Ahhh....last night on the way off base, I was eclipsed by an exodus of giddy young ATC and GCI students (and a few pilots) in civvies making a beeline for the gate (and freedom). Today is the first day of Golden Week, when three national holidays fall in close succession (April 29, May 3, and May 5). I headed out for Takayama around 7:30 this morning (no time for Starbucks) and was on the next train to Takayama by 8:43, arriving in Takayama at 10:55.
Now, seeing as Golden Week is supposed to be the most hectic, crowded period of the year (imagine 127 million people all going on vacation AT THE SAME TIME), but there were hardly any people on the train to Nagoya, and there were only two people in front of me at the ticket office. On the Hida Wide View Limited Express, my car was less than half full and I had the other seat all to myself. The streets of Takayama were largely empty, as were the museums. So where is everyone??? (checking in at my hotel, I would later discover!). There were still a few cherry blossoms to be seen; the shidarezakura (weeping cherry) still looked good, and I got a few nice pictures of Yoshino trees along the river.
I wandered around the train station for a bit trying to find the French bakery my guidebook mentioned (no luck; I'll try again tomorrow), then headed out toward the Hida Takayama Museum of Art (http://www.htm-museum.co.jp/info/english.html) and the Hida Folk Village. I wanted to see the Hida Takayama Museum of Art because I'd read that they had a good Art Nouveau glass collection....THAT was the understatement of the year! The museum (and surrounding streets) was largely empty of tourists, but it was one of the best collections I've seen in Japan. First, there were tons of live orchids, pointsettias, and other flowers perfuming the museum. As you climb to the top of the stairs, you're met by Lalique's glass fountain that used to stand in front of the Lido. It's lit up in rotating colors, and one of the museum custodians will turn on the fountain (it's actually a little underwhelming with the water on).
Next, you're led into two dark galleries of vibrant, jewel-like glass by Emile Galle, Lalique, and Louis Comfort Tiffany (but his stained glass lamps are strangely absent). Then there are several rooms of Art Nouveau inlaid wood furniture, and the final couple of rooms are Art Deco Mackintosh and German modernism. Downstairs, there's a lovely gift shop full of reproduction Galle lamps, china, and made in China, and a tearoom modeled on one in Glasgow (their two lunch menus are the "Galle" and "Lalique"). The restaurant smelled great, but I kept on exploring up the hill to the Hida Folk Village.
This region is famous for its thatched-roof farmhouses, which were large enough to accommodate several families and cultivate silkworm cocoons up in the massive rafters. The houses had steeply pitched roofs and a five-foot layer of grass thatch to help snow slide off. These farmhouses are called "Gassho-zukuri" because they look like hands clasped in prayer. Most of the surviving examples are in Shirakawa-go, about an hour from Takayama, and there's an open-air museum of them near Tokyo as well. Hida Folk Village is an open-air museum that's preserved various authentic regional businesses, homes, and workshops complete with smoky fireplaces in every building (and handy fire extinguishers!). It started to sprinkle as I headed back to downtown Takayama to retrieve my suitcase from the train station coin locker.
My hotel is a fusion Japanese-Western spa hotel; the lobby has a Japanese garden, and the entire hotel is tatami mats, so no shoes or slippers indoors, please! The rooms have low Japanese-style furniture and cool Japanese-inspired style. There’s a rooftop onsen on the 13th floor that’s supposed to be awesome.