Date of Travel: 22/02/2012
This day marked the 1-year anniversary of the most significant event in our lives in recent memory – the 22nd of February 2011 Canterbury earthquakes. All of us had experienced the event first-hand. Tragically 185 lives were lost in the event; though I was lucky that no-one I know was seriously hurt or killed in the event. However, the city itself is still recovering to this day. There was going to be a minute of silence held at 12:52 pm New Zealand time as a memorial, which would have been 8:52 am in Japan time, and I wanted to make sure I would not miss it. We started the morning by checking out of our accommodation, getting some breakfast from the bakery at Kanazawa JR station, then waited at the bus stop for the Hokuniku bus which would have taken us to the main bus stop at Ogimachi and the Shirakawa-go area. The bus came at around 8:45 am. I observed the minute’s silence on the bus (though the rest of the bus was quite rowdy compared to some of the other trips we had taken thus far), took a breath, then looked forward to the events of the day ahead.
We arrived in Ogimachi at 10 am. The small village was covered in the thickest layer of snow I had seen thus far on this trip. Ogimachi, and other traditional farm-house buildings in the Gifu prefecture, were well known for its pitched roofs. This prevented snow from accumulating too much, and to prevent the roof from collapsing. We had a walk across the bridge leading across the river from the bus stop/information centre to the village itself. It took us a while to find our accommodation at Kanja. It was still too early to check in, so we left our luggage there and explored the rest of the village.
Our first stop was Gassho-zukuri Minkaen which, like the Hokkaido Historical Village we visted earlier in the trip, is an outdoor museum featuring a collection of historical buildings from the area. We were allowed to enter majority of the buildings to admire its architecture and design, and also to read the historical information relating to the previous usage of these buildings. The displays within the buildings were nice, but not photogenic. As such, I did not take many photos from within the building. This was probably a good thing, as I found I appreciated the buildings more when I was not focused on taking photos the whole time. The grounds itself was beautiful, though I could imagine how different the place would look like if it wasn’t covered in snow.
We decided to split up for a short while to explore other parts of town. I had a quick stop at a nearby café to have lunch, before exploring the southern part of town. Unlike the centre of the village which was more commercialized and surrounded by souvenir shops, the southern part had few buildings and was a lot quieter. It was also closer to the snow-capped mountains which were beautiful.
Along the way back to the villange centre to rejoin Brownie and J.C., I stopped by the Shirakawahachiman Shrine. There, I found an area which contained wish plaques with anime character designs. Most of these were from the popular anime series Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni. For those who are unaware, Ogimachi was used as the inspiration for the village setting in Higurashi. Not many of the locals were joyed by this fact as the anime series featured a lot of sadistic violence, particularly to female child characters. It also depicted the village has having a virus that causes its inhabitants to go insane if they move away from the village. However, this did help increase tourism in Ogimachi.
After regrouping with Brownie and J.C., we had a look through some souvenir shops, then started walking along the highway up towards the lookout point as the regular access was closed due possibility of avalanche. The view of the mountains in the distance on the way up was beautiful as always. When we arrived at the lookout point, we could see the whole village below. Just thinking about how small this village was compared to its gigantic surroundings, and how relatively far away this place was from the modern civilizations of other places like Osaka and Tokyo, there was an unusual sense of loneliness about the place. The snow covered fields definitely contributed to that feeling too. I would definitely love to return and visit the place when it is covered in green, to see if the greenery brings with it more life. (Note: The opening of Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni featured a scene inspired by the view from this lookout point.)
We descended from the lookout point and headed to our accommodation to check in. Our room was quite spacious, with plenty of room to store our luggage. As it was winter, they had a kerosene heater running in the room. The smell hadn’t quite affected me yet, but I did get a bit nauseous from it later on in the night.
After resting for a bit, we split up again to look around a bit more and to do some souvenir shopping. I found the closed-off path which lead up to the lookout point while aimlessly wandering about. The thickness of snow on either side of the path was over a metre high, and the path itself appeared to be covered in a thin layer of black ice at some parts. It was no wonder they close off the path in winter! Once I had bought the souvenirs and it started getting dark, I headed back to the accommodation once more.
We had some snacks and green tea while relaxing, both of which were provided by our accommodation. Shortly after, it was time for dinner. Dinner consisted of some excellent quality steak cooked with miso sauce and vegetables, fish, tofu, udon, and a few other smaller side dishes. As usual, it was delicious!
After dinner, we were undecided on what we wanted to do. I had sprained my toe descending from the lookout point earlier in the day, so I wanted to stay on level ground and explore the town. Brownie and J.C. however wanted to go back up the lookout point to take some night-shots of the town. We decided to split up again. It was quite eerie exploring town at night. Unlike other cities where you will be surrounded with a couple dozen people at all times, there were no one else around this time. Street lamps were few and far between, and many patches of town was covered in complete darkness. I had a torch I brought with me, but it was running out of batteries very quickly. Still, it was an amazing experience walking around town on my own in such circumstances. I was also stupid enough to cross the bridge in these conditions. But nonetheless, I had a lot of fun.
I arrived back at the accommodation a couple of hours later, and was surprised that Brownie and J.C. beat me back. They showed me the amazing photos they had taken from the lookout point. While I wished I had followed them, it was a good thing I didn’t as resting my toe was the priority. I still had a great experience wandering around town on my own afterall!
Bus from Kanazawa JR Station to Ogimachi – 1,800 yen
Kanja Ryokan – 9,660 yen
Breakfast from bakery at JR Kanazawa station – 480 yen [pumpkin bread, yakisoba bread and strawberry chocolate coronet]
Lunch – 950 yen [tempura soba]
Gassho-zukuri Minkaen entrance fee – 500 yen
Souvenirs – 1,510 yen [Japanese doll with ball, hello kitty keychain, book on Shirakawa-go]
TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
14,900 yen (469,935 yen total)