My next stop on my trip to Japan was to head north from Kyoto to the old Imperial city of Kanazawa. It was super easy using my JP rail pass, but instead of taking the Shinkansen (bullet train), this route is covered by the Thunderbird (they have great names for their high speed trains don’t they).
The Thunderbird is the second level of bullet train, and looks anything but elegant with its broad, pug nose versus the beautifully elongated nose of the Shinkansen. The second most interesting fact about the Thunderbird is that rather than travel at 320 km per hour like its high speed cousin it muddles along at a rather sedentary 100 km per hour, but ever reliable none-the-less.
Kanazawa has lots of traditional and cultural ties to the past, and so I decided to throw this lovely little regional city into the mix just for fun…
Although smaller than Kyoto its strategically located on the west coast along the Sea of Japan. Well documented for its precipitation I was not to be disappointed, it reminded me of Vancouver in that an umbrella should always be a companion whenever you venture out. 🙂
One of the most impressive places I visited was Kanazawa Castle which has been painstakingly restored. During the reconstruction the restoration team closely followed the traditional architecture, building materials and structural designs to ensure the authenticity of the building… The traditional designs used for all the framing and joints that flex with seismic shifts and earthquakes, of which there are many, was truly a piece of art unto itself.
Next on my list was the Higashichaya district, which is nestled against the eastern bank of the Asano River and is a throw back to the traditional Edo period (1603 – 1868) of Japan when there was no European influences at all. Each street has been authentically restored in terms of its architecture, and in some cases still remain tea houses, but with everything these days there is also a lot of regular stores within these lovely buildings.
One of my favourite activities in Kanazawa was to take a morning hike into the surrounding hills, I didn’t realize that once in the bush that I would be surrounded by deserted trails and a host of beautiful butterflies fluttering about…they were everywhere and such an unexpected pleasure..
Kanazawa is situated in a jumble of rolling hills and mountains which overlook the city, covered in almost rainforest like foliage and quite humid once on the hilly paths it was as if I’d left civilization completely. The best part was discovering abandoned temples, some overgrown with creeper and vines, many looking as though few people had been this way for sometime. I definitely got my miles in that day – the Fitbit was working overtime!
In fact, I walked 120 km (75 miles) during my week in Japan which is just over 10 miles per day on average…
The Omicho Market is also worth a visit, in that its home to both a fresh, organic food market as well as the seafood market. The fish are literally still kicking when they hit the stalls first thing in the morning and so guaranteed fresh and never frozen. I enjoyed stopping by prior to my hike to get some fabulous produce…absolutely delicious!
All great sights and places to see while in Kanazawa, however, I’m saving the best for last!
The absolute high point of my trip to Kanazawa was visiting the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, which is home to the world famous “Swimming Pool” sculpture by the famous Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich. Produced in 2004 it provides the illusion of a swimming pool from above, however the entrance to the pool is from the basement level of the gallery and so visitors wander into the space taking photos and peering up yet, they are seemingly “underwater” when viewed from above. The pool has about 10 centimeters of water over a glass ceiling which makes it one of the most fascinating sculptures I’ve ever seen. Quite powerful!
My hotel in Kanazawa was close to the train station but I wouldn’t recommend it necessarily, as the experience was poor and room was tired and dated. Who knew I was such a snob! Yeah, that’s your outside voice by the way 🙂
A couple of important travel tips this week: (1) always ask the concierge for places to eat, then get them to call ahead and make a reservation for you at a specified time. My experience is that walk-ins to restaurants can be tricky especially if you don’t have the local language. Again my recommendation would be to try someplace that serves local fare, you’ll be pleasantly surprised nine times out of ten and have both a wonderful meal and an often memorable experience!
(2) Don’t be afraid to explore, particularly if you have a map on your phone that works when offline. This enables you to discover and explore districts and neighborhoods off the beaten track and away from the tourist crowds, which I find to be a generally rewarding experience.
The other big thing I decided to do differently this trip was to buy a Solis Skyroam unit along with some day passes ($9 per day – unlimited data). I’ve been able to put my phone on airplane mode and link it to this unit which was in my backpack at all times. This allowed me to have secure WiFi no matter which country I was in.
The unit also acts as a phone charger, cos’ as you know they drain themselves pretty darn quickly, the added bonus is that if you travel with friends or family you can have up to five devices all using it at any one time.
I personally loved it and will never use roaming from my phone provider again! My provider charges me $12 for 10 MB of data – oi vey…never again!
Japan has been more than I expected, more beautiful, more ordered and much cleaner than I anticipated, but also more friendly and welcoming. It was a fantastic week, which feels like two as I’ve crammed so much in. 🙂 Yep, me being me, what can I say?
So until next week and my upcoming visit to Singapore…signing off from beautiful Japan!