I woke up to a dreary and wet morning on the outskirts of Toyama. I slept well even with the painful pounding of rain on the car top. It was all that driving around the peninsula. I buzzed through Toyama as quickly as possible. I wanted to get to Gokayama early just in case Golden Week brought more of my favorite companions, lots of people. As I approached the rising mountains, the rain started to abate. This was very promising.
For awhile I thought I had arrived back in Kochi where I often hug the mountain sides in my car and pass dam reservoirs endlessly. The scenery felt the same except for the faint traces of snow hanging on for dear life. But it still had a feel that was not of Kochi. That is best. Kochi will always stand on its own merits in my mind. I soaked in the mountain scenery and arrived at Ainokura unexpectedly and was greeted with a few cars in the parking lot. Even better was the rain that was slowly choking itself off.
This is a world heritage site but is probably less visited than it's more famous sister/brother? 20km south. If there is any reoccurring theme on this blog it's clearly my agoraphobia. Or it's just a sign I lived alone too long.
These houses eschew roof tiles for thick thatching using a local woody plant. Long ago it was impossible to carry heavy tiles into the deep mountains so the locals improvised with what they had. The steep angle is to allow the heavy snow fall to slide off during winter.
I couldn't have been happier with the stopping of the rain. The clouds and fog began to swirl around the distant mountains making me forget it was still early spring even though the muddy ground told me otherwise.
In dry weather the roofs are highly susceptible to fire so they have extensive anti-fire measures in place all over the villages of this kind.
It was such a peaceful morning there. I didn't have to dodge anyone for my pictures. I'm spoiled with that when I'm in Shikoku most of the time.
I would have been completely happy if nothing else had happened that day. But that all changed when I came to following house.
I was standing out front snapping pictures when an old lady stuck her head outside. I quickly said, "Good morning." She quickly fired back, "Where are you from?" With a few short exchanges and having proved my Japanese competence she opened up the white sliding doors so I could see into the house. She told me how it was the oldest house in the village at over 500 years old (on a secondary search when I got home, it was said to be over 400 but either way it's old enough). I already felt privileged that she had opened it up for me to take a look. Yet, she could do much better.
I was beckoned inside to see the large first floor living room area. Was this really happening? Had I just been pulled in the oldest house in the village?
She showed me a room where the emperor's son had stayed twice, along with pictures hanging outside the room. The emperor's son loved Ainokura and wrote, "It's one of my favorite places in Japan. I came here once when I was a student. I came with my wife. One day I'll bring my children here." I found this particularly endearing. He was right to appreciate the value of the place. The bear rug was a different story though. Some farmer had been mauled across the face, supposedly, and he took his revenge by turning the bear into a piece of furniture. Maybe that was just a convenient place holder for a tale but I'll buy it.
She told me again and again how old the house was and that the emperor's son had stayed. She brought me coffee and we chatted about life. I had to coax her into the picture because she wouldn't believe she was beautiful enough. Women never change, am I right? She kept telling me the same few bits of information over and over. Clearly the signs of some Alzheimer's setting in. Maybe that was why she invited me but I just like to think it was because friendliness really has no barrier in this world.