Kanazawa do do di do do

Thanks Mr K for putting that ear worm in my brain for half the day. 😐

We finished some work this morning and then found some free time to head for a quick shopping stop at the Higashi Chaya, Kanazawa’s oldest and most famous geisha district. Here, there are lots of heritage preserved buildings and tea houses that come alive at night; interspersed with touristy gold shops that do roaring trade during the day. We were last here in the summer of 2015 – it was 39C, humid and sticky. Today was barely 16C and raining off and on.
No, not shops that sell actual gold like the Ponte Vecchio or something, but things covered in ‘gold’… mostly craft items and beauty products either that are either guided in, or contain gold leaf. And, somewhat weirdly loads of food products with edible gold leaf on them – though it’s anybody’s guess why as gold leaf doesn’t seem to have a great deal of taste about it. **shrug**

Since we were here last there is a decidedly Chinese aesthetic creeping into a lot of the larger very gilt object d’art that we saw for sale. So more of this…And less of the traditional Japanese lacquerware etc…There is quite on lot of hand blown glass products with gold accents of course that seem really popular and always with the saké sets – we’ve noticed that since our last visit to Japan in 2019, there seems to be a trend towards saké jugs shaped like this one, rather than the traditional little carafes that you see used in restaurants a lot. They seem quite neat and I dare say have a much higher capacity than the small carafes, which I imagine is what is putting the restaurant industry off adopting them. 🙂 I mostly came here to hunt for some new chopsticks. I bought four sets of lovely ebony chopsticks last time we were in Kanazawa and they are the singly most useful and used souvenir object I think I have bought back with me from any trip ever… but so far I haven’t seen any designs that took my eye for every day use at home.The gold leaf, gold powder body products are destined to remain a mystery to me, though. I was Google Translating posters and signage like a mo-fo today, and do you think I could find anything that was able to explain ‘why’ having gold in your face creams, lotions, potions and actual face masks was supposed to be good for your skin? Nope. Not so much. The one store person I asked what the gold is good for, responded by telling me it is ‘very skin luxuriating for your complexion’. So… yeah. I guess it looks pretty and seems super fancy is the reason for it?

As for the gold leaf foods, well the fruit logs, the tea with gold leaf in, the brownies, cakes, sponges, matcha jellies all covered in gold leaf weren’t of much interest… and after the shrimp ice cream debacle, there was no way I was going to go buy a 980JPY gold leaf ice cream just to take a photo of it 😉 so here, have a picture of someone else’s that I stole off the internet somewhere.

Apparently you can’t taste anything unusual about it – and you just end up with gold leaf sticking to your lips.

While it had drizzled most of the time we were here, at one point during our short visit it started to absolutely pour down so we found ourselves taking refuge in what we thought was a cafe but turned out to be a jaffle house? Toasted sandwich restaurant? I dunno… felt like some Aussies could have been running the place – ham and cheese jaffles, egg and ham jaffles and even curry and cheese. I haven’t had a piece of white bread since maybe about February, and damn but it doesn’t taste like cake… so sweet!
I promise there were actually quite a few people wandering around here today – I just seem to have taken most of my pictures of these old buildings and winding little streets with hardly any people in them.

After this we had to make our way to Kanazawa Station where all the city’s public transport infrastructure comes together. Like Toyama, it’s actually quite impressive how integrated the transport is here, and attached to large convenient shopping centres. We had to pop up to the Pokémon centre while we were here because, well it was there.

Pikachu in a kimono is apparently a limited edition Kanazawa Pikachu… the lady in the store went to great pains in broken English to let me know I couldn’t get this particuar stuffed Pikachu anywhere else. This wasn’t actually in the Pokémon store it was just a display in a regular chemist when I popped in looking for a nail file. Cute.

Once we finished with the train stuff it was now pushing dinner time, so we went up to the restaurant level of the train station department store and found a very popular sushi restaurant called Morimori Sushi. Now Morimori had a queue that was probably about 35 people deep and we momentarily toyed with the idea of going to one of the other 20 other sushi or ramen noodle restaurants on this floor but Morimori was the only place that had anyone queuing to eat there – honestly, every other place had seats outside but no one waiting to eat at those places. So we diligently collected a number and sat down to wait…
And wait we did! It was a good 45 minutes of listening to customers being called (in Japanese!) by the time we realised just how long a wait this was going to be! And by then you’re committed right? We ended up waiting about 75 minutes to get a table!This was definitely going to be one of those, ‘oh dear, I hope this is worth it’ things, and while I was pretty confident that I’d be happy with my wash once we managed to have some dinner, I was less confident that Mr K would find the wait worth his while given he’s not the sushi/sashimi fan in the fam. Speedy conveyor built sushi train:Mr K once he realised that his beer would arrive cold and immediately! Happy face – thankfully.The menu was quite extensive with pages and pages of offerings under each category, and our orders arrived really promptly. Saké and beer to start, like there was any doubt about this. I had some Tateyama Gingo saké and it was cold and delicious (it’s getting so much easier to order a drop I know I will like, the more familiar I am becoming with the local products). The food was delicious and imho, well worth waiting for. I had some salmon an some yellow tail sashimi, as well as some maguro tuna and some ikura ships. Everything was delicious and fresh just as you would like hope at a Japanese port town. Mr K catching up on some serious news.

After dinner we had to go back to the train station for a meeting with Mr Icoca. The station itself is a genuinely beautiful and modern architecturally designed piece of fabulousness… even the civic art wasn’t too hideous.

The Motenashi Dome is an enormous glass and steel dome behind the famous Tori Gate entrance to the Kanazawa Station. It’s a HUGE undercover area – it feels a little difficult to convey the size of this space.

The Tori Gates that welcome visitors to Kanazawa when they arrive by Shikenson, JR train, or bus.

Hopefully we will get a bit of fine weather to see the gates in their usual timber colour rather than lit up on a rainy night. They usually look more like this:

Anyway, another long day was long. Time to call it quits for the day.

Grand Japan – Kanazawa

Had no idea what to expect from Kanazawa… (after Maizuru, though, expectations were pretty low 😉 ). We did our research of course, and realised pretty quickly that it is a largish place (pop. 460,000) and the sights we wanted to see were quite spread out. So decided to do another ship tour as we would have been up for very expensive cab rides anyway, and this way we get dropped in nice and close to the things we want to see as well as a guide who can hopefully give us a pile of additional local information on the places we wanted to visit.
Kanazawa, in the Ishikawa Prefecture, is one of the few remaining castle towns of Japan and is best known for Kenroku-en Castle and Kenroku-en Garden complex, and it’s extremely well preserved samurai and geisha districts. It also has a lot of beautiful temples (Japan has temples, temples, everywhere!) and is well known for it’s traditional arts and crafts – especially the gold leaf work that is so prevalent in many Japanese decorative arts pursuits – and has a lot of museums. We chose to go tot he Kenroku-en Gardens, followed by the geisha district and the samurai district.



 The Kenroku-en, Edo period, Garden, is regarded as one of the top three gardens in Japan. The name kenroku means – ‘combined six’ and was inspired by a famous Sung Dynasty garden in China that dictated six attributes are required for ‘perfection’: seclusion, spaciousness, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views. Kenroku-en has all these attributes. Originally the garden just belonged to an outer villa of the Kanazawa-jo (Kanazawa Castle), but was later enlarged to serve the castle proper. The castle was completed in the early 19th century and the gardens were opened to the public in over 135 years ago in 1871. It was truly beautiful, full o graceful ponds, steams and waterfalls, quaint bridges and little teahouses. I wish we had more time here to just find a seat with a lovely vista and listen to the water trickling by. 

During the 15th century, Kanazawa had an autonomous Buddhist government that was ousted in 1583 by Maeda Toshiie – head of the powerful Maeda clan. Kanazawa apparently means ‘golden marshes’ and the region was extraordinarily wealthy given its rice growing capacity – some 5 million bushels of rice per annum and this wealth allowed the Maeda to heavily patronise the culture and the arts. Thanks to its lack of military targets, the city was spared most of the destruction of WWII, meaning that its veritable plethora of religious, historical and cultural sites are remarkably well preserved, and I never would have thought it possible, but I believe Kanazawa’s historical districts are even more beautiful than Kyoto.


  After the gardens we went to the Higashi-chayamachi, Kanazawa’s famous geisha district. The entire area is a beautiful atmosphere of stunning Edo architecture, with many of the areas okiya (geisha houses) and ochaya (tea houses) built in the early 1800s. In its heyday, the Higashi-chayamachi boasted over 400 registered geisha working in the various ochaya. Now there is about 40 geisha in the area and most of them own and operate their own tea houses. They no longer live in okiya and are no longer beholden to the powerful matriarchs who traditionally controlled the okiyas.   

We had the good fortune to meet a lovely lady, Hanako. She was standing outside her ochaya watching a flood of tourists come through what is probably a rather quiet area during the day. I stopped and bowed, said ‘Konnichi wa’, and told her she looked beautiful in her sheer black kimono. We struck up a conversation and it turns out Hanako owns the tea house she was standing by, and has been a geiko for many years.  

She is one of the few geiko of the Higashi-chayamachi who entertains foreign clients during the day as she has excellent English and French, but she made a point of telling me that her night clients are chosen in the traditional fashion – they must be introduced by someone who already patronises her tea house and has become a trusted client. I think she was wanting to make sure to let us know that she doesn’t entertain just anyone, even though she does entertain foreigners. We spoke briefly about dance, music, and the artistry that successful geiko must attain. 

Hanako told me that playing the shamisen (three stringed lute/guitar type instrument) was her particular talent. It was such a wonderful encounter. I had an opportunity to tell her how fascinated I was with the geiko training and lifestyle, and how I feel we have nothing like it in the West. I asked her what it was like, entertaining such diverse and varied people and asked if she enjoyed making conversation with so many different clients. Hanako said she very much enjoyed her work, and had met ‘many intelligent and power-like people’. She was extremely gracious,and was as curious about the Diamond Princess cruise ship and how many people were on it etc, as I was curious about the life of this real life geiko. I could have talked with her for hours, but felt I couldn’t keep her (her time is money after all!), and formally thanked her for speaking with me as we left ‘Duomo-arigatou-gozimas’. Yes, it’s taken a while but I have acquired some basic Japanese so as not to embarrass myself. Meeting Hanako just made my day!

After a lovely wander through the Higashi-chayamachi geisha district, we then made our way to the Nagamachi samurai district. We had an opportunity to enter the Nomura Samurai Houses which was built in the 1770s. It offers a unique look at how a middle class samurai warrior lived. It is also well known for its private garden and proudly displayed a plaque near the front door listing it as the number one private garden in all Kanazawa. The Nomura House has some beautiful artefacts on display, some armour, painted screens, a private house shrine/altar, and some other Edo period personal effects etc.










   Then it was back to the ship – takoyaki on the pier and home on the Diamond Princess again… what a wonderful place Kanazawa turned out to be. It definitely exceeded expectations and is a very successfully blended historical / modern city. Have to put it on your list, I think I’d stay here a couple of days in order to be able to take in the sights as well as have time to explore the traditional crafts practiced in the city.