Winter at Shirakawago

My eyes drifted away from my phone into the snow-capped scenery overlooking the window.  The tall evergreen trees covered with snow calmed my heart.  It was December but not yet Christmas. I was seated on a bus filled with guilt and contemplation.  Were my actions an hour ago reasonable or was I just plain selfish? From time to time, I would dismiss the negative thoughts and marvel at the beauty of the untouched snow we passed by.

I took a paid leave from work so I could take my friend and his companion to the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site in Gifu — Shirakawago. My friend and I worked for five years in the same workplace until I resigned and pursued a training program in Japan.  Coming from a tropical country, experiencing snowfall in winter is a must and probably one of the major reasons that my friend decided to visit.  It was his first time in the land of the rising sun and I was filled with excitement to revisit Shirakawago again with someone from home.

It was 7 am and I was a few minutes on foot from the hostel where my friend was staying when he sent a message. He decided to move the schedule to 8:30 because he woke up late. In addition, he wanted to avail of the free breakfast from the hostel. I was filled with irritation! I woke up at around 4:30 in the morning of winter and walked for 30 minutes to my town’s train station before daylight just so I could be on time. Now, who wouldn’t be disappointed and annoyed?! I decided to keep my cool and just sent him a message to meet me at the bus station instead.

I was on the bus and my thoughts were drifting. My friend and his companion missed the last bus to Shirakawago partly because of a mistake in the direction that I sent. And there I was asking myself, “Am I not tired of traveling to Shirakawago so many times?” It was already my fifth visit.  It would have been a whole new experience if I were with companions.  I was actually looking forward to building a snowman and throwing snowballs at each other. Oh well, it was another solo travel again.

It was the same place, only with a different drop-off point.  The gassho-zukuri farmhouses, the village people going about their daily lives despite the influx of tourists, the scarecrows that remained fixed throughout the change of seasons, the not-your-typical snowmen, the whole ground covered with inches of snow ——-all of these and even more make Shirakawago one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  It’s that magical picture of a quaint village that you thought you’d only see in a Christmas postcard.

Was I reasonable to just leave my friend to tend to himself and find the bus stop? Or was I just plain selfish in going to Shirakawago ahead so I could enjoy the scenery?  I couldn’t come up with an answer. The important thing was I apologized. Shirakawago is that charming of a place that would make you feel like others are at a loss for not having had a chance to see it.

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Sakura at Kakamigahara

This is my favorite place to see the cherry blossoms because it has a romantic, jdrama-ish feel to it. During the sakura season, the park ground gets covered with a carpet of pink petals. My favorite part is the pathway where you can see pink paper lanterns hanging on the cherry blossom trees. This year, unfortunately, I visited a little too late. Thus, when I stepped out of the train station, this area was unrecognizable. Almost all cherry blossom petals have already fallen on the ground. It’s been four years since I last saw this place, and it’s disheartening that I have to wait again for another year to see its beauty. Sakura, you are so beautiful but you fade away so quickly.

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Hana Festa, Kani City

Flower parks are heaven on earth.  Standing in the middle of a field surrounded by lovely flowers makes me feel like I’m somewhere surreal.  I feel thankful that Japan has a number of flower fields that I can go to and enjoy.  I consider flower fields as one of my favorite destinations for travel.

Just around 25 minutes from where I live in Gifu Prefecture, there’s a city with a flower field famous for its different species of roses. Aside from roses, you can also see other kinds of flowers.  The name of the place is Hana Festa Commemorative Park which is located in Kani City.  It was the month of October, so I went there to see a field of cosmos.

The place is difficult to go to because of the lack of public transportation.  When I reached Kani station, I actually tried to ask one local if there was a bus going there on that particular hour, but unfortunately there was none.  So I decided to take the taxi.  The distance from the station to Hana Festa was a little bit far.  I had a chat with the taxi driver, and he mentioned about his travel to the Philippines.  After he dropped me off, I was concerned on how I could get home, so I still had to ask him how to get a taxi.

There is an entrance fee when you go inside Hana Festa.  Lucky for me, entrance was free during that time.  I forgot how much I paid for the taxi but I think it was a bit expensive because I felt quite relieved knowing that I didn’t have to pay the site’s entrance fee.

Hana Festa is huge.  Even though I had a map, I still asked one of the gardeners where the cosmos field was.  I already walked a long distance and I wanted to get to the cosmos field before I ran out of energy.  You’ll have moments when you’ll feel like you are the only person around.  There were a number of times when I saw no one in sight which gave me perfect opportunities to do selfies or use my monopod.

Hana Festa is a relaxing place to go to especially if you are just in a nearby city or somewhere in Tono region.  I’d probably go back there again when the roses are in bloom as Hana Festa is also considered as the best rose garden in Japan.

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I can’t really read kanji, but this is the bus schedule.

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How To Go There:

From Nagoya Station, ride a train bound for Tajimi.  Get off at Tajimi Station and ride a JR Taita Line for Gifu.  Alight at Kani Station.  The total train fare from Nagoya to Kani is ¥ 970.  From Kani Station, you can ride a bus (refer to the bus schedule above) or take a taxi.

Magome-juku, Gifu

Do you want to experience how the Japanese traveled from Kyoto to Tokyo during the Edo Period?  You can try walking along the ancient road in Magome-Juku.  Magome-juku walks you back in time during the Edo Period.

Magome-juku is located in Nakatsugawa which is one of the cities in Gifu Prefecture.  It takes 30 minutes by bus from Nakatsugawa Station.   As you walk along the town, you can find museums, restaurants, and shops that sell souvenir items.  The buildings and houses that line the streets resemble the old Japan.

Magome-juku is best explored early in the day.  I went there in late November of 2015.  I rode the first bus from Nakatsugawa Station , and I was the only person who got off in the area.  The tourist center was even closed when I arrived that I just took a picture of the walking map that was posted in one of the shops.  Some shops were still closed and there were even two cars that managed to use the narrow road.  The roads were steep, but I enjoyed strolling and taking pictures while it was still free from crowds.  After an hour, that was when the town was filled with tourists.

Magome-juku is an old post town where travelers during the Edo period rested after a long journey. When it rained, the road became muddy and too difficult to traverse. That’s the reason why the road is covered with stone pavements.  They made life easier for travelers and their horses.   It is also too steep that travelers sometimes leave their horses at one of the lodging places where they stay overnight before they go on their way.

Walking through Magome-juku will give you an experience of how it felt like to travel a long distance during the Edo Period.  It is a place that has become witness to the journeys of old Japanese people.

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How To Go There:

If you are coming from Nagoya, ride a JR Chuo Line Rapid for Nakatsugawa (Departure track number 7 or 11). It might take 71 to 85 minutes to get there. The fare costs 1,320 yen.  Once you reach the Nakatsugawa Station, ride the Kita Ena bus and get off at ‘Magome’ bus stop.  Here is the bus schedule.  I’m not sure if the schedule is updated but I used it in 2015.