Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hida Takayama's Winter Gardening

A recent trip to Hida Takayama, a mountain village famous as a snowy and inaccessible refuge for those slinking away from a lost battle or other troubles, was a real pleasure. Still as snowy but more accessible thanks to a highway hugging the sides of a steep river valley and the occasional train, it is now a bit more famous as a place to wander narrow streets of a remarkably well-preserved Edo Era downtown while sampling local delights such as traditional pickles, sake, miso, soba, and Hida beef. Our two and a half days there proved not to be quite enough, and so we'll be heading back again in warmer weather for a bit more exploring.

A little quiet in the wake of the New Year, the daily markets were still on and there were no lack of things to do and see. As we wandered along nibbling and admiring the architecture and local crafts, we met any number of snowmen. A recent storm must have been of just the right consistency, and while it doused pots of ornamental kale, bonsai, and pansies, it also inspired a little sculpting.

Of varying heights, girths, and styles, they didn't quite line the streets, but they definitely were a presence. Unlike their American counterparts, the tops of the tallest snowmen came only to about my waist, while the shortest stood only a hand or two high on a tabletop. Eyes made of bottlecaps or mikan, topped with viney garlands or a matching snow bowler, or ears made of icicles (to mark the new year of the rabbit) each one had its own character. Some were clearly done by children, and others clearly had the refined hand of an adult or a child prodigy. Either way, they were magnificent companions during our stay.

Remarkable, too, was the fact that they were all undamaged unless they stood in a sunny location. One tiny one on a busy street of shops stood perfectly rounded with cotton ball arms and nary a bit of damage despite very heavy foot traffic. One on the grounds of a major tourist site stood near the busy entrance quite possibly giving the security guard some much needed companionship.

I'm not sure what it says about my culture that I'm shocked and/or impressed by their longevity and pristine state. Perhaps it's better to notice what it says about Japanese culture and try to absorb that lesson instead. It was a pleasure to have met them, and to know they can stay until Mother Nature decides they have to go.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice snowman! I must remember to visit that region someday