The other day I took a highway-bus day trip from Nagoya to the mountain city of Takayama and the old-timey village of Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The bus departs from Meitetsu Bus Center, which is at Nagoya Station. The entrance to Meitetsu Bus Center is right in front of Nana-chan, the giant outdoor mannequin at the station that's become a famous Nagoya landmark.
Regular Meitetsu buses depart from the third floor of the Bus Center, but the Dragons Pack excursions depart from stops on the fourth floor.
First you head to the Dragons Pack counter and redeem your voucher for a bus ticket. From there it's just a few steps to the bus you board, which is at stop #7.
Your seat on the bus is assigned. The bus also offers free Wi-Fi, and there's even an electrical outlet at your seat that you can use to keep your phone charged!
The crew of the bus I took included a Japanese tour guide, but there were also English-speaking attendants who were there to make announcements, hand out maps and guides, and answer any questions.
The drive to Takayama takes about two and a half hours, and it includes a brief rest stop at an expressway service area around the half-way point.
Back on the bus, we made our way to Takayama, another hour or so on through snowy mountain scenery.
On the way, we watched a video in English that described the city and region, and sights there worth checking out.
Once off the bus, we followed our guide to Takayama's main old-town street, and then we were free to explore the area with its ambience of yesteryear on our own for an hour and a half.
I leisurely checked out the old town with its architecture from times past.
Even some modern convenience stores have adopted the Edo-era style from Japan's feudal past!
Back on the bus, it was a short ride to our lunch venue: an all-you-can-eat buffet at the Hida Takayama Green Hotel. The spread included a large selection of both Japanese and Western dishes, but I elected to stick with local fare – including fresh-made sushi!
There was also a wide variety of dessert choices.
The hotel's gift shop was amazingly large.
After eating our fill, we reboarded the bus and set out for Shirakawa-go, just over an hour away. On the way there we received English-language maps and a ticket good for admission to any one of three well-preserved old houses in the traditional steeply gabled gassho-zukuri style that the village is famous for.
Once we reached the village, we had eighty minutes to explore it, and it turned out to be a charming blend of the old and the new.
I chose to use my ticket to tour the huge old Wada house.
On display are many traditional tools and household articles that give a vivid feel of what life must have been like in these snowy mountains a century ago.
These items included racks used to raise silkworms for silk, an important part of the village's economy in times past.
(There's also an observation point on a hill overlooking Shirakawa-go that gives a panoramic view of the whole village. It's reachable by a 20-minute rise on shuttle buses that run three times an hour, but depending on how long you're there, you might not have enough time to see anything else if you check it out.)
We then got back on the bus and headed back to Nagoya. During the ride we received coupons good for discounts at BicCamera, Kojima, and SofMap, big retailers with locations throughout Japan that sell electronics and appliances.