Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Today was hot. It wasn’t supposed to be. The forecast said 77 F (25 C), but when I returned home in the afternoon from exploring, the same forecast said the temperature topped out at 88 F (31 C). That was a nasty little trick to play on me. I almost didn’t make it back…
In contrast to yesterday, which was by all accounts a lazy day, I blitzed a good portion of cultural sites I had yet to see. I started off by getting a new bus pass, then grabbed an early bus from Kanazawa Station to stop #10, which is where most people go in order to visit the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art – one of Kanazawa’s biggest draws. However, I went in the opposite direction, at least to start out, because I wanted to find the Ishikawa Prefectural Noh Theater, and hopefully catch a performance. I was unlucky, or stupid, or both, because no performance was scheduled for today. But an exceedingly nice older gentleman who worked there took it upon himself to give me a guided tour through the theater, even demonstrating the movements that Noh actors do, reciting some Noh dialogue, showing me the stage and how the acoustics work, and then taking me into a back room and playing a Noh video for me – it turned out to be a five-minute video about tourism in Kanazawa, but I took advantage of the cool room and a place to sit down. He easily gave me 20 minutes of his time, which was great for me.
From there it was a short walk to the Nakamura Museum, but because I chose to go the back way along a path that meandered behind the Ishikawa Art Museum, down a stairway set beside a small waterfall, and then through a small area with two or three tree-hidden buildings, I had a hard time finding the place.
But I did, after all, only to find the museum had closed in preparation for a new exhibit that would open in two or three more days. Again, though, I came across someone extremely nice and accommodating, and she unlocked the former, about-to-be-cleared-out exhibit on tea ceremony ceramic ware and let me wander through it at my leisure. Not only that, she waved off the ¥200 entrance fee and then let me go through the charming garden behind the museum. It was an auspicious start to the day, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Despite its seemingly out-of-the-way location, the Nakamura Museum is only about 150 meters from the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, which had been partially closed a few days earlier when I attempted to visit it. It was fairly packed today, and again it was partially closed-off, but there were still quite a number of interesting exhibits to see. I’m not a big fan of contemporary art, so I wasn’t that taken by what I saw, but it was still easily worth the trip there as well as the ¥350 entrance fee. For parents traveling with young children, the museum provides a playroom and kids’ activities, and there’s also a museum shop and café inside. The museum’s hours vary, and Monday it’s closed. For more info on the museum, check its website: www.kanazawa21.jp.
At this point I was getting hungry, and the temperature was rapidly climbing higher, but I wanted to visit Kanazawa Castle before stopping for lunch – a possible end to the day’s main exploring. I walked toward Korinbo, Kanazawa’s business district, where I came across a sculpture by Kori Junji called Hashire! (走れ!), or Run! I took a couple photos, felt myself baking in the sun, and hurried back along my way.
I got sidetracked again about ten minutes later when I came upon an old shrine called Ozaki Jinja, which is dedicated to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu-o-Minokami.
This was a peaceful spot, and one of the things I liked most about it – though I was also confused upon seeing it – was that two of the dog statues on the premises were caged like actual dogs might be. I’m not sure if that was meant to symbolically protect visitors, or if the cage was there to protect the statues of the dogs from some outside element – or perhaps from neighborhood cats, or the many crows which are about equal in size to these dog statues.
From Ozaki Jinja it was only about a 3-minute walk to Otebori Moat, a beautiful area with viewing platforms (watch the carp swim-waddle to where you stand) and potted flowers.
I’m sure that when the foliage in Kanazawa changes colors, this is an exceptionally beautiful area to visit. Too bad I missed it by a month…
I entered Kanazawa-jo (Kanazawa Castle) at Otemon Gate, a short, steep climb that ends where the expansive garden area begins.
There were several groups of students eating lunch in what little shade was available – both groups in the photos enjoyed practicing their English with me. I asked them in Japanese if their lunch was good, and in English they surprised me with a chorus of “It’s yummy!”
Anyway, after taking a short rest and chugging a bottle of apple juice I bought from a vending machine, I continued toward Hishi Yagura and Gojikken Nagaya fortifications, which somehow – maybe it was the moat, which I wanted to pour down my throat – seemed invitingly cool.
The castle was really pretty fascinating even though I didn’t have a great deal of information about it in English. It was my first Japanese castle, at least to enter, and I enjoyed my time here (aside from the sweltering heat) a great deal.
The castle also offers some great views, and there are some surprising features to the architecture such as gaps in the floor above the moat where stones were hurled at invaders, slatted windows that resisted the enemy scaling up and inside, and examples of how the castle was constructed. From what I understand, the castle, or the first vestige of it, was constructed in 1546 and housed the Maeda clan for 14 generations.
By the time I backtracked to Otemon Gate and made my way back to the bus stop at Kenrokuen Garden, I was less hungry than simply craving something cold to drink and a place to rest my exhausted body. I chose a small husband-and-wife-run restaurant on the corner beside the bus stop, ordered tempura udon, and started slurping at the complimentary tea I was served.
At this point I was too hot to be hungry, but I did my best with this dish, which was equally tasty and interesting. I say interesting because of the mushrooms used for this dish. I assume they were seasonal, and I’ve had nothing like them before, at least not with udon.
The lunch ran me ¥980 ($11.76), which seemed pretty reasonable (especially since tipping isn’t done in Japan).
Somehow I was craving iced coffee and sugar as soon as I stepped out of the restaurant, and whaddaya know but there was a café next door with a sign in the door about a “cake and coffee set.”
Even though it cost ¥600 ($7.20), it was exactly what I needed. What I didn’t need, however, was the ice on top of my chocolate cake. But no matter. I just put the whipped cream with gold flecks on top of it and forgot about it.
I came home and showered and drank about ten glasses of water.
By the time dinner rolled around, I wasn’t sure where to go or what I was in the mood for. I headed in the direction of Omicho Market, which is about a 12-minute walk from Kanazawa Station. After about 11 minutes of walking I was standing at a red light when I suddenly felt a strong pull back towards where I came from. My mood for something specific had arrived, and I felt I was in the wrong place. What I really wanted was to wander down some of the residential backstreets near my hotel to see what I could find. I thought there might be a nice little neighborhood sushi shop where I could plop down for a while, so I turned back and gave it a shot. It was the right decision. At night the backstreets take on a life of their own – it’s still quiet, but when the sky darkens and the street lights come on, the neighborhoods become something entirely different than what they’re like during the day.
I took my sweet time walking, then came across a sign that said Akame Sushi. That was enough right there to draw me in.
This place was amazing. Not simply because the food was good, but because the family who runs it was incredibly nice. We spoke Japanese the whole time, which, when it goes well, is a special treat for me anyway, and not only was I talking to the chef, his wife, and their daughter, but also two of the other customers, who were in town from Tokyo on business.
I also ordered a salad of seasonal veggies (kaga yasai) in a shiso (perilla leaf) sauce that was insanely good.
The sushi came in at ¥2000 ($24.01), the salad at ¥700 ($8.40), and the bottle of Fukumitsuya sake – brewed in Kanazawa – that I ordered was ¥900 ($10.80). It was a splurge, yes, like everything has been a splurge up to now. This is getting ridiculous, I know. I think tomorrow I’ll just eat sandwiches from 7-11.
And if that wasn’t enough, on my way home I passed through a department store (it’s a short-cut to my hotel) where I couldn’t manage to pass up a brilliant idea in east-meets-west desserts: a green tea-flavored mochi doughnut. That is, doughnut on the outside and mochi on the inside. Not only that, but the mochi was filled with a mild vanilla cream! It was utterly brilliant. And at ¥157 ($1.88), it was almost reasonably priced.
And if you’re shaking your head thinking that I’m a complete pig (or thung nuoc gao), let me just say that if I hadn’t stopped for a mochi doughnut I never would have found THIS gem of embarrassingly ridiculous English in Japan. I was laughing so hard, and drawing attention to myself for it, that I couldn’t manage to ask the employees why they had a bread shop called Bigot.