13.3.15

Japan: Day 15 + 16 - Kanazawa - The tranquil home of the Samurai


It was time to depart Hiroshima, which had been a very different experience compared to the rest of my trip so far and is definitely one I won't forget. It was an early start to the day as  I was going to spend the majority of it travelling across quite a large part of Japan. So far, from Tokyo I had been gradually making my way south along the east coast. Miyajima and Hiroshima were the most southern parts of Japan that I'd be visiting on this trip. From here I would be travelling to Kanazawa; the most northern location in Japan I'm stopping at on my journey, so you can see why it's going to take me a while, although the majority of the distance would be covered whilst on the Shinkansen - at over 200 km an hour there's no quicker way to get across the country unless you fly! 

 

After a hearty breakfast (still by passing the salad section of the buffet) I packed up my stuff and took my last streetcar to the Hiroshima Station. From here I caught the Shinkansen Sakura 540 heading for Shin-Osaka. This route took me past a lot of the places I've explored over the last week, just at a very high speed as we flew through the stations without stopping. After the 90-minute train ride I had a while to wait before catching the following train.


I've forgotten to mention the obsession the Japanese seem to have with baseball! It's huge outhere and was something I wasn't expecting. The local team here is the Hiroshima Carp and you will find stalls selling merch, stores flying Carp flags and people wearing the jerseys EVERYWHERE!




The next train was the Limited Express Thunderbird 13 from Shin-Osaka direct to Kanazawa. It was going to take around 3 hours, luckily I'd reserved a seat so was able to get comfy for the long journey ahead. Once I found the platform I still had some time to kill ... hence the following photographs!




The route heading north east took us through the countryside up to the east coast where we'd then follow it north towards Kanazawa. The views of the country along the way were beautiful - the further north we got the more mountainous the regions became, until we were surrounded on both sides by snow topped mountains which the train line carved it's way through, sometimes disappearing into a tunnel for 5-10 minutes as the bullet train took a direct route through the mountains. 




Now here's where I was a little naive ... I kind of expected us to pass through this snowy region and end up at a sunnier, drier climate, but as the route carried on the snow was getting thicker and more prominent within the landscape. So of course by the time we reached Kanazawa the place was covered in white fluffy snow. But being a major city in the area, the roads and walkways were pretty much clear. 




I was told to grab a cab from the station, which in this snowy, icy weather with my massive rucksack seemed like a good idea. But first I needed to grab some food as it'd been a long time since breakfast, so before leaving the station for the hotel I went on the hunt for a late lunch. I didn't really fancy sushi and wanted something carb based, like a pasta or a sandwich (but sandwiches are very hard to find out here ... and even when you do find one it's normally got something random as a filling - more on that later on though!). I was about to give up and head back to one of the eateries selling sushi when my nose caught the whiff of baked bread! I followed it around the corner and to my delight the last restaurant / cafe before the station exit was, yes you've guessed it - a french bakery! I felt like a kid in a candy store. These Japanese really know how to bake some tasty treats. I found a table, set my bag down and started to explore the wonders of Paris, Japan! 




I went for a bun with cheese, bacon and potato on top, a cheese flat bread ... thing, a hot dog in a glazed bun with cheese on top and a cinnamon swirl. All I can say is c'est magnifique! (I would have taken a photograph of my doughy spread, but I was thinking with my stomach so by the time i realised I was demolishing the swirl!) 

With my cravings satisfied I made my way outside to grab a cab. The old guys cab I jumped into didn't have a clue where he was going, and even though I'd given him the address in Japanese he struggled. To be fair he was struggling to turn the handle let alone read street signs. Either way I got to the hotel in 15 minutes (longer than it takes by bus) and in one piece. When we pulled up outside the hotel I thought he'd got the wrong street because this place was swish. In fact, the whole street was swish. Opposite the hotel were Armani and Fred Perry, next door were Gucci and Louis Vuitton and everywhere you looked there were expensive cars.

The hotel was pretty plush inside and the room was really nice. I was glad that I had 2 days at the hotel to at least enjoy it a bit. Thank you to InsideJapan for the recommendation and for booking. 
The whole are was quite swanky with cool little arty structures randomly dotted throughout the streets. 




By now it was already getting quite late in the day so I wouldn't have much time to explore before it got dark. At that I dropped my bags off and made my way outside, sufficiently wrapped up to withstand the cold. I looked at the weather forecast for the following day and it was supposedly going to rain non-stop, so I chose the one place that I knew wouldn't be that enjoyable in the torrential rain - The Kenroku-en Gardens. On the way to the gardens I passed the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, which I wouldn't have time for today but was on the list for the tomorrow.




The garden is one of the three most famous gardens in Japan and Kenroku-en means "garden which combines six characteristics" the six aspects considered important in the notion of an ideal garden are: spaciousness, serenity, venerability, scenic views, subtle design, and coolness. This was only a 10 minute walk from the hotel and I got there just in time for last entry. The entrance fee is normally 300 yen (£1.65) but the woman said as I only had 45 minutes left before it closed I could go in for free. 

I caught the light at just the right time; the sky looked perfect as the sun slowly disappeared over the course of the next 20 minutes. The garden was also pretty much empty meaning I could get some really nice shots of the park. My 45 minutes in the garden flew by and before I knew it I had to leave as they were shutting. I can see why it's one of the three most famous gardens in Japan, and out of the six characteristics they definitely nail the scenic views. I could imagine the Samurai wondering around the gardens with their families.





The last place I wanted to check out before the light totally disappeared for the night was the Oyama Shrine, as it was pretty much next to the hotel. The gate to the shrine is well known because of its unusual mix of traditional Japanese, Chinese, and European religious architectural elements. The third floor is particular famous for its Dutch stained-glass windows. It's said that the third floor was also used as a lighthouse. This is why I wanted to see it at dusk as I wanted to see the stained glass windows in all their glory. The shrine was nice but was your pretty average shrine, it was the gate which was the interesting part.


By the time I left the shrine it was dark and had started to rain, so I took the opportunity to enjoy the hotel and it's bar and restaurant. After a few cokes and some tasty sushi (I was charging my phone in the room so didn't get any shots) it was time to call it a night and hope that the rain was stop by the morning.

My hopes were dashed as I woke up to the sound of heavy rain outside which according to the forecast didn't look set to stop throughout the day, so after a lazy start (which is the first on this trip) I had breakfast, got ready and ventured outside armed with my umbrella ... which wasn't looking too 
good.




First stop on the list was the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art that I passed yesterday. It's exactly what it says it is and currently has an exhibition on documenting Japanese Architecture. The building is really amazing; it's a circle with square structures (some white walls, others glass) with break out spaces within. After checking my umbrella into the lock docking station (why haven't we got these in the UK??) and paying the 1,000-yen (£5.50) admission fee I went into the museum.



The Japanese Architecture exhibition focused on the different styles of architecture popping up in the country from the 60s to the 90s and was pretty interesting, but the star of the show for me was the building itself. My favourite piece within the museum has to be The Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich, which was commissioned and incorporated into the original design and build of the museum. It sits perfectly within one of the museum’s courtyard in the centre of the building. When viewed from the deck the pool appears to be filled with water, when in fact it's only a layer of water around 10cm deep which is suspended over a piece of thick transparent glass. Below the glass is an empty space that's accessible to the public.

 

There was also a mini exhibition on called 'Architecture for Dogs'. No photographs were allowed within the exhibit but it was basically mini cool looking chairs and stairs for dogs ... the Japanese do love their pets!

 


From here, with the rain easing up a touch, I made my way to the Naga-machi Samurai District, an area I was really excited to check out. Nagamachi was a samurai district located at the foot of the former Kanazawa Castle, where samurai and their families used to live. The area preserves a historic atmosphere with its remaining samurai residences, earthen walls, private entrance gates, narrow lanes and water canals. This is one of the few areas to not have been devasted by fires over the centuries, so is exactly how it was when the Samurai lived here. It was an amazing feeling walking down the narrow lanes thinking that Samurai had lived their lives down these streets. When in the centre of the district it really feels like you've stepped back in time.




Most of the buildings are still private houses and cannot be viewed by the public, but one place I'd been told of was Nomura-ke, a restored samurai residence displaying the lifestyle and artifacts of the era. This place was amazing. The garden within the centre of the house was truly beautiful; you could imagine samurai kneeling down on the porch on a sunny afternoon the Nomura were a high ranked samurai family who, like many other samurai, went broke when Japan's feudal era came to an end with the Meiji Period.


 

After roaming the streets for a good hour I made my way to the Omi-cho Market, via checking out the shrine I saw last night but in daylight as I had to walk past it on route to the market. The Pocket WiFi from Japan Experience came in handy throughou the day yet again because I could follow maps on my phone from location to location meaning I didn't have to rely on buses as the stops were so close to eachother.


 

The market has been around since the 18th century and has been going strong ever since, now being a favoured tourist attraction due to the hectic atmosphere with each store trying to shout louder than their neighbours to grab your attention. There are around 170 stores including a large number of fish stores that sell fresh fish and seafood caught in the Sea of Japan, vegetable stores that sell unique Kaga vegetables, fruit stores and dried food with a few sushi restaurants popping up in-between.
Crabs, yellowtail, and small shrimp from the Sea of Japan are all big hits on the market. The majority of crabs and lobsters are still alive but on ice to keep them fresh. Most of the stores have No Photography signs up so I didn’t get that many shots of the crab stalls, but here's some of the bustling market.


From here I went into a shopping centre across the road to get out of the rain ... little did I know that it was an arcade for women. The ball dropped after visiting 3 of the 5 floors and there being nothing but women’s clothing and beauty shops. I did get a few odd looks, but I just nodded and smiled as if to look like I knew where I was ... and that I meant to be there! :/




Luckily as with most shopping centres in Japan, the basement floor was a food court FOR BOTH SEXES, so I had a look around at what was on sale to see if anything grabbed my attention that I could pick up for dinner. There was so much on offer with some crazy looking seafood, but I ended up going for the salmon sushi / sashimi combo with ginger, soy sauce and wasabi - it was glorious! I didn't go for the strawberry and kiwi fruit sandwich!! (It's no wonder why there was 10% off!)




On the way back to the hotel I popped into the local convenience store (which out here are really convenient as they are pretty much on every other corner), as I wanted something sweet after my sushi. I thought I'd try something different to the Snickers or Kitkat on offer so went for a local delicacy of a red bean paste filled 'ball' and some green tea chocolate. In hindsight I should have stuck with the Snickers; The red paste ball was not nice at all, the outer texture was rather synthetic and there the filling was a mixture of paste and whole beans. But to be fair to the Japanese, the green tea chocolate tastes exactly like green tea ... but that is not a good combination!! 


 

After a long day of getting pretty cold and wet it was time for me to head back to the hotel feeling like I’d achieved a lot in one day, so was time to take a hot shower and devour this sushi. I have an early start in the morning for a whistle-stop tour of Takayama.
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