Pocari is. All I know is its sweat tastes pretty good.