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!

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