We woke up early and had our last meal in Matsumoto. Our hosts drove us to the station and we got on a JR train. We were ultimately bound for Kanazawa, on the northern coast of Honshu. This particular journey, would require us to change trains twice, in the smaller towns (read: less frequency of English) of Miniami-Otari and Itoigawa, with no more than 5 minutes to spare at each stop.
We were a little apprehensive about the trip, but despite my best efforts I can’t really think of any truthful way to inject drama into what turned out to be a really easy venture. The smaller towns only had a few platforms to choose from, and the agents simply looked at our tickets (or our faces and guess where we were going that time of day…I think) and were able to point to the correct train.
It may be too early to call, but I’m going to go ahead and call BS on everyone who told us the trains in Japan are hard. Punctual for sure, but not really hard…I remain “good with trains.”
Blogging time is reserved for downtime, but I don’t consider time spent on a train in a foreign country in the middle of the day with a window seat downtime. We spent a lot of the train ride(s) in the mountains following a heavily fortified river bed which is likely much more active in the spring when the snow melts. The leaves are just beginning to change here which was a nice sight as we banked through the valley. More than one workman was spotted gearing up a ski lift in preparation for the coming season.
After transferring in Itoigawa the course took a sharp left along the Sea of Japan through Toyama, and finally into Kanazawa. The scenery was rustic. Homes and structures varied from classic Japanese white plaster (looking) walls with ornate bruise-blue tiled roofs, to newer construction that wouldn’t look out of place in the most suburban of suburbs in the US. The constant site of the sea on our right was welcome, though the landscape was eerily reminiscent of footage from the tsunami that started the whole Fukushima thing.
Then it started to rain.
By the time we pulled into Kanazawa station, we had become more aware of something that our ryoken hosts in Matsumoto had said at our departure: “A typhoon is coming.”
Surely they don’t mean a TYPHOON-typhoon right? Oh yes they did.
Before we left, we had one of our old iPhones unlocked and bought a prepaid data-only SIM card for it. This has proved really useful when navigating streets, translating text, and generally figuring things out while away from the comforts of a WiFi connection. We never thought to use it to check the weather. If we had, we would have learned that Typhoon Wipha was bearing down on Japan’s eastern seaboard and was scheduled to smack Tokyo, where we had been 48 hours before, square in the mouth. We also would have learned that this storm was being called (at least by western media outlets, and probably just to scare people about Fukushima) a once-in-a-decade event. Thankfully we would be out of the storm’s path, but it would rain continuously for the next two days.
This I suppose is the counterbalance for all the amazing weather we had during Southeast Asia’s rainy season.
So it’s pouring outside when we disembark our train and Kanazawa doesn’t really have a comprehensive metro (though buses are huge), so we resigned ourselves to the 10 minute walk to our ryokan in the rain…after buying some cheap umbrellas at the station from what had to be the happiest vendor ever.
1- Kanazawa station
3- Ōmichō market
4- Ozaki Jinja
5- Kanazawa Castle
6- Kenroku-en Garden
We are staying at the ryokan Sumiyoshiya and were welcomed at the door by the owner in a state of wet, sweaty, tired, and slightly annoyed. This was one of those points, and it would continue for the next few hours, where it would have been very easy to pack it in and pout in our room but we sucked it up and went out anyway. Trust me, this was no easy feat in the wind and rain.
Our destination was the elevated grounds of the Kanazawa Castle and then onward to the Kenroku-en garden, but First we ducked into the Omichō market to grab some fresh fruit. This is kind of an enclosed (a roof, yes!) market with stall after stall of people selling fruit, vegetables, seafood, and meats. Really a cool place with all the vendors yelling out to passing patrons…or just at us. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a 3 gallon bucket of seafood stuff, next to some whole squids, next to….well whatever that is. Different strokes…
I don’t know why navigation in the dark, or in the rain, becomes instantly more difficult; visibility, holding an umbrella, whatever, we definitely took a few wrong turns. It ended up being okay because we got to see the Ozaki Jinja by ourselves (a recurring theme for the rest of the rain soaked evening) before making our way up the Imori-zaka Gate.
The paths through the grounds were paved, but only small stones so muddy puddles had begun forming. We said farewell to Erin’s flats and trudged up the hill where we were greeted by the castle, which is undergoing a lot of renovation. It was an impressive sight, but despite its massive square footage advantage, it couldn’t touch Matsumoto’s wow factor. The grounds of the castle contained a lot of satellite structures, several gates and shrines, which we mostly breezed past on a path around the outside of the main castles moat. We came around the back of the castle to Ishkawa Gate, crossed the joining bridge, and stepped into Kenroku-en garden.
Named for a Chinese poet, Kenroku-en and it’s many stone sculpted lanterns form the symbolic identity of Kanazawa. Rightly so. It is probably impossible for me to do this place justice in words that haven’t already been written by someone else so just do yourself a favor and Google this place. We strolled through the plum garden, walked around the “tranquil pond”, went down by the waterfall, and even saw the oldest fountain in Japan. Really breathtaking for the nominal entrance fee. Unfortunately we didn’t get any good pictures here due to the rain, so perhaps we will come back before we scoot out of town.
After getting kicked out of the garden (because it closed), we walked along the southern border of the castle grounds to a street known as the Katamachi Switchback where many of the restaurants and bars were. The rain had subsided a bit so we strolled around and partook in the local atmosphere and bought some stuff in a pottery shop. Tired and hungry we headed back north up Hyakumangoku-dōri toward our ryokan where we had dinner waiting at 730.
Dinner consisted of no less than 10 different types of seafood: pickled clams, a sardine looking fish, a teriyaki fish, oyster soup, dried fish flakes on candied walnuts, two different types of sashimi, fried shrimp in a salad, a raw shrimp, and some roasted little something on a stick. All of this with a large pot of rice, pickled asparagus, some seaweed jelly, tea, a giant Kirin beer, and a proper Japanese game show on TV. I got through most all of it, and most all of it was pretty good…the sashimi spoiled me for life. I can safely say though that I am not a fan of raw shrimp; that was pretty nasty. Also, cold sardines and I don’t get along.
After dinner we just went up stairs and wound down from a long, sometimes frustrating day. The ryokan has a great little reading area so I put on a sweet robe and typed up some blog and read a little…in English.
saying goodbye to our hosts in Matsumoto
a shot out the window on the train in the mountains
an unfortunately blurry picture in Kenroku-en
dinner is served
with every ounce of courage from this beer, me and all my forehead wrinkles are going to eat this raw shrimp…
ladies… (No idea if I’m doing this right)