Travelogue Japan: Making A Sarubobo Doll – Souvenirs from Takayama

Ask any Japanese person about a souvenir to get from Takayama in Gifu prefectureand top on the list would be sarubobo dolls.

Literally translated to ‘baby monkey’ (saru is Japanese for monkey, while bobo is a local  dialect for baby), these featureless, human-shaped dolls usually come in red, with a tiny black hat and vest. While I couldn’t find any explanation on its origins, the dolls are traditionally made by grandmothers for their grandchildren, or by mothers for their daughters as a good luck charm.

Why Are They Red? 

Baby monkeys have red faces, and since these are supposed to be baby monkey dolls, sarubobo have similar crimson hues. Although in modern times, this has extended to include various other shades, including pink, blue, green, yellow, orange and purple.

Sarubobo As Charms

The sarubobo acts like an amulet that protects the receiver from bad things, encourages a happy home and a good match for the daughters. Since a monkey’s childbirth is easy, the doll also represents the giver’s hope that the receiver will have an easy delivery.

Takayama/Nagoya

We were scheduled for a sarubobo-making class with a local crafts maker. Unfortunately I didn’t note down the name of the place, but it was a souvenir centre where visitors can also buy snacks and gifts.

DSC_0116 copy

Our sensei for the day! Mariko-san translated for us.

To be honest, it wasn’t so much a doll-making class than it was a doll-decorating session, since the dolls were already provided: all we had to do was decorate and help put on the vest!

Takayama/Nagoya

Even so, it was not as easy as it seemed. We were given some colourful pens and a selection of words to pick from, which we had to draw on the fabric. The words were traditional kanji (adopted from Chinese characters) so there were many strokes, and we couldn’t mess up so there were a few practice runs on normal paper. You can also choose to draw on the fabric but since its small, it might be difficult if you don’t have a delicate hand.

Takayama/Nagoya

The session took about 40 minutes, after which we could take the medium-sized dolls home as souvenirs! So if you’re looking for a gift to bring back from Takayama, definitely get a sarubobo doll. 🙂

 

 

 

Travelogue Japan: Fresh, Local Produce @ Miyagawa Morning Market, Takayama

Want to shop like a local? Stop by Miyagawa Morning Market in the city of Takayama in Gifu, where you’ll find fresh local produce, crafts, souvenirs, food fresh off the grill, regional specialties, and more.

Takayama/Nagoya

The market is one of the largest morning markets in Japan with over 60 stalls stretching a length of 350m next to the roaring Miyagawa River which cuts across town. On a sunny day, you can walk down to the river bank and soak in the sights of the clear, rushing river water, in some parts stocked with koi fish.

DSC_0086 copy

Takayama/Nagoya

The early bird gets the worm – or in this case, the choicest goods! The market starts at 6.30AM, and 8AM in winter until noon.

Takayama/Nagoya

Undoubtedly a tourist spot, we saw many travelers from China, Korea and even some Western tourists, which is pretty rare beyond the confines of large cities like Kyoto and Tokyo.

Takayama/Nagoya

DSC_0109 copy

Seller sorting out some beans.

There is another older market in front of Takayama Jinya, called Jinya-mae, which dates back 300 years! Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to pay a visit.

Takayama/Nagoya

Some sort of colourful corn that I’ve never seen before!

DSC_0100 copy

Vivid displays of vegetables in bright hues. Everything looked so fresh and tasty!

DSC_0095 copy

DSC_0102 copy

Aside from vegetables and fruits, there were also stalls selling snacks. Got a bottle of non-alcoholic sake as a gift for the fam.

DSC_0093 copy

Local specialties.

Takayama/Nagoya

Finally got to try the famous Hida beef! It was quite pricey (like RM15 for a skewer) but good – juicy, flavourful and tender.

Takayama/Nagoya

While waiting for the guys to finish their shopping, Mariko-san and I had some dango (glutinous rice balls on skewers). One was basted in a sweet-savoury miso, while another had been wrapped in a seaaweed before being grilled. The texture was chewy like mochi with a smoky, slightly charred flavour. Not my cup of tea; I prefer them to be sweet. 😀

Getting There 

The Miyagawa Morning Market is a 10-min walk from the JR Takayama Station.

 

 

Travelogue Japan: Old Merchant’s Street @ Takayama Historic District, Gifu

Takayama is a gorgeous place. It’s modern enough that you get all the trappings of a city, but rural enough to give it a rustic charm. Takayama’s rich timber sources and skilled carpenters (said to have worked on many castles in Kyoto and Edo) made it an important outpost for the ruling elite (hence, the establishment of the local government office, Takayama Jinya). Visitors will see many original buildings preserved in the old parts of town.

Kanazawa, Japan

The Miyagawa River cuts a swathe through many parts of town, twisting and turning through the landscape like a giant, watery snake. The water is crystal clear, making it possible to see to the bottom of the river bed! In certain spots there are also koi fish.

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa, Japan

The old merchant’s district is a must visit while in town. Consisting of three pedestrian-only streets, the area is lined with dozens of double-storey wooden shophouses, some of which have been converted into museums, teahouses, cafes and souvenir shops. The area gained a reputation as the ‘little Kyoto of Hida’. A unique feature of the buildings are its latticed bay windows. There are also a number of sake breweries here, distinguished by the sugidama (cedar ball) hanging out front.

Kanazawa, Japan

The lack of vehicles and ‘modern’ fixtures transports you back to the Edo era!

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa, Japan

Rabbits are a popular symbol of Takayama. The people believed that like the rabbit, which has long ears, a good government should listen to the voice of its people. Rabbits also represented fertility and were a guardian against fires. You’ll find many souvenir shops selling cute ornaments and rabbit-related paraphernalia along the street.

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa, Japan

I love the hina-style rabbit dolls that they had dressed in traditional Japanese costumes. So cute and elaborate! This will set you back a mere 50,000 yen (RM1810 – or USD440!).

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa, Japan

A museum with old samurai gear on display.

Kanazawa, Japan

As the sky darkened, we slipped into a restaurant for dinner. To cater to a growing Muslim clientele, the resto has halal meat dishes! I really wanted to try the beef, which Hida is famous for, but since our guide had ordered all chicken meals for convenience, I only got to try it the next day at the morning market.

Kanazawa, Japan

Beautiful set with rice, tofu, miso soup, salad and chicken, which we grilled over a small fire.

Kanazawa, Japan

Everything was fresh and tasty! I liked the whole DIY vibe where I could grill the meat according to my liking, although the pan did take a long time to heat up.

Kanazawa, Japan

Juicy and ready for eating. 🙂

Getting To Takayama 

If you’re coming from major cities in Honshu such as Nagoya, Kyoto or Tokyo, the city is best accessed by Shinkansen (bullet train). Takayama is about 300km away from Tokyo. Useful guide here.

 

 

 

 

 

Travelogue Japan: Takayama Jinya, Last Surviving Government Building From The Edo Era

The Hida region around Takayama was once prized for its valuable timber resources, so it was only natural for the powerful Tokugawa Shogunate to dispatch officials to oversee things at the place. To cater to this, a local government office was built, which is the Takayama Jinya we see today.

As the only building of its kind to be preserved from the Edo era, the Takayama Jinya has been declared a historical asset and national treasure. For over 177 years, Tokugawa samurai have been dispatched from Edo as administrators, tax officers and policemen. During the Meiji Restoration, the building continued to be used by local government officials, right up til 1969. Now home to a museum, visitors can experience life as it was for ruling samurai in the Edo era.

Kanazawa, Japan

The spacious compound is decorated with ripple-like sand patterns, which is an emblem of the Tokugawa family that represents the sea.

Kanazawa, Japan

The main building has numerous tatami-mat rooms and sliding doors, which allowed for plenty of natural light to filter in. ‘Employees’ sat on the floor and worked at low tables. The rooms contrasted starkly to old buildings I have visited in Europe, which were often elaborate and covered in detailing. Here, the aesthetic is simple and Zen-like, the furniture minimal.

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa, Japan

It may not look like it from the outside, but the place was massive! Long corridors and passageways opened up into new buildings, interspersed with beautifully landscaped gardens. The living quarters were a bit more cheerful, with more furniture, as well as decorative scrolls and paintings hung up on the walls.

Kanazawa, Japan

Kitchen area where meals would be prepared by servants. The servants quarters were also located nearby.

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa, Japan

The Takayama Jinya also had an interrogation room where they would keep prisoners (!) accused of various crimes.

Next to the main building is a rice storehouse built in the 1600s, which now houses belongings and documents of past feudal lords, town blueprints as well as old maps of the region.

TAKAYAMA JINYA 

Opening hours: 845AM – 5PM (430PM from November to February, until 6PM in August)

Admission: 430yen

Getting There 

The Jinya is a 10-minute walk from Takayama Station.