Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Sunday, September 18, 2016


“Ohayō gozaimasu! Good morning! We know you have two places in your tour bus, but we are three, and if someone from your group doesn’t come, could you take us?” We want to go to the historic village of Shirakawa-go and this company has the best schedule for our time frame. Alas, everyone comes, so seconds before departure time, the guide (and the driver!) come to us, apologize because they couldn’t take us, bow and leave. Well, we’ve tried!

From tunnel to tunnel to the next mountain.

We move a hundred yards and stand in line for the limited express bus (the public line). We leave our luggage in  a locked box and travel 50 minutes through superb scenery. We’re going to Shirakawa-go because until 1925, when the road was constructed, life stood still between forested mountain valleys. Up to thirty people lived in big houses, parents and their immediate family sleeping in a private room, servants and unmarried sons sharing a floor or two. Since then things changed, UNESCO bestowed upon them the title of World Heritage Site and hoards of tourists descend in droves upon them.

People continue to live here, plant their gardens with vegetables and flowers, reap their rice, but more important, continue to build and maintain their special houses. 

Drying rice.

Their thatched roof, designed to withstand deep snowdrifts, is so steep that resembles “praying hands” “gassho-zukuri”. There are several interior attic levels that could be used for sericulture (plenty of mulberry trees around to feed the silk-worms). One cannot find a single nail, the whole structure being held together by tightly woven ropes. And preservation against termite and thatch bugs is provided through the smoke of irori, open-hearth fire.

These are the pictures from the Wada house, a former residence now museum. They had an impressive lacquer ware collection, that was used for temple ceremonies (it is sad that something that comprises so much work and craftsmanship, not to mention health hazards for the sap collector from which the lacquer is made, resembles from afar a cheap plastic dish).

The altar for the ancestors.

The lacquerware and lotus pods with their wholes covered in colored silk (lower left corner).

The ventilation window that you can see at the top of the previous picture.

The other side of the ventilation window.

Detail of the sliding door of the cupboard from the tatami room.

The garden

At the upper levels there is an exhibition of everyday tools, dishes and clothes (boots made of woven twisted leaves). For a second I don’t know where I am: is it Japan or my uncle’s farm? The round cast-iron pot that sits over the fire on a tripod, frames for the silk-worms to make their cocoons, wooden spoons… they look so much like anywhere in the world where the person uses nature to subsist.

We move through the town and enjoy the feeling of being present. On one roof grass has gone to seeds. One house, probably an inn, has a lot of wooden sandals. The ventilation window is sculpted, can you see the turtles moving around the stream? Everywhere water is directed through cemented troughs, sometimes turning a small water-mill, towards ponds or fields.

We climb to an observation point and we have the whole valley at our feet.

Shinto altar at the top of the hill.

When we return, we treat ourselves with ice-cream: white—from grind chestnuts, dark brown—roasted tea, mango—orange. 

And then … it happens… from one house emerges a grandpa with his 4-5 years old niece and a tiny bicycle with training wheels. The girl turns the wheels twice and rests her feet on the ground. She chatters something, and starts again, and again rests her feet. Grandpa is encouraging her with a smile on his face, the girl concentrates on the task, progressing in her way. Then the door opens once more for a little bit older girl, who clasps a helmet on her head, changes places with her sister and disappears into the crowd in a purposeful manner. So it IS real…people DO live here, though I don’t understand how! No, I don’t have their picture, you’ll have to imagine yourself such brave people who try, in a daily regime, to ignore the ill-mannered tourists and to live a life as close to normality as they can. But you can have the picture of a garage.

Our time here is close to an end, so we return to the bus station, we don’t want to miss our train because we don’t have room in the bus. And while we wait we take turns visiting the omiyagi, the gift shop, and the toire, the restrooms. Here I am impressed by the simplicity and the beauty of the place, where a detail elevates the practical to elegance.

This design is on the door of each stall. 

We return to Takayama, retrieve our luggage, shop hurriedly for our next two meals and catch our train. I try to sleep but the Sandman eludes me: the world framed by my window is so beautiful, houses, fields, city. We have to change the train, our shinkansen comes in eight minutes in a different side of the train station RUN! We’re a sore sight: luggage wobbling on our backs, the pumped up adrenaline getting no response from our depleted muscles and strangled breath, but we make it, we’re the 7th,8th and 9th in line. And we start laughing in a contained western manner, but I’m sure we’re crossing many Japanese lines. Our waiting fellows ignore us, we’re gai-jin (foreigners), with one exception, a woman. She looks at us with a special light in her eyes and smiles. Taking advantage of our secret language I tell the boys (while pretending to look somewhere else) to sober up, because we’re making someone’s day with our show. She approaches us asking where are we from. Romania. Her ex-husband is from Romania and she remembers some words like “bunā ziua” (good day). It sounds so Romanian. She and her daughter are going home, to Kyoto. If we are going there she will be glad to meet with us. In the meantime the train stops in the station, she gives us her card, and we all enter the wagon. On our seats we admire the business card and we pair the name, Yuuka, with her face. I ask Mihai if he has one of our cards, from around the world trip, to reciprocate. Ioan is impressed with the ease which she found the card case in a huge purse. 

At Shin-Osaka we change again the train, the boys play chess, then we all do what we want and can while traveling. At 11 pm we arrive in Kagoshima and walk to our hotel. 

There they had two samples of potato wine; we taste, something like watered down brandy, no difference between the two brands. The room is noisy, small, western style, with lilliputian beds. 

We’re too tired to have a reaction, but we travelled 1162 km in eight hours to arrive in the southernmost city of the Kyushu island. Oyasumi nasai! Good night!

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