In visiting Japan at the end of last year, we decided to stray from the usual site-seeing circuit in Kansai (eg. taking in all the sights and sounds in Kyoto) and explore the more rural areas in the mountainous parts of Central Japan. Carrying our travel packs and trudging into areas where ubiquitous train services don’t exist (which is quite rare if you live anywhere near a decent sized city in Japan), we went by bus to stop along some of the major historic Nakasendo trade cities. From Nagoya, we first visited Hida-Takayama, an area known for their impressive carpentry and their service to the Tokugawa clan; then onto the UNESCO village of thatched-roof farm houses of Shirakawa-go in the Japanese Alps; and finally onto Kanazawa, where traditional storehouses and samurai houses still stand shoulder-to-shoulder along modern buildings.
Being used to traditional architecture in Kyoto with a wealth of historical and imperial significance in the form of well-maintained temples and shrines, it was so refreshing to see merchant and samurai-class architecture from an entirely different era, as well as traditional farmhouses in the rural parts of the country. While the old ways of life (and its inhabitants) rapidly slip away with the passage of time, it was heartening to see the lives of a bygone era still alive and being passed down to the next generation in these parts of the country.