Day 71, November 2016,
This morning there is a thin layer of ice all over the car. I had expected the windscreen to be frozen but, not the whole car. Nor had I reckoned on ice on the inside of the windscreen. I think the temperature was -3 C. degrees. We had expected -6 C., as forecast, and were quite warm enough.
We began our day with a short drive to Shirakawago but, the weather grows darker and darker. As we arrive, there is a steady drizzle and the temperature has risen only to 6 degrees, so a bit raw.
Protected by numerous layers and rain suits we set off to explore the National Heritage village. It has changed a lot since our visit, by motorcycle, 30+ years ago. Then, there were no vast car parks and tourist information signs everywhere. The huge thatched houses, of course, are the same and wonderful they are too.
We get the distinct impression that not all the inhabitants are thrilled to be at the centre of so much attention. Who can blame them when, on a cold, wet, Wednesday, in November, there are at least a dozen tour groups wandering around a small area, taking pictures of themselves.
It used to be a much quieter place even with the traffic running through the centre, which is not permitted now.
Shirakawago will live in my memory as a very wonderful place. I will try to blot out what becoming a heritage site has done to it.
Michi no eki Shirakawago
We look for somewhere to eat but, the choice is limited and overpriced so, we move on to a nearby road station where I have ramen and D. udon. My ramen, I am surprised to realize, not being a fan, is delicious. It must be that I haven’t had any hot food recently.
This michi no eki Shirakawago also has a small museum explaining the process of constructing and thatching the houses. This is probably more interesting and certainly more comfortable than wandering in the cold rain looking at the real thing.
Moving on to the next village which is not so popular, it has the same kind of houses but is nowhere near as picturesque. As we arrive, the drizzle becomes a more serious downpour. So, we retreat to the car and move out on the road to Himi. The entrance to Noto Hanto. We have to get out of the mountains to find supplies for dinner anyway.
Himi is a long drive through spectacular ravines, still ablaze with autumn colours in places, past various dam lakes and frequent, very long tunnels. This road is all but deserted as the highway now offers an alternative. The cost of maintaining such a road with all the tunnels must be tremendous for so little traffic. We arrive in Himi hit a couple of supermarkets to resupply and head for the michi no eki.
Michi no eki Himi
The navi. takes us to the rear of some obscure, official building and proclaims our arrival. With some difficulty we find the right place but it is poorly signposted. This michi no eki Himi is new, with a large car park and a complicated building, housing shops selling fish, in myriad forms, and omiyage.
There are a number of restaurants but, they are closed or closing. Michi no eki are for daytime traffic and are rarely open after 5:30 or 6.pm. Near the road station, next door really, is a very new onsen and we decide to try it even though it is only around 5pm. Soyu onsen is very good, new and functional. No old world charm but very comfortable.
Today we crossed the 10,000 km mark and the k.p.l. gauge still reads 13.9 km. to the litre, having dropped from a high of 15. something in Hokkaido. Tomorrow ,we plan to go up Noto Hanto (peninsula) a bit before turning round and making for Takayama and a night in a hotel.
＊Soyu (hotspring) ; 700 yen / adult
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.