Seeing Japan from the slow train – part 5: Hida-Furukawa

I am convinced that everyone has at least one interest for which they will abandon all rational thought in their efforts to pursue. One of mine is woodworking and the associated tools, and when I first found out that I was going to Japan I started looking into places that seemed promising for that. Takayama and it’s traditional open-air museum kept coming up, and in some of the references to it I came across several mentions of a very strong and active tradition in the nearby town of Hida-Furukawa, including a museum with an excellent collection of hand tools. Getting to this museum was in no small part responsible for my decision to travel in this area, and was the main reason I got off the train even knowing that the next train wouldn’t be for 4 hours.

On arrival I found my bearings and headed directly to the “Hida Takumikan Craft Museum” for about an hour and a half of immersion – which I will admit is stretching the visit a little longer than most people would need. I think for those without a strong interest in traditional woodwork and tools the museum would still be of interest, first because the building itself is a phenomenal and accessible example of traditional architecture of the area and secondly the exhibits let you get very close to some of the very detailed carvings and intricate construction generally found in temples but too far away to really get a good look at. For those with an interest in traditional woodworking and tools the museum provides an impressive overview focused mainly on joinery techniques (including a selection of pre-cut joints to take apart and put together) but also having a reasonable collection of carvings.

Leaving the museum with roughly 2 and a half hours to go before my train was due to depart led to a walk around the town, eventually following my nose toward the smell of food and finding myself in the middle of Watanabe sake brewery annual festival. After having something to eat from a food stand, I asked one of the ladies greeting people at the entrance to the building what the event was, but she was unable to do so in English and escorted me to find someone who could… who it turned out was an American who had settled down in the area and decided to become a sake brewer. He graciously took time out of his other responsibilities of the day to give me a descriptive tasting of the various sakes they had on offer and describe the key points of making sake. My visit to the sake brewery ended with a blind tasting of 4 sakes to try and rank them in quality order; I managed to get 0 of the 4 correct – obviously a sign that I need more practice! One of those random travel encounters that make trips memorable for all the right reasons.

Following another walk around the area to productively fill up the remaining time, I headed back to the station and made sure not to miss the connection to Takayama.

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