Thursday, November 29, 2012

28/11/12 – 29/11/12 Kanazawa, Kyoto and Cooking


Our day started by having breakfast at our lovely ryokan. Today was our last day in Kanazawa, and we wanted to make the most of it. What better way to do so than with a hearty breakfast?

Afterwards, we gathered our things, and went to check out. We gave our gratitude to our lovely host, Mai, who like always, was very graceful and appreciative for us staying there. She said “thank you very much for your long stay.” From this we gathered that most people must only stay one night or so, but we enjoyed our three nights in Kanazawa, as it gave us ample time to explore the town at a relaxed pace.

We had a fair amount of time left before our train left for Kyoto in the afternoon, so in the meantime, we decided to see Kenroku-en, the garden that we saw at night at the beginning of our time in Kanazawa. The daylight and pleasant weather would give us the opportunity to appreciate its full beauty.

And beautiful it was. I can see why it is ranked as one of the “top 3 gardens in Japan”. Firstly, it is massive, and each area you visit has its own detailed design and purpose – one area is a plum blossom grove, so during the springtime, it flowers and looks stunning, whereas another area has a lot of trees that have leaves that turn red during the autumn season. It’s all very well designed – no matter what time of year it is, there is always beauty to behold within Kenroku-en.

One practice which we had noticed around Kenroku-en (and Kanazawa as a whole), is that trees all over the park were having their branches tied to tall poles at the center of the trees. This puzzled me for a little while, until I realised that winter was coming. They were doing this to help preserve the trees through the heavy snowfall that Kanazawa experiences. This way, the pole in the ground and the strong ropes would take the weight of the snow, and the tree’s beauty would be preserved for the following year.

There is a real “castle town” feel to Kanazawa – I’d say it is mainly because of the excellently preserved districts and the amazing castle and gardens, but I did notice one other thing that I’ve never seen anywhere else before – when you looked to the sky, you could constantly see birds of prey circling, looking for their next meal. It definitely conjures up imagery of a feudal-Japan age.

After spending a good hour leisurely strolling around Kenroku-en, and taking in its beauty, we headed to our next spot for the day – the Nagamachi Samurai district. I didn’t really have much of an idea what was there, but I heard the word “Samurai”, and I was instantly keen to check out the area. It was a fair walk from Kenroku-en, but Kanazawa is a fairly small city, so it was only 30 minutes or so on foot. A bus trip would have saved us plenty of time, but we weren’t in any particular hurry, and the weather wasn’t an issue, so we decided to walk.

The area wasn’t all that well-defined. It sort of just blended from regular residential buildings into this samurai-styled canal area. It was very pretty, and it had definitely been preserved quite well. As we walked around, we stumbled upon another of Kanazawa’s big attractions which we had no idea actually existed. It was the “Nomura Samurai House”, a house that was once owned by a renowned Samurai family. We had a look through it, where it had several examples of Samurai armour and weaponry. It also had a very picturesque garden at the back of the house. Very much an interesting detour in our sightseeing.

It was starting to get close to when our train’s time of departure, so we started to walk back to our ryokan. Along the way, we stumbled upon the “Life Coordinate Store”. From what Emma and I could deduce, it was the Japanese equivalent of a Crazy Clarks. Nothing had prices on it, so we didn’t know how much anything would cost until we got to the register. Thankfully, most of the things we bought were only 105JPY, so it wasn’t an unpleasant surprise. I bought a few different types of candy – some tomato flavoured ones (yes, tomato), and ones that I like to call “THE MYSTERY PACKET” – it has no picture of what the candy contains, and there was no English description anywhere on the packet. I think I’ll give them as a gift to one of my unsuspecting friends. It should be interesting.

We then headed back to the hotel, got our bags, and made the long trek to the train station. At the train station, we bought tickets to Kyoto, and we were finally able to secure reserved seating this time. Huzzah! We then bought some nice bento boxes for some lunch, and boarded our “Thunderbird 32” train bound for Kyoto.

What followed was a very smooth and relaxing 2.5 hour journey on the train. After eating our lunch, we actually dozed off for an hour or so. There wasn’t all that much to see out the window – it was getting dark, and the train was speeding by too quickly to really take in what we were looking at. We did see some lovely forests and mountains though.

When we got in to Kyoto, it was literally a three minute walk from Kyoto station to our ryokan. I’m really digging this “short walk to accommodation” thing. I should do it more often!

After checking in, we decided to just relax and watch a bit of Japanese TV. Yes, it is a weird as everyone says it is. It’s bloody bizarre, in fact. These days though, with so many weird youtube videos online, you sort of become desensitised to it. That is, until you realise that there is an anthropomorphised tiger dressed as a waiter in a French cafĂ© dancing around, trying to sell you a laptop/tablet device by Intel. Yes, this is an ad for Intel, the CPU manufacturer. And this is considered normal. Our ads are really boring by comparison! Also, every single advertisement seems to end with a 1.5 second jingle of the company’s name. I think it gets to the stage where when every company has a jingle, they lose their effectiveness.

For dinner, we went to “Maragume Udon”, a place that we visited last time we were in Kyoto. On our way there, we had a slight moment of panic, when we thought temporarily that it had closed down. Thankfully though, it was just in a different place to what we remembered. The food was just as awesome as last time, for me at least. Since our last visit to Japan, Emma has become gluten intolerant. Even though the Japanese use low-gluten wheat flour in most of their cooking, Udon noodles are made completely out of this flour, so they contain a considerable amount of gluten in them. As such, Emma’s meal was pretty much a bowl of food poisoning. She decided to eat it regardless, even with the consequences that would follow her for the rest of the evening.

We then went into the nearby “Loft” department store. When you come to Japan, visit a “Loft”. They are the king of awesome things. They sell pretty much everything homewares and clothing-wise, but it isn’t really ordinary stuff. There’s loads of stuff that makes you say “holy crap that’s awesome”. That’s saying a lot with the sheer amount of awesome stuff that is in Japan.


The highlight of today, and really the only thing we actually did with our day, was a Japanese home cooking class. The day started with us catching a bus to a fairly northern area of Kyoto – fairly far away from most of the touristy areas. We had been told to meet Taro-san, our instructor there. When we got off the bus, there were four other young, Caucasian people waiting at the bus stop. Without saying anything to them, I knew we were in the right spot.

A few minutes later, Taro-san arrived. He apologised for making us all wait, even though he was only a minute later than he said he would arrive! I love the punctuality of the Japanese people!

We then walked a short distance to his house. When we got inside, he introduced us to his wife, Yoshiko-san, and his adorable daughter, Haruko-chan. Throughout the whole lesson, Haruko-chan played happily away, as all four year olds do. She was incredibly cute. We all then sat down and Taro-san took us through the recipes that we were going to cook. As we chatted away, we soon discovered that not only were all six of the students in the class today from Australia, but we were all from Brisbane! Bloody Aussies, we’re everywhere!

Two of the members in the class, Nathan and Isabella, were cooking the famous Kobe beef, so as such, Taro-san gave us a bit of background on the exact definition of Kobe beef.

Essentially, it is a high-class brand of beef that comes from only specific bloodlines of cattle, which are farmed by only specific farms in the Kobe region, and then are slaughtered in only certain slaughterhouses in the region. The entire process is highly regulated, with a certificate of authenticity given with each piece of beef sold. Did I mention that it is expensive? Well, it is. According to Taro-san, at a restaurant, a small sized steak of Kobe beef will set you back between 12,000 and 15,000JPY, or between $140 and $180 AUD. For a single meal, that’s mind-bogglingly expensive!

A good way to think of it is like Champagne – only wine created in the Champagne region of France can bear its name. Clearly, it’s a highly exclusive delicacy.

Taro-san then took us through the preparation for each of our dishes. Today, we made quite a few side elements, as well as a main dish. We learned how to cook Dashi, the basic “stock” that is used in many elements of Japanese cooking, primarily soups. Additionally, we learned how to make Miso soup, stir fried root vegetables, various pickles, Japanese omelettes and other small side dishes.

Having eaten all of these side dishes quite regularly over the past week of being in Japan, I found it amazing to see how much effort went into creating them – here I was, every time I was eating all of these things, thinking that they just came from a packet and were just mass produced in some factory, but no. We learned how to make each of the elements, and they all tasted just as authentic as the side dishes I had with multiple meals over the past few days.

Our main meal which we cooked was Tsukune, which was a minced chicken dish. We used several elements in the dish, including ginger, soy sauce, mirin and Hikiji, one of the many types of seaweed used in Japanese cooking. It had a great “teriyaki” style flavour to it, but it was definitely a more refined flavour than what you get at your regular Japanese eatery place in Australia.
While we were cooking, and Taro-san instructed us, he answered any questions we had not only about the food, but about general Japanese life and things to do in Kyoto. While I really enjoyed the cooking experience itself, I found Taro-san’s insights into Japanese culture and general lifestyle equally as fascinating. It was wonderful to be able to chat with a local about Japan, without any form of language barrier between us. As I’ve said previously in the blog – I love being able to see a city from a local’s perspective. And while Taro-san didn’t exactly lead us around the city showing us the sights and sounds, I found the conversations I had with him about Kyoto to be invaluable.

After we had finished cooking, it was then time for the even more enjoyable part of the class – the eating part! Yoshiko-san, Taro-san’s wife, had laid out the table in a wonderfully ornate manner, just like at a Japanese restaurant. We all said “itadakimas”, and then tucked into our freshly cooked meals. Needless to say, it was all delicious. We chatted away over our early dinner about everybody’s experiences so far in Japan. The other class members had gone to some really interesting places in Japan that I hadn’t gone to yet – definitely adding them to the “next time” list!

Then, we thanked Taro-san for the wonderful afternoon, and then headed back out into the cold, wintery air of Kyoto. A long, peak-hour bus trip later, and we were back at Kyoto station. We decided to get some bento boxes for dinner, which we kept for much later in the night – we were still so full from Taro-san’s food!

Overall, I can’t recommend this cooking class enough. Don’t expect to go in and cook “Kaiseki” (Japanese haute cuisine) – expect to experience how people of everyday life in Japan prepare and cook their meals, as well as a fantastic insight into the modern Japanese household.

Tomorrow: Kyoto, and its fascinating temples!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

26/11/12 – 27/11/12 Kanazawa, the Land of Precipitation and Ninjas


Unfortunately, our first full day in Kanazawa was marked by a deluge of freezing cold rain. It was pouring, and according to the internet, there was a 90% chance of rain all day. Not looking good for our sightseeing activities. We decided as such to just relax and take the day slowly, and hopefully wait for a break in the rain to go outside.

After sleeping in well into the late morning, we eventually decided to get up and try and deal with the inclement weather. Our first stop was just down the road from our Ryokan, the Omichi fish market. This was not nearly as confronting as the similar wet markets we saw in Hong Kong. Instead, it just had the fresh fish and crab on display, most of which appeared to have been pre-deadificated. Speaking of crab, there were loads of them, as the crab season had just started in Japan. They were the most vivid shades of red, almost like the autumn leaves that are flourishing all over Japan at this time of year. They were really pretty, but also really expensive. Some crabs were fetching up to 12,000JPY! I don’t know how good that crab would taste, but you’d definitely want to make several meals out of it for that price.

We then headed for the Higashi Chaya geisha district – an area famous for its arts, crafts and tea houses. We browsed through the picturesque streets, and found a few things here and there to buy. They specialised in gold leaf items, and silk weaves. Most of it was actually authentic, being made either locally, or at least in Japan. No geishas to be seen in this district though – probably due to the really heavy rainfall we were experiencing.

The rain was relentless, and the wind was getting quite angry as well, so we soon decided to head back to the ryokan, where we spent another hour or two just relaxing in the pleasant surrounds of the ryokan.

We then headed out for a dinner in the Omichi Market. Our first intention was to go to a particular restaurant, as recommended by Mai, our hostess. However, the menu was completely in Japanese – including the prices. There were no roman numbers anywhere. Normally, I’m game to try most things, but when I don’t even know how much I’m paying for them (especially when dinner at some Japanese restaurants can fetch upwards of 10,000JPY per person), I’m not entirely comfortable with doing that. As such, we decided to pass on this restaurant, and instead went to, yep, another soba and udon joint. As much as this is our “fall back” dish in Japan, the food was still really tasty, and it came with a few side dishes aside from just the noodles and tempura.

Afterwards, we headed back to the room, where we Skyped with our loved ones at home. While it was far from the busiest day we’ve had on the holiday so far, it was some much needed downtime on this holiday, and the surrounds couldn’t have been better.


Today was another rainy day so we had another really late start. When we did decide to go out and explore, we visited the Myoruji Temple, also known as the “ninja temple”. To get there, we could walk for about 30 minutes, or we could catch a bus. Given the threatening weather, we decided to take the latter option.

Catching a bus in Japan is quite confusing unless you’re paying attention. When you board, you board from the rear door of the bus. You collect a ticket from one of the dispenser machines, much like one does at the deli. It has a number printed on it that corresponds to what stop you got on at. At the front of the bus, there is a display showing the stop numbers, and the fare price, that updates the longer you stay on the bus. When you get off the bus, you drop your ticket and the fare onto this little conveyor belt thingy and then get off. It sounds strange, but it actually works quite well. Just gotta remember to take the ticket at the start, or else it all breaks down.

After getting off the bus, the weather started really showing its force. For a brief few seconds, there was what I like to call “angry snow”, also known as tiny hail pieces. We were counting it as snow though. Then, it quickly transitioned into really cold, windy rain. We walked quickly to the temple, huddling under our umbrellas as we went.

Inside the temple, we had to take part in a guided tour, as the temple itself was too old, fragile and dangerous to freely explore on one’s own. While the tour itself was in Japanese, it was still highly visual, and they gave us an English “read-along” booklet so we could still fully understand what was happening on the tour. It was a really fascinating experience. The temple held loads of ingenious trap doors and hidden chambers, including two way doors, see through stairs and enough tiny chambers for all manner of samurai to hide in. The tour guide demonstrated all of the various traps as we went. While they weren’t any sort of rube-goldberg type contraptions that were caused by stepping on a pressure plate, they were very practical traps that employed deception over sheer complexity, much like ninjas did. Funnily enough though, Myoruji Temple has nothing to do with Ninjas – it got the nickname because of the amount of traps inside the temple. It was primarily used as a warning post for Kanazawa castle, and also as a place for worship. This meant that it only really had the pre-allocated fifteen ninjas hiding within its walls, much like every other building in Japan.

Afterwards, we then had a look through the local stores and once again bought a few ceramic cups and other knick knacks. We have a real problem with buying knick knacks…

On our way back to the hotel, walking along the main road of Kanazawa. While we were walking, we turned to our right, and saw the most amazing temple. I read later that it was Oyama Jinja shrine. “Really pretty” fails to describe it. Moreover, its accompanying garden was amazing to look through. Every angle offered a perfect photo opportunity. The garden was laid out in such a way that no matter where you walked through it, you would end up walking on a circuit over the various ponds and bridges. It was clearly very well planned. There were also loads of koi carp in the pond, most of which followed you around, waiting for food. We ended up giving them some calorie mate, a type of shortbread biscuit thing, much to their fishy delight.

At dinner time, our hostess Mai recommended we went to a restaurant called “Itaru”. It was well worth following her advice. It was very much our kind of restaurant – really tasty food in a relaxed setting. We sat at the bar when eating our food, which was a fun experience. We were right next to the area where they prepared all of the food, so we had a front row seat to the action. My view however, was blocked by a menu card, but Emma assured me that it was very interesting to watch. While the food itself was quite expensive, being about 4,500JPY each (or about $50AUD), it was delicious. It was also the first time that we’d spent a significant amount of money on dinner so far on the trip, so it was about time that we had a treat. The sashimi was easily the freshest I’ve ever tasted, and the service by the owner, Itaru (of which the restaurant is named after) was fantastic. He spoke pretty good English, although after I complimented him on it, he showed me that he was actually using his smartphone to translate! Regardless of this, he was a great host, and he was a master at preparing sashimi. One dish was quite strange though. It was very thin greens, pickled in thick vinegar. It looked like the hair you pull out of the drain after a shower. It didn’t taste much better, either. I did manage to eat it all, but it was definitely one of the stranger things I’ve ever ate. Emma ranked it in her “top 10 most unpleasant foods ever”. Despite this, it was really a good meal overall. Probably my favourite meal of Japan so far, I’d say.

Kanazawa is COLD! Even though we are there in late Autumn, the temperature was getting down to about 3 degrees at night. While this isn’t the coldest temperatures I’ve experienced on this trip (Seoul got down to about -3 at night), it was the combination of the cold and the wet that really chilled you. It’d be great to see this place covered in snow, but I think that the sheer cold would actually kill me.

Finally, a note on the bathing system in Japan. This Ryokan we stayed at had a public bath system. Basically, you sit on a stool in a tiled room with a small hand held shower head. You then wash yourself all over, and then go for a sit in the hot bath. After the third night, I was quite comfortable with the procedure, but thankfully I hadn’t had to share the bath with anybody yet. Not sure how I’d feel about being naked in front of the other guests, especially when you’d have to see them at breakfast the next day. I guess it is something that is just more widely accepted in Japanese culture. I find it quite odd when they are such an outwardly-reserved culture in most aspects, but I’m definitely no expert on their culture, so I shouldn’t really comment.


Kanazawa! Pretty Gardens! Kyoto!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

24/11/12 – 25/11/12 – The Magic and Mystery of Rural Japan, and MOAR TRAINS!


After a restful night’s sleep in our amazing futon beds, Emma and I awoke about 10 minutes before it was time for us to have breakfast. At exactly 8am, we were escorted down to the dining room to have breakfast. Awaiting us each was a square plate with nine smaller square bowls on it, each containing a different breakfast dish. In addition, there was a nice hearty miso soup and rice waiting for us as well. Needless to say, breakfast was amazing. I managed to eat everything on my plate this time, which was a nice feeling. I also noticed that while we were dressed in our Yukatas (our traditional house robes), we were the only ones who appeared to have anything on underneath them. Once again this made us feel a bit out of place, but we did our best to enjoy it anyway. Besides, it wasn’t really our fault – the Yukatas were designed for short people, which we are not.

After breakfast, we headed back to our room, where our futons had been magically packed away. We sat up and watched the end of “My Neighbours the Yamadas”, which we started watching the previous night. Afterwards, we got up, got our things together, and went to check out of the Ryokan.

We heaved our huge bags down the steep stairs, and were soon greeted by not only the elderly man who ran the Ryokan, but by his wife and the cleaning lady as well. Clearly they enjoyed us staying here, which was a nice feeling indeed. They then proceeded to give us their own gifts in thanks for us staying there. We were given a lovely box of apple-based delicacies from the local apple orchards, a wooden teapot coaster carved into the shape of a monkey, and a cloth with all of the Kanji for the bath houses that dotted the town. Under each bath house name, there was the red stamp mark of each of the baths. They were the actual stamps too, not printed on or anything. I think you’re meant to do it yourself when you go and bathe in all of the different onsen, but given that we weren’t too keen on that idea, clearly he wanted to give us a memento of that aspect of the town anyway.

We then had a stroll around the town to kill some time before we had to head to the train station. We stopped in all of the local stores, and bought some souvenirs where we could. One particular store, which wasn’t very flashy from the outside, had some very nice looking ceramics, which were not too pricey to boot. It was run by a lovely old lady who was very gracious in the way she presented herself. She was very kind.

We then bought another apple each from the local market and began the long walk down to the train station. There was no snow to be seen this time, but the views of the surrounding mountains were still just as breathtaking. The spectacular autumn leaves on the hill were beautiful to look at – they covered the hills in veins of gold and red, contrasting stunningly with the evergreen pine trees. Really amazing stuff.

I stopped in at the local Lawson’s, before we boarded our train to Nagano. I grabbed us some tasty bento boxes for some lunch for the long journey ahead of us. What followed was an epic 5 hour journey across the countryside of Japan, travelling firstly back to Nagano, and then north through the Japan Alps to Naoetsu, where we then headed west along the northern Japan coast to Uozu. Finally, we caught another local train south and into the mountains where we reached our final destination of Unazuki, another small town at the foot of the mountains.

I won’t go through and laboriously describe each detail of our various train journeys. What I will say though, is that if/when you come to Japan, do yourselves a favour and take a nice slow train ride across the rural areas. Yes, the Shinkansens are awesome in their speed and smoothness, but everything rockets by at such sheer velocity that you don’t have time to take it in. By comparison, our train ride from Nagano to Naoetsu was some of my favourite hours of travelling so far. The rickety old electric train slowly trundled along the tracks, in no apparent hurry to get anywhere. Out the window was stunning views of autumn leaf-covered mountains, acres and acres of farmland, and then sudden tunnels through rocky mountainsides. At one stage, we even came out of a tunnel into a small valley, where for the briefest of intervals, tiny delicate flakes of snow fell from the sky. I looked around in awe at its beauty, and Emma happily snapped away pictures of both the snow, and the expression of joy on my face.

It was not to last though, as a few seconds later, we were through another tunnel, and the beautiful snow was to be seen no more. The mysterious valley disappeared into the mists, and we were soon heading for more farmland and small towns. No wonder Japan is a place of such folklore and legend – the land is so beautiful and mysterious that even today in Japan’s highly modernised state, you can almost see Totoro poking his big fluffy body out from behind a tree as your train slowly rolls through the countryside.

One last thing, the ocean of Japan is quite different to the oceans around Australia. The waves are very small but spiky, and the whole ocean looks perpetually angry and frightening. We only caught glimpses of it by this stage, as we were hurtling along on a much faster train, bound for Uozu.

By the time our last train rolled into Unazuki, we were positively exhausted. Thankfully our hotel was literally a two minute walk from the train station, so we stumbled there and after a fairly confusing check in process, we were finally in our hotel, safe and sound. We decided to head out for some dinner at a local restaurant, where the waiters only spoke a few words of English. Actually, the town only had tiny smatterings of English, too. We were really off the beaten track, or rather, we were off the beaten track for western tourists. I found this both highly exciting and rather terrifying at the same time.

We had some delicious tempura udon and soba for dinner, which was a very nice finish to a rather tiring day.

25/11/12- MOAR TRAINS.

Our day started with a delicious buffet breakfast. While our hotel itself wasn’t really anything special, the breakfast which we had was pretty awesome. Lots of different options, both western and Japanese. Seeing as we were in Japan, we stuck with the Japanese options, which were very tasty.

When we returned to the room after breakfast, I opened the curtains for the first time, to see a stunning view of the mountains surrounding the town we were staying in. We were literally about two hundred metres from the edge of the gorge, with huge tree-covered mountains on either side of this small town. This was all quite a pleasant surprise to us, as we came in under the cover of darkness the previous night, and as such had no idea of our surrounds.

We then checked out of the hotel, and got ready for our day of sightseeing. Today we were taking a long journey on the Kurobe Gorge train – a very narrow gauge railway that winds its way through a forested gorge in the middle of the Japan Alps. It promised to be a day full of stunning views and natural wonders. We walked to the train station, and managed to book our tickets for our journey to the end station of the line, Keyakidaira, and back again.

 We had about 30 minutes to kill before our train departed, so we went for a walk out on one of the many bridges that crossed the gorge nearby. The view was stunning, with the cool mountain stream running a hundred or so metres below us, and either side of the gorge covered in beautiful trees.

After Emma had a minor freakout on one of the suspension bridges (due to it swaying in the wind), we then decided to head back to the train station. We waited in line for a few minutes, and then we were allowed to board the train. Thankfully, there was no rush for seats, as there were plenty of good spots to go around. We took a spot on the right side of the train, and readied the camera for what promised to be a very scenic journey.

It didn’t disappoint. Countless beautiful shots presented themselves to us as the train slowly made its way through the mountains. There was a grand total of 41 tunnels and 21 bridges that we crossed over throughout the 80 minute journey. Really dazzling stuff. Unfortunately, we had come after most of the trees had dropped their autumn leaves for the season, so it wasn’t as impressive as some of the promotional photos make it out to be. However, there was an upside to the lack of foliage – there were clear views down to the crystal clear waters of the gorge below and the snow-capped peaks above us – both of which would have been obscured if the autumn leaves were still there. Many, many photos were taken.

After the long journey up the mountainside, we were at roughly 600 metres above sea level. While not incredibly high up, you did soon quickly feel the cold of the mountain air. The station itself had nothing particularly interesting around it, aside from the stunning views surrounding it. What we were here for was to see a few of the sights and go on a few of the walks from the train station out into the wilderness, after which we would catch the train back down the gorge later in the day. We had to book our return tickets as soon as we arrived, so we booked ourselves on a train leaving about three hours after we arrived. This left us ample time to do any of the activities we wanted to.

Shortly after booking our return tickets, we noticed the guide map to Keyakidaira station. Moreover, we noticed the big, red crosses through pretty much everything that there was to see and do. Due to it being the end of the season, the icy cold and apparent construction work, there wasn’t actually anything which you could see or do except walk over a solitary footbridge. Footbridge it was! We walked over that bridge with such amazing amazement that it fully occupied us for the three hours we had to kill at this station. Not really.

The footbridge was pretty cool, it offered loads of awesome views of the gorge. But, we tackled that in all of ten minutes, and had the next two and a bit hours with nothing really to do. We managed to walk down a set of steep stairs right down to the river, where we had a nice but freezing cold view of the river. Because of the sheer cold, we soon headed back up the stairs to the suddenly inviting warmth of the otherwise boring train station. We found a restaurant upstairs in the train station, which we had some fairly mediocre Japanese food from. That occupied us for a good hour, and the remaining hour was spent huddled around a communal heater within the departures area.

It was soon time for us to catch the train back down to Unazuki. This time, I didn’t bother taking any photos. It was just as scenic and amazing as our ascent, but the afternoon light had given way to a thick layer of cloud, so there weren’t really any amazing photo opportunities. That, and I was too tired from our constant travel each day between destinations around Japan. The cold was also getting to me, so I slept most of the way back down. I did however see a few monkeys in between dozes, which was a nice surprise to see.

Upon arriving at Unazuki, we didn’t spend any more time in the town. We quickly headed back to our hotel, got our bags and made a bee line for the train station. We were soon on another rural train that rocked and rolled its way back to Uozu. We did see some really awesome farmland and rural towns on the way though, as our last time on this train was at night time, so we couldn’t really appreciate the views from the windows.

I really liked how every little space was used for farmland where it could – even the small strips of land between the train stations and the road were full of tilled soil, growing everything from spring onions to cabbages. I’m not sure if they were communal gardens or not, but it was good to see these towns being resourceful with the space made available to them.

We were soon in Uozu, where we transferred to a quicker train that would take us to our next destination, Kanazawa. Due to the language barrier between myself and the station attendant, we ended up with unreserved seating again, which meant standing for the first twenty minutes or so of the journey.

About an hour later, and a long walk to our Ryokan, and we were finally at Kanazawa. I was relieved that there were no more “one nighters” on this trip – everywhere else I had booked we were at for a few nights, meaning we could actually settle in and get a feel for the town.

Our Ryokan is fantastic – the lady who acts as the hostess, Mai, speaks amazing English, and the room is absolutely fantastic. It’s huge, with authentic tatami mats and really comfortable futon beds. It was a nice feeling knowing that we had a few days to fully appreciate this room and hotel.

We then headed out to grab some dinner – we were tired, so we were just going to get some local takeaway food. On our way out, Mai informed us that for tonight only, the Kenroku-en gardens were being lit up to showcase the autumn colours. Seeing as Kenroku-en was one of the places that is a must-see in Kanazawa, we couldn’t pass up this opportunity to see it by twilight.

We headed in the direction of the park, but due to our tired-ness, we soon became disoriented. I decided to try out my meagre Japanese skills, and asked a lady for directions to the park. It turns out that she was really helpful, and decided to take us to the park to show us the way. She spoke really good English, and so we chatted away, alternating between English and Japanese where I could. I found out that her name was Yumi, and that she lived only a street over from our hotel. She was very kind, and gave us excellent directions to the park after we insisted that she shouldn’t take any more time out of her night to show us the way.

We thanked her, and soon walked the rest of the way to the park. This little side trip was well worth the effort – the views of this park were stunning. It looked so mysterious lit up by the various spotlights, and they served to really accentuate certain features of the garden and its inherent beauty therein.

After strolling around the lantern-lined path, we headed back to the local takeaway place where we grabbed some strange takeout food. It was fairly tasty, but I didn’t really know what I was eating. We then headed back to the room. There, we Skyped with our families back in Australia, before having a nice, well-earned sleep. No more trains for a while! Hooray!