NB: This was originally on the main site but for some reason now no longer displays so it’s been imported to our blog.

On the 18th July 2002 Kiyomi and I left Okazaki to travel to Kanazawa, having gotten up at 7:15 we took her father’s car, as it was bigger, faster and also had GPS, so there would be no way we’d get lost.

After driving for about three hours we arrived at Kanazawa, having passed, for the first time, the Sea of Japan on the way. We found the hotel with no major problem (thanks to GPS), parked the car and went out to eat lunch.

It must have looked pretty strange for the hotel staff to see a couple walk out of the hotel/lift who they didn’t see enter the hotel. Since we’d just arrived we didn’t have a clue where to go for lunch so we headed to JR (Japan Rail) Kanazawa station and walked around the food court area. We saw a variety of shops, from the typical Japanese fast food to McDonalds (more on this later) and normal family restaurant type places. – We settled on a normal restaurant.

During lunch we thought that two nights would be too short, so we decided if it was possible we’d extend our stay by one more night. After lunch we headed back to the hotel we got the extension and checked in.

After checking in we decided to go to Kenroku-en. Kenroku-en is one of the top three gardens in Japan. We decided to drive to Kenroku-en because:

  1. It’d be quicker than taking the bus
  2. GPS in the car, so we could do it ourselves and not get lost
  3. Air conditioning!  🙂

We went out and followed the route that GPS told us to – what a pain in the backside. Driving around a foreign city for the first time, doesn’t take much for the old stress levels to increase. Wrong turns, wrong lanes. Ugh. We drove around the inner city centre about three times before we managed to arrive at Kenroku-en.

Most parking “P” places charge in the country, as you know, so across from Kenroku-en there was a museum, I think it was called the “Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Traditional Products and Crafts”. We decided to park there, as it was free. We parked and skipped across the road to visit Kenroku-en.

The garden was quite nice and peaceful at first, we got some nice photos, but before too long what should come trooping around the corner but a frigging tour group complete with a guide at the front who was telling the group all about the garden. She might as well have been talking to a brick wall as nobody was listening to her and it was pretty difficult to ignore her as she was speaking through a megaphone! It just shattered the peaceful surroundings of the garden.

We spent about an hour in the garden, most Japanese gardens are NOT natural, as every square centimetre of this place had been carefully planned down to the last rock. Man made all the way. It had some nice grassy areas; of course you weren’t allowed to walk on them. I read that it took about 200 years to make the garden what it is today.

After the garden we went back to the museum and decided to have a look inside. Good thing we did. Inside there was a tonne of local artwork, pottery and bronze statues from local artists old and new. Some of it was quite nice – no photos allowed (of course). There was also a national treasure on display – an incense burner in the shape of a pheasant.

After the museum we drove (more aggravation) to the Nagamachi district – this place was built in the same style of the houses, paths and roads from the Edo period. Long winding narrow streets, running waterways, high walls, slated roofs. Nice and peaceful – the upkeep on these places must cost a small fortune. Just walking around the Nagamachi district we were able to get a feel of the place and soak up the atmosphere (we weren’t the only tourists walking around that day, I guess it must appeal to everybody).

After that we decided to head on back as we’d been on the go all day – driving, visiting, driving, visiting, driving, driving and visiting. After driving back to the hotel we headed out to dinner. We went to a typical Japanese restaurant – had tempura for dinner.

The next morning we were up at sparrow fart, and we decided that we weren’t going to drive around all day. Instead we’d take the bus. We bought an all day local tour bus loop ticket. Buses every 15 minutes running on a city loop. We started out at 9:00am on the dot, after getting up at 7:30 (these early mornings are going to kill me) and after an all you-can- eat breakfast we were ready for the day. Bollocks it was raining, so we had to lug our umbrellas with us. Sitting on the bus I realised that it was a lot less stressful than driving the car. Our first stop was on our second day was the Higashi-chaya district.

We went to Yasue Kinpaku Kogeikan – the Yasue Gold Leaf Craft Centre, most of the gold leaf that is produced in Japan comes from this area. We were shown how the gold is beaten down to various thicknesses from 1/10000mm to 3/100mm thick. Two grams of gold can cover a tatami mat (6 foot by 2 foot). After the demonstration we were given some tea to drink that was sprinkled with gold!! Gulp. Didn’t/couldn’t taste the gold and it wasn’t stuck between my teeth. It is said that gold is supposed to help your kidneys/liver. The shop had everything imaginable for sale – gold covered chopsticks, gold covered glasses, gold covered this, gold covered that. I looked for gold covered knives, forks and spoons, but no suck luck.

After that we went back to Higashi-chaya district and explored that area. This old area is also known as Higashi (East) geisha district, as long ago Geishas used to perform there. The buildings have been kept in exactly the same style and condition from times past and the roads are completely paved.

We visited an old geisha house called “Shima”; we had to remove our shoes before we entered. We were allowed to explore both floors of this old building. We had a look in every room. It was quite interesting to see the different rooms inside a house this old, we were allowed to take pictures inside the house.

We went all over Shima house, every room, main guest room, kitchen, living room, (if it can be called that) The English language handout we received mentioned that the upkeep costs an arm and a leg, due, no doubt to all the tourists going through it.

After we had seen Shima house we wandered around Higashi (East) Geisha district a bit more. We ended up going to a silver shop (like the gold shop), it was quite nice, with a strong air conditioner. Nice and cool/quiet, that was until a large tourist group entered, time to leave.

We then boarded the next “loop bus” and proceeded to “Terashima Samurai House” – this was an old style Samurai house that had also been preserved. It was quite nice, but after you’ve seen a few of these houses – tatami floor, low ceilings and sliding doors, it all starts to look the same.

On the way to Terashima Samurai House we passed a Japanese restaurant in a hotel, so it wasn’t a huge decision where to have lunch, a quick dash across the road, up to the 3rd floor and we were sitting down to have lunch – lunch looked like a work of art. Somebody must’ve taken a lot of trouble to arrange everything just so on the plate.

After lunch had settled we ventured back out, but now all traces of rain had gone, we were stuck with our umbrellas. We waited for the next loop bus and stopped off at the main gate where Kanazawa Castle used to be. If I remember correctly, it is said that Kanazawa castle was burnt down so many times that the locals got sick of rebuilding it, so now there’s nothing there. At least they’re honest about it. I suppose if it were to be rebuilt again it’d be steel with a lift inside (just like Nagoya castle). However the gate was still there, the roof of the gate was made of lead, and it was said that if Japan needed to they would have melted the roof down for use as bullets in WW2.

Talk about crazy this place was crawling with people of varying ages and nationalities – it was one of the main tourist draws of the area. There were some Japanese people dressed up in the costumes from the time period of the original castle, which added a bit to the atmosphere.

After we finished walking around Kanazawa Castle Gate we continued along the “day tour bus” route and stopped off at the river, nothing exciting here, as a river is a river, especially this one. But it was nice and quiet and quite windy which made a nice change. We got off the bus and walked to Ninja-dera. We had to make reservations in advance to get in to Ninja-dera (same day reservations were acceptable). We arrived at 3:00 (ish) for our 3:20 tour, which was entirely in Japanese. We made in plenty of time, I don’t know how early we were as my watch had stopped due to the humidity (rotten o-ring I found out years later!).

From the outside Ninja-dera looks two stories tall but in fact it has over 26 rooms and is 4 stories tall. There were all sorts of secret trap doors, sliding doors, floors and walls. The reason for all these hidden rooms was to hide in and attack intruders from should they manage to break in. Reasons why there were four stories hidden as two. Back then the law stated that no building should be over two stories tall so from all outward appearances it looks legitimate but once inside that was not the case (as long as you knew where to go and what rooms to enter, you could find the extra floors). No pictures were allowed unfortunately.

The tour took 30 minutes and was very enjoyable, it would be a nice place to live, as some of the rooms were out of the way/very private. You could get some serious work done, or be left alone. There was one room that could be only opened from the outside, so if you went in to commit suicide (as this was the room’s intended purpose) you couldn’t open the door yourself if you changed your mind. Though I don’t see a samurai changing his mind about committing suicide.

After Ninja-dera we walked back to the next bus stop and returned to the hotel, it was now 5:30. We decided that we didn’t want to spend a third day here, so we cancelled that and used our free McDonalds tickets that the hotel had given us and had a quick bite for dinner (yes McDonalds – hey it was free).

The next morning up at sparrow fart again (7:00am) and had the all-you-can-eat breakfast. We then went to the local fish market (Omicho) as Kiyomi wanted to buy some of the local seafood that Kanazawa is famous for and bring it back with us. Nice and early, cool in other words.

After that I took a few pictures of the local area where we stayed and drove back to Okazaki – we both took turns driving. Cheers GPS. On the way back we stopped twice on the road as all the traffic was at a standstill. Bloody holiday drivers.

We finally got back, we saw one nice thing on the trip home: Imagine the pine-covered mountains in the background and in front of them typical Japanese houses – tiled rooves, sliding doors etc. and in front of the houses green rice fields stretching from the houses to the highway. And right between houses with the rice fields and the mountains what should come and appear but the Shinkansen. It was the “typical” image of modern and ancient Japan all rolled into one, by the time I got my camera out we had passed it, gone! Arh. Oh well.

Kanazawa was a nice place to visit. There was a bit to see and to do. Driving made it all the more easier to enjoy ourselves and plan our time there. Should we ever go again next time I plan to do more.

– David

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