Today I woke up feeling a bit sick, so I skipped breakfast, which I was “scheduled” to eat between 7-7:30 a.m., and bought a full-day pass (¥500) for the Kanazawa Loop Bus. With so many places I want to visit, it was difficult to choose where to go first. So I decided to hit the site that Kanazawa is perhaps most famous for – Kenrokuen Garden. The garden is considered to be one of the finest ever designed during the Edo period, and even now it’s part of the triumvirate of Japan’s most famous gardens.
Kenrokuen was originally built in 1676 as part of Kanazawa Castle, though at that time the garden was much smaller than now, having started as a rest house. In was expanded over time, but in 1759 it went up in flames, then was restored soon after, with more additions, including the various streams that now meander through the space and help to create the strolling-style landscape garden that we can see today. Kenrokuen was opened to the public in 1874.
I entered at Katsurazaka gate and climbed up a path, avoiding large groups of Chinese tourists taking pictures of each other, toward the serene and uncrowded Hisagaoke Pond.
I came to a small, open teahouse called Yugaotei, which is the oldest building at Kenrokuen, having been built in 1774 for the purpose of holding tea ceremonies.
Opposite this was a more modern teahouse, still in use for visitors, though it wasn’t open when I arrived.
I continued on, turning past several other teahouses, and tried to stay in the shade as much as possible since the temperature, even at 9 a.m., was blistering. There were numerous birds chirping away in the trees, though the cicadas buzzed over them in most areas. It was quite a different scene from what I’m used to in Vietnam!
The next place I reached was Kasumigaike Pond. The island in the middle is shaped like a tortoise shell and represents eternal youth and longevity.
As I looped around the pond, I ran into the Chinese tour groups again. They were busy having their photos taken, one by one, on the stone bridge at the end of the pond where I had come to, so I didn’t wait around a long time here.
I passed by them and came to Uchihashitei, which are the connected houses in the photo above, and found a horde of hungry, or more likely just greedy, carp. They were climbing over each others' backs and opening their mouths wide, as if I had bits of bread to wing down their throats.
There were numerous bridges here, some made of stone, some of wood, and some consisting of rocks placed one after another over shallow water. I like the effect of the high grasses along the stream banks.
I took this photo at a slightly odd angle, mostly because any other angle would have captured the Chinese tourists posing before the path to this site, the Meijikinen Monument, or statue to Prince Yamato Takeru. I don’t know who Mr. Yamato was, but I assume he was fairly important to get a statue of himself built here.
Opposite the statue was a beautifully gnarled pine tree, known in Japanese as neagarinomatsu. As I stood contemplating this tree, as well as my surroundings in Kenrokuen Garden, I wondered how different this must look in different seasons, particularly under cover of snow (of which Kanazawa gets a lot) and also in the spring when a sea of irises apparently blooms and makes purple a prominent color here.
Before I entered the park a young man hanging around the entrance gate by himself saw me coming and greeted me in English. I was a bit surprised by his greeting, as Japanese are normally more reserved, but we got to talking and it turned out that he was stopping here on a bicycle trip from Osaka, where he lives, to Hokkaido. He was on day 3 – a gadget on his handlebar showed that he’d traveled 306 km since setting out – and would continue on later this morning. He told me that he’d biked across Canada three years earlier, and he loved traveling in America, especially to Miami, where the partying was best. His name was Nari, and I signed a giant handkerchief he’d brought to collect signatures of people he met along his journey. Good luck, Nari. Ganbatte ne!
I exited at the Zuishinzaka gate where a large samurai house sits at the end of another pond full of lotus flowers. (Unfortunately it was closed.)
Across from this was a small but interesting shrine called Kanazawajinja. I always like seeing prayer boards and paper-prayer trees.
I wandered around, stopping at other shrines and poking my head into the odd store and teashop, but was really on my way to four different museums I wanted to see.
Somehow I couldn’t find the Kanazawa Noh Museum (how I missed it, I haven’t a clue), so I went instead to the Honda Museum, which has a decent collection of art, samurai armor, and utensils that belonged to the Honda family of the Maeda clan, a hugely powerful family whose influence on culture and art largely allowed Kanazawa to become what it is today.
After this I went next door to the Ishikawa Prefectural Art Museum, only to find that it was closed. A woman working in the café there came out to tell me this, and when I asked when it would be open again, she just said, “It depends.” Hmm. Not sure I’ll make a special trip back here with odds as low as that…
I was pretty close to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, one of Kanazawa’s main attractions, so I decided to head there. Again, though, the museum’s exhibition room was closed, but would open halfway tomorrow. I was allowed to explore the ground floor for free, but I’ve decided to come back this weekend sometime.
By now it was 11:30 and I was feeling a bit worse in the heat. I thought I’d better catch the Loop Bus, see somewhere else, and maybe grab a bite to eat. I passed the Kanazawa Castle Park, but most of it seemed to be undergoing restoration, and I couldn’t find an easy entrance from where I was. I told myself to try another day, got the next bus that came, and headed for the Korinbo area of town.
Amazingly, once I got off the bus I managed to find my next destination, the Naga-machi Yuzenkan, or Yuzen Silk Center. Here one can see various examples of kaga yuzen, or kimono-dyeing; one can even give it a shot if so inclined. I didn’t find the place worth the trip or the ¥350 entrance fee, though with a stronger dollar I guess I wouldn’t have minded…
Fortunately the Yuzenkan was close to the Naga-machi district, an old, nicely preserved samurai quarter hugged by winding, burbling canals. Not only were the streets and houses here beautiful, there were also a number of interesting shops, especially confectionaries. I couldn’t help myself and ended up going inside one right away.
This confectionary is called Taro. It's located at 1-3-32 Nagamachi and is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Their telephone number is 076-223-2838.
Taro has an amazing selection of confections, all incredibly delicious. They speak some English here, and there's a small cafe in back where you can have sweets and tea.
After an hour in Naga-machi I was in dire need of water, and probably needed some food since I still hadn’t eaten anything except for a few samples of obscenely tasty confections. I grabbed the Loop Bus again and headed to Omicho Market, Kanazawa’s largest, and quickly bumped into some of the biggest slabs of grilled eel I’ve ever seen.
I ordered the second cheapest (they ranged in price from ¥1300-2500, or $15.57-$29.95) and one of the workers literally ran out of his shop, disappeared for 7 or 8 minutes, and then ran back through the crowds with a takeaway container of rice. He cut up my grilled eel and I brought it back home, where I ate it, drank about a liter of water, showered, and then collapsed in bed for two hours.
It was around 5:30 by the time I managed to rouse myself out of slumber and go back outside. I took a nice walk back to the Omicho Market area but rather than brave the endless warrens of shops and customers I slipped into a charming café I’d seen a few times in passing. As you can see by the sign in front, it was called Caffé Arco Mercato.
I chose a seat inside rather than outside, which was still a bit too warm for my liking, and was handed an English menu.
I ordered the most exotic-sounding drink, “green tea cappuccino of red bean (noto dainagon)” despite its ¥480 ($5.75) price tag.
That's a cappuccino with whipped cream, green tea syrup, and sweet-glazed adzuki beans. It was great!
I also got a slice of Japanese-style roll cake – macha (green tea) flavored (¥260 / $3.11).
By the time I was finished, and had done a bit of reading, I could barely drag myself outside again. But I did, and came across a suit – or a suit and armor – shop. If I’d had more energy I might have gone inside and seen what kind of armor selection they had. That’s one item my wardrobe lacks.