23rd - 24th December 2012.
Recommended by Paul Travels, we found our way to Minshuku Hisamatsu, a century old gassho zukuri that was painstakingly maintained by at least 3 generations. Things probably have changed since Paul last visited Hisamatsu, the lady proprietor could speak some English now.
The old minka is rather small with only 4 rooms separated only by means of a shoji screens and doors and as described in Paul’s blog, one could hear the discussion and sweet talk clearly from each room. The rooms are all traditional Japanese rooms and you are expected to sleep on futons which the owner would meticulously prepare for you during dinner time.
In winter time, there will be a gas heater provided and a table warmer (we couldn’t get out of the table warmer, it felt some warm and fuzzy). Yukatas are also provided for you to wear during dinner time and if you love hot springs, they provide discounted fee to a hotspring nearby.
Dinner was served in a common room with an irori (hearth) in the center of the room. An elderly lady sat next to irori and to monitor the fire and chat with the guests. During our stay there was a couple from Hokkaido and Hong Kong. They seemed very surprised to find students staying at their minshuku.
Dinner was a hot pot meal, perfect for a cold winter. Beautifully marbled Hida beef slices were served in a ceramic paper hot pot with carrots, tofu, mushrooms and cabbage etc. The meal also includes tempura of mountain vegetables, an array of pickled vegetables and a river fish served with rice and miso soup.
Everyone gathered at the hearth for dinner.
Overall it was delightful meal with a touch of home to it. The cuisine was down to earth compared to the exquisite kaiseki in Kyoto. This was a meal that I enjoyed a lot. It was simple but everything seemed flawless. Perfectly cooked rice, a soothing hot pot soup with tender and tasty Hida beef, an interesting mix of tsukemono, refreshing apple and yuzu salad as well as a burst in your mouth ume. It was simply divine.
After a long dinner, I took a bath in their traditional wooden baths filled with hot (not burning) water. The calming scent of the cedar/hinoki and the soothing warm water has a nice calming effect. It was one of those few moments where I found myself finally relaxed, guiding 3 boys around for the whole trip for past few days (a pair of them almost got lost and had me worried sick), it had been an extremely tense journey.
One thing I regret not doing at Shirakawa-go however was to head out for some star-gazing, the area around Shirakawa-go is pretty dark as the lighting period has not commenced and for a village in such an “ulu” place, this would have been the best place to see skies filled with stars. On the other hand, I had a rare proper sleep.
Breakfast was mix of Japanese and Western, probably due to the influx of ang moh tourists over the years. They prepared scrambled eggs with tomato ketchup, bread, tsukemono, miso soup and some vegetables grilled on magnolia leaf with hoba miso. The hoba miso is very addictive. The sweet and savoury miso paste seemed to go well with both bread and rice. I decided to buy a pack of them back from a shop nearby after breakfast.
When you visit Shirakawa-go don’t just go for a day trip, you will be missing out a lot from staying overnight in one of these minka and you will miss the mornings when Shirakawa-go is almost devoid of tourists, which is the best time to go sightsee around the village.
I booked our guesthouse through Japanese Guesthouses, a website that helps you book lodgings in guesthouses around Japan.