Sunday, October 16, 2005

Item from the Past: Takayama, Mid-October 1991

Steve and I went to a town called Hida-Takayama for the weekend, northeast of here on Honshu, but quite a ways. “Takayama” means “high mountain” literally, but the town’s actually in a valley ringed by rounded, moderate-sized peaks, colorful for fall part way up. The higher mountains are the Japanese Alps—that’s what they call them—a little further north. On the clear Saturday we were in Takayama, we could see them too.

The town was apparently too small and remote to receive attention from bombers during the war, so some older streets survive, mostly as shops, restaurants and other tourist attractions. But picturesque ones, with forms and a feeling you don’t find much in Japan any more, even the smaller towns. Very pleasant strolling.

A high point of the visit, besides the satisfactions of the meals, bath and tatami of the minshuku, was our visit to the Hida Folk Village, an outdoor museum featuring two dozen or so old Japanese structures, the musty kind, many with steep thatched roofs, the kind that would catch fire at a moments’ notice, so part of the amazement is they’ve lasted as long as they have.

Inside a few of the huts were antediluvian craftsmen and women making things. We saw a man and a woman fashioning hemp sandals from stacks of cord. Both looked permanently crouched, their bodies bent like shrimp. They worked the hemp with their hands, with the cords wound around their feet like a cat’s cradle. I’m sure they live in modern ways on their time off, and draw paychecks from the museum, but the illusion was powerful anyway.


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