In My Shoes in Kanazawa

Today I’m taking you for a walk in my shoes… In Kanazawa.

In my last post about Girona, I was saying how whenever my boyfriend and I visit that city, it rains and he never takes an umbrella anywhere! While I was writing about that I was reminded of when I was in Japan and how obsessed the Japanese people are with staying dry; unfortunately for them they have quite a challenge as it rains so much in that country! Or it certainly did when we were there…

A Visit to Kanazawa

Put yourself in my shoes for a few moments while we take a trip back to November 2008 and join me in Kanazawa where I recapture, and you discover, some of the culture, tradition and magic of this charming Japanese city…

When Toni and I were backpacking around Japan, Kanazawa was one of my favourite places, but it did nothing but rain: bouncing down rain that never stopped and ran down the streets like rivers as we skipped down the road trying to avoid the splashing cars and huge puddles.

A Day in Kanazawa

Our experience in Kanazawa was different to that of other places on the trip, as we had booked a tour guide before we arrived; a goodwill guide, where a member of the community takes visitors to the best parts of the city, showing them the highlights and explaining the history. This service is completely free and you just have to pay the guide’s expenses like bus fares and entrances to museums, etc.  Obviously this is a highly demanded service so it must be booked well in advance. Check Go-Japan website for information.

We arrived in Kanazawa at 12pm by public bus from Shirakawa-go and our hotel, the Econo Kanazawa Ekimae was just a few minutes walk from the station. The hotel was part of a chain: Greens Business Economy Hotels,  a bit like the Toyoko chain that we had also used a lot in Japan.

Kanazawa Goodwill Guide

We left our bags and waited in the reception until 1pm when our guide was meeting us. We had booked the goodwill guide service for just the afternoon.

Our tour was going to be a bit different because we were going to be filmed!

The guide had contacted us a week beforehand, asking if it would be okay if a TV crew came with us! They were doing a documentary about visitors to the city and they were promoting a new free newspaper with information for tourists, mainly about restaurants. They wanted to do interviews with us to find out what we thought of the news sheet and the city. So they followed us all day and filmed us going in and out of places of interest.

Samurai House in Kanazawa

The first place the guide took us in Kanazawa was to the old Samurai neighbourhood, with narrow streets and plenty of atmosphere.

We actually went into an old Samurai house and saw the sites of where other important houses had been. The guide showed us how the mud walls were made and how we could know how much had been paid to merchants in quantities of rice by the printed plaques on the gateposts.

Japan Kanazawa - samurai house Japan Kanazawa - samurai house

Kanazawa-jo – The castle

Next we walked through the modern downtown area to the castle Kanazawa-jo, which was originally built in 1546, but the main building burnt down and was never rebuilt.

The part that we visited was a modern construction using old plans, like many of Japan’s historical buildings.

The castle was a beautiful looking building with a roof that looked like it had frost on it, an effect which actually comes from the lead used to build the roof. There are various theories about why lead was used to build the roof: 1. aesthetic reasons, 2. an excess of lead in the region, 3. it could be melted down to make bullets in times of war.

There was also a fascinating exhibition in the castle about the different methods of joinery used to construct it. If you have to choose a castle among the many that Japan has to offer, Kanazawa Castle is a great one to visit.

Kenroku-en Gardens

Our ¥500 castle ticket also included the entrance to the gardens just on the other side of what was, up until 100 years previously, the moat of the castle.

The Kenroku-en gardens are very famous in Japan for being officially one of the three most beautiful gardens in the country – and rightly so. The guide explained many things about the gardens, including the meaning of the name, Ken-roku-en: Ken = combination, roku = six, en = garden, so this is the “Combined six gardens”, and pointed out the waterfall in the oldest part, which apparently had had to be modified several times until the water made the correct sound!

He took us to the garden’s tea house, not to have tea but to see one of the most beautiful views of the garden.

Japan Kanazawa - Kenroku-en Japan Kanazawa - Kenroku-en

As we were leaving the garden it started to rain and the guide insisted that Toni take his umbrella (I was okay with my hood up). There was a lot of “Oh no I’m fine, don’t worry about me,” and “Oh no, I insist, you’re a visitor to this town.” In the end, Toni took the umbrella for fear of offending the guide if he didn’t, and bought one for himself as soon as we had the chance. It was a good thing he did because then the heavens really opened and the guide would have got soaked!

The TV people decided to do our first interview at this very moment and we had to say what we thought of their information newspaper for visitors to the city. The truth was we hadn’t yet had time to even glance at it!

The Geisha district in Kanazawa

Next we took a bus to the Higashi Chaya area, the geisha district. This area was very characteristic too, with the old houses and streets.

There are now only 20 geisha in this area and only 3 geisha houses. We visited one of them, according to the guide, the best one. This was a very interesting visit for us as we had never been in a geisha house and we really enjoyed wandering from room to room, imagining how they lived and seeing the beautiful kimono on display.

Kimono Kanazawa

We stayed in the area after visiting the house and as we walked down the street, both the TV woman and the guide said it was the first time they had heard the sound of a shamisen so early in the evening. Someone, probably a geisha, was practising in a second floor apartment and we could hear the sound down in the street.

Click here to hear it: kanazawa geisha practicando

I found some nice information about this area on eye-on Japan website which are the same people who produced that newspaper they were promoting. Take a look.

Kanazawa’s Gold-Leaf

We went to the gold-leaf shop where everything on sale was covered in this traditional art. They gave us a demonstration about how they make gold-leaf, starting with a gold bar and thinning the gold until it is no more than a flake. By the time they’re ready to use the gold, it is thin enough to eat, in fact they gave us a piece to eat!

Dinner Time in Kanazawa

This visit marked the end of the tour but the TV people said that they would like to film us using their newspaper to decide somewhere to have dinner and then to find the restaurant using the map in the newspaper. We decided on a restaurant and then the TV people paid for a taxi (for the second time that day) to take us nearer to the place and then we had to find it from there while they were filming us.

We invited the guide to come for dinner with us to say thank you and he accepted. In Japan it is very difficult to show someone your appreciation as tipping can actually offend.

Finding Somewhere To Eat in Kanazawa

By the time we got out of the taxi the rain was coming down harder than it had all day and my newspaper was in two halves and Toni’s had all but disintegrated.

God knows how but we found the right street but we couldn’t find the restaurant! It was embarrassing. It didn’t have a name outside in English letters and the newspaper had the names only in English and not Japanese so we didn’t know which of the three restaurants in the street it was and we didn’t have anything in the newspaper to match the names outside the restaurants with!

In the end we were about to go inside and ask when the guide gave us a discreet push in the right direction before we were all soaked to the bone!

Japan Kanazawa - geisha house

When we eventually did find it we all piled inside and it was packed with people laughing, drinking and eating. Wet coats were hung up and steamed up glasses removed. We were lucky to find three seats at the bar for Toni, myself and the guide.

We did another interview inside and everyone was looking at us! The crew waited until we had ordered so they could get our opinion about the food and then the TV guys left the three of us to enjoy our meal. And enjoy it we did – when we ordered beers, we got two dishes of snails each, which Toni and the guide munched through with pleasure, and then came the food.

There was sashimi, tofu, squid, fish casserole, delicious deep-fried chicken and some mashed potato in batter. It was all very nice and the restaurant had a cosy warmth away from the lashing rain outside and to top it off, we got free extra sushi for having taken the TV cameras in!

After saying goodbye to our guide we took the bus across the city to the hotel and finally checked in. The room was small, like most Japanese hotel rooms, with en suite bathroom and central heating which we couldn’t turn off, but which at least helped us to dry our wet clothes. We bought some canned cocktails (yes that’s normal in Japan) from the hotel vending machine, had a laugh about what a strange day we had had and got an early night…

I would like to remind you that all the photos used on InMyShoesTravel.com are my own unless otherwise stated.
You can see my whole collection of Travel Photos here.

Take another walk in my shoes in Japan.

 

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About the Author: Based in Mallorca, obsessed with the world and have a lot to say about both... Step into my shoes and join me on a journey...

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  1. susan sykes says:

    Love this post, listened to the music, and I felt I was there with you in the castle and in the restaurant, it is really great – can’t wait for next instalment

  2. Encarna says:

    Hi Lisa!
    I have really enjoyed this post!!The gardens seem a beautiful and quiet place.On the other hand, it must be incredible to visit the geisha district, so amazing and interesting place.
    It is a good thing to know that the tour guide is free, it is strange, in fact, because nowadays nobodoy wants to do things for free..
    I really want to go to Japan, but it is very far away and you need more than a week to visit all the interesting places.
    Kisses

    • Lisa says:

      Encarna, you would love it. I’m not sure if you saw the photos from the gardens but check these out from other Japanese gardens in Himeji: http://www.flickr.com/photos/inmyshoestravel/sets/72157632606475769/

      Do you know much about Japanese culture? I’m quite fascinated by geisha and their dress – you would love the kimono; so amazing they break your heart!

      There are a lot of these free guides around in Japan but you have to book in advance as they are very popular. There are so many differences between their culture and ours – everything is different. It took me nearly the whole trip to get used to their ways! You must go to Japan, but yes, you need more than a week, I wish I had had more than a month.

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