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A Town Steeped in Japanese Mythology

Takachiho Travel Guide

Click on that link above, and now you know as much as we did. Going into this all we knew was we had to go to this place that you could paddle a boat between the gorge walls streaming with waterfalls. It was going to be the experience I never got to have when we were in the Grand Canyon. But first, we had to get to the town. The train dropped us off early in the morning in a town about a hour and a half bus ride away from Takachiho. The bus fair was ridiculously expensive, and we even thought about turning around and skipping the whole thing. "We have paid almost $1,000 to travel around Japan! We can't afford to add on this bus fair there and back!" I told Joe, and then he reminded me that it would be a more of a waist of money to spend $1,000 to see Japan, and never get to see Japan, and then have to come back (probably another grand in airfare) just to see what we could have dropped the $50 bucks to see the first time around. He was right of course. We didn't have the time to waist just running around from place to place either. We spent plenty of time getting to this place, and damn it we were going to see it! So we paid the man for our bus tickets, and we took up our usual spots in the very back of the bus.


^ (Thats a waterfall ahead of us BTW)


And wholly crap, almost 2 hours later, we made it to Takachiho! And the driver finally informed me, after like the 10th time I asked "Are we there yet?" in Japanese, that we were the very last stop the bus made. The ride was fantastic, and it was like a tour of Japan in it of itself! I loved the bus ride. I loved the smiling locals getting on the bus, saying good morning, and then continually beaming as they enjoyed us enjoying their countryside. One woman called me cute in Japanese as I hopped from one side of the bus to take pictures to the other. Another older, more grumpy woman, said that I was an annoying tourist, or at least I got that she called me a tourist, and I used my context clues (her sneering face) to figure that she was annoyed. She also didn't like how loud Joe talked to me. I kept telling him that he was bothering her, but that only made him louder. Thankfully, she hobbled her way off the bus after about 40 minutes, so we didn't have to be together for the entire ride.

But now we were in Takachiho, and we had lost sight of the water... "Sumimasen!" I called out to a woman who worked at a travel shop. "Excuse me" I said in Japanese, "where is the gorge?" She gave me a map of the city, sketched out in color with anime cartoons like so many other maps I had received in Japan, and she basically told me to walk clear across to the other side of the town, and then wind my way back and forth along the side of the mountain road to find my way into the gorge where I can rent a row boat for about $10 for 15 minutes.

It was a hot muggy day in Japan, and the heat of the day was just about at its peak as we left the cool air-conditioned bus and travel shop. Joe and I were some of the only people walking around in this town, and we were definitely the only ones without a sun umbrella. "Here we go, lets get a move on!" And we were off into this small, adorable, Japanese village in the middle of the country side and their mountainous landscape.


We made a few pit stops in the local convenient stores (Japan loves these shops) to pick up some extra water and snacks, but then the big distraction came...


"The town of Takachiho is the site of one of the most important and well know legends of Japanese mythology. In the story, Amaterasu, the Shinto sun goddess, became so outraged by her brother's cruel pranks that she hid herself in a cave, refusing to come out and depriving the world of her life-giving light. All of the other gods and goddesses gathered to lure her out. They tried everything they could think of to no avail until one goddess performed an outrageously ribald dance that caused the other gods to roar with laughter. Amaterasu left the cave to see what all the fun was about, and in doing so she returned her light to the world.

Today this legend is reenacted as Yokagura (night dances) in a series of 33 episodes depicting the divine quarrel as well as other deeds of the gods. On winter weekends, people gather to watch all-night performances of these episodes at different locations each week, sometimes at private homes. The performances are held on Saturday evenings from mid November to mid February. A massively shortened version of Takachiho Yokagura is performed for tourists every night throughout the year at the Takachiho Shrine. The one-hour show consists of just a few scenes of the story, performed by masked dancers and accompanied by traditional instruments. It is held at the Yokagura performance hall, just a few steps from the shrine's main building."

We read this on the web site I put at the top of this entry, but what it didn't mention was that every morning they have a sun rise performance at 8am! Unfortunately, we had just missed the performance by about an hour and a half! "GRRRRRRARRRRRRRGGGGG!!!!!!!" But, we let it go, and decided that it probably wouldn't have been worth the money, and we settled on seeing the temple for free (Yay for free!)


This was hands down, my favorite shrine in Japan!


They even had little Shinto priests running around in Miko garb! It was absolutely lovely! I adored the settings in the red wood/ pine -esque forest, and the smell matched every sight and sound. Peaceful heaven came to mind as Joe and I separately wondered the many shrines this location had to offer. We did not have to wait for one another, or see what the other wanted to see. We just existed in this place any way the wind took our step.


But then before we left we of course had to do some kung fu filming, so here is the Bear Animal exercise out of Qui Gong:

When we both finished touring around we headed back to the street and continued towards the gorge. On the way we passed yet another gas station dedicated to Leo and selling his tires... so we had to finally breakdown and take a friggin photo.


Then it was down the curving/ winding road into the gorge.


Entering the base of the gorge, before we made it to the main water source we walked past this wall of waterfalls that flowed into the ground with little tributaries that filled up these small ponds with coy fish.


And then we made it to the narrow opening of the gorge that we saw just like in the pictures... except for one slight detail.


See how all the boats are sitting there over in the lake? Yeah, thats because they have the lake roped off so nobody can talk their boats through the gorge anymore! Some people told us this was for safety, and I don't doubt thats this was why they did it, but they should have at least dropped the price since now all you got to do is sit in a boat for 15 minutes, paying almost a buck a minute for the "enjoyment." Joe, had a solution. He plans to jump the rope.


That is me taking photos while Joe slowly makes up his mind. We also sat down an had lunch before he made his way over to the docks. I pointed out to him that there were people avidly watching to make sure nobody took the boat out of the roped area, but he didn't seem to mind. Thankfully, after he realized that I really was not going to go with him, he decided it wasn't worth the money or the possible legal prosecutions in a country where we don't particularly know the language.

We headed back to he little walk path next to the gorge, and Joe practiced some kung fu while I took about an hour to myself to wonder the park.


These hexagonal pillers reminded me a lot of Toyooka:


Wondering around the local Takachiho village I found a really cool fish tank:


And then just outside the village by some of the ponds there were little cabin things and water wheels:


In the little souvenir shops I kept finding these owls everywhere! A woman talked to me in Japanese/ English about how the owl is very good. She didn't particularly say why. They didn't seem to be lucky or wise or some sort of protection, but they were somehow someway special. I thought I remembered my older sister having a thing for owls at some point, but maybe she doesn't anymore, I didn't know. But I figured that since I haven't seen much owl stuff around her lately, that maybe this would be a good gift b/c maybe it would bring back that interest. I bought an owl bling chain for the phone (everyone in Japan has one, and just the one, no more, no less). The chain was woven purple, so if I got the animal wrong, at least I got the color right. And the eyes sparked this pretty black stone, so it sparkled, was purple, had some sort of special animal, and could decorate a phone. Sounded like something useful/ appropriate to me.

When I came back to see if Joe was ready to go, he was just about ready to film some more kung fu, so here is Intellectual Fist aka Xing Yi:

I was hoping to hitchhike back up to the town since everyone would be heading that way, so Joe and I went to the parking lot, and looked around for people leaving. "Konichiwa!" I called out to two girls opening their car. I explained to them we didn't have a car, but we wanted to go back up to the city, and could we go with them? Yeah, they at first pretended to not understand me, and then they just ignored me all together and got in their car. Well, that was all the push I needed to not try to get another ride. So we started heading back up the winding road, and about 1/3 of the way through I broke down and decided to try my luck again. I caught a man with a truck this time, and he understood me just fine, but he explained that he was turning left at the top of the hill, rather than continuing right to the city. I told him I understood, and thanked him anyways, and then watched his truck make it to the top of the hill before the fork in the road, and saw him turn right, continuing up the slope into town. Fucker. That was really my last ditch effort at hitchhiking (people with low self esteem really can't hitch). We made it into town exhausted, and I checked the time, we weren't going to make the bus! "Come on!" I told Joe as I picked up the pace. Now that we were on relatively flat land, we could power walk a bit

Joe was complaining that he was hungry, but we simply didn't have any time for that. Then, just a few minutes into town, he left the side walk and crossed the street. No, "I'll be right back" or "don't wait up, I'll catch up to you," absolutely nothing. I stared at him in confusion, and pain. He knew I wanted to make this bus, and he was really going to go into the restaurant and get food?! I kept walking. About 10 minutes later, when I assumed he would have caught up by now, I realized he was probably lost. Fuck! I kept going, what else could I do? I made it to the bus station, and the bus wasn't there yet. But a few minutes later, still no Joe in sight, the bus came! "Can you please wait a minute?" I asked the driver in Japanese. He told me he would be here for the next 10 minutes, and then he was going, and we would have to catch the next bus in an hour. I got of the bus and started running to the main road. I would have to pass Joe on the main road, or at least see him, to tell him to hurry up. I ended up running all the way to the restaurant he stopped in. "Did an American boy come in here before?" I asked in broken/ exhausted/ frantic Japanese. "Yes!" They told me. Apparently he had been there, and rushed out quickly about 10 minutes ago. WTF?! I ran back and the bus was gone! But there was Joe, sitting there, eating his dinner. I was fuming. I hated catching the last bus. It meant we would be getting back in the dark, and if we missed that one, we were well and truly screwed. Joe said it was all my fault for not trusting him. He said that he made it here while the bus was still here, and that everything would have been fine if I had only trusted him to get there on time. He did admit to getting lost, and that was what took him so long, and that was why I didn't pass him on the main road, but even that, and the fact that he was the one who separated from me without a word, had nothing to do with why we were not on the bus. It was all because I did not trust him.

I left. I gave him the courtesy to tell him I'd be back here in 45 minutes, but other than that, I said nothing other than I needed to be away from him. I walked the streets, I fumed, I tried to be a photographer to get my mind off of things.


I passed several beauty shops, and thats when I decided to go with Sauna's demands. I had to get a Japanese haircut. They were the best haircuts in all of the world. And that means a lot coming from a Chinese person. I entered the salon and asked for a "cutto." They loved sitting me down and trying to discuss in Japanese what we could do with my hair, and then excitement really buzzed when they actually got me in the chair, and the one girl in all the town who spoke english showed up. She studied in America for 4 years, but that was working on 10 years ago now, so she was a bit rusty, but we managed. I didn't end up getting them to do exactly what I wanted, but at the end of the day, I felt free. I felt changed, I felt marvelous. This was the shortest my hair has ever been. So what did I do with my extra time? I went to the bar next to the bus station and I got myself a nice, tall, cold glass of Sapporo beer. Then, nice and tipsy (I am such a light weight these days), I got to the station, got on the bus with Joe, and we headed out of the Takachiho gorge town.

P.S. Sorry there are no pictures, but I wasn't in the mood to have my photo taken. I was actually a little sulky on this bus ride home, and Joe wasn't offering to take a pic of me, so I wasn't going to ask. But Just imagine me with my bangs being almost as long and thick as the rest of my hair (yeah, no more side part, she gave me bangs that start at the crown of my head!)

Posted by - Rain 16:59

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This is a good story. Glad you got the photos that showed how high the trees were, like California redwoods. And the movies captured the sounds of the place--they added a lot. (PS I really want to see the haircut!)

by Sheryl S

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