More gardens in Kanazawa

Kanazawa is full of beautiful and fascinating sights, too many to see on such a sort visit as this. There was one I especially wanted to show Mum, the Nagamachi Buke Yashiki District where samurai homes and their exquisite gardens hide behind high mud and straw walls.

We walked the main street up from the station to the Omi-cho markets. The markets, mainly devoted to seafood and groceries were quiet with many stalls closed. In those that were open crabs with their legs tied struggled to escape small boxes while fresh fish and other sea creatures lay on ice, ready for purchase by hungry Kanazawans.

It was too early for the sushi bars to be open, selling fresh sashimi atop bowls of rice. I’m not a huge fan of sashimi anyway and I doubt that Mum is either.

As we walked along we came to the Oyama Jinja Shrine on the left. This Shinto shrine is fronted by a unique gate designed by a Dutch architect. The top was once a lighthouse and the gate uses a combination of Japanese and European design elements, including stained glass windows.

Behind the gate were more traditional Shinto buildings as well as an attractive garden that we spent time wandering through.

Where the path to the shrine rejoined the main road was a Japanese pottery shop. Though I had promised to resist, we could not help but purchase some, Kanazawa’s variety of pottery being my favourite in Japan.

After these diversions, and Japan is full of diversions, we finally made it down to the Nagamachi. The small area is bounded by two swift and clear flowing canals, the sound of the rushing water a pleasant backdrop to the eyes. Trendy shops lined the eastern canal, though most were still closed for the morning. Then we turned west and down to the preserved, perhaps partly rebuilt, samurai area.

I especially liked the way that the narrow walking streets are of stone, which lends a more historic ambience to the area that is somewhat missing from some samurai districts in Japan.

The houses behind the walls are still occupied by residents, but some are open for visits. We were welcomed into the garden of the historical society, the variety of plants labelled with in both Japanese and English.

The Nagamachi gardens was a recreation of a samurai garden built around some rest facilities that were clean and well equipped. Then we followed the tourists along the winding street, past the yellow walls, to what purported to be a Kutani pottery museum, but was actually a shop. No matter, the best pieces on display were so unobtainably expensive that they were for viewing only by us. Other items were cheaper and we both picked up some gorgeous items for home.

My real destination in the Nagamachi was the Nomura-ke house. This residence is preserved for visits. While Mum admired the painted screens in the tatami floored rooms I was busy just sitting and taking in the gardens. These are my favourite gardens in all of Japan. Though they are small, they are dense with tiny views that unfold as you gaze upon it from different aspects.

Water flows down from different levels, koi glide through the small ponds and streams, stones and bridges make a multitude of paths across the landscape, past stone lanterns and sculpted trees. I cannot imagine an eye tiring of the scene.

We climbed upstairs and took matcha and sweets while gazing down from above.

I was sad to leave.

Continuing on along another street where the canal ran past the samurai house walls, fed by outflows from streams and water features behind those walls, we came to the Shinise Memorial Hall, a museum built into a restored pharmacy building. This was no small pharmacy, but a large shopfront where the family made herbal medicines based on the lord’s secret recipes.

Inside were examples of local crafts, including wedding gifts of paper and cord, a massive and intricate floral arrangement made of sweets, of temari balls and kimonos.

Walking on we found ourselves at the Katamachi again, searching for something to eat. Decided that raksa (laksa) wasn’t the go.

Somehow we ended up following  the pretty canal, but still finding nothing Japanese to eat we kept walking until we reached the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Though we didn’t go inside we did walk around some outdoor displays. But still nothing to eat.

Beyond was the entrance to Kenroku-en. I wanted to show Mum the Museum for Traditional Products and Crafts which lay through the gardens, so we entered for another visit. They were quite different in the light of the full Sun and just as beautiful. Most of all I loved the shallow streams like gently flooding rainwater over stony ground, running through irises and beneath the billowing pink of the cherry trees.

The museum was, as I remembered from before, a fascinating introduction to the many crafts of the region, including pottery, gold leaf, lacquerware and even fireworks. There were displays showing how the items were built up layer by layer and a temporary display of the airy jewellry of Ayako Kobayashi. I wanted to buy some of her works for B but the selection in the shop was too limited.

Afterwards we reentered the gardens, now crowded with tour groups, and admired the scenic spots in the daylight.

This time we managed to catch the right bus back to the train station. Then we collected our bags from the hotel and I bought us bento boxed meals for the ride on the Thunderbird back to Osaka.

Unfortunately, the bento that I had selected tasted more like Chinese food than Japanese, having played it safe with regards to ingredients. Disappointing, as it was Mum’s only bento example.

The train was comfortable, but the stretch to Fukui relatively uninteresting, flat rice paddies, industry and swinging closer and further away the construction of the elevated Shinkansen externsion.

As we entered the hills the landscape became more scenic, but I was a little disappointed with returning on the Thunderbird, as I had done this trip back in 2006 and was not taking any new line. Or so I thought.

It turns out that the Thunderbird now runs along the Kosei Line on the western side of Lake Biwa instead of the opposite route it ran along in the past.

Japan’s largest lake was like a flat and grey sea in the evening light. There seemed to be many beachside homes and facilities, but many looked abandoned. The western side looked rundown and unloved and I felt a strong pull to explore further, to catch local trains and wander the area.

We arrived into Osaka station in darkness. The New Hankyu was a big, busy hotel filled with international tourists but standard Japanese business hotel rooms. Nothing remarkable, but very well located.

While Mum rested I walked across the road to the Yodobashi Umeda building and finally picked up a cable for my computer, dreamed about other computers and cameras then dreamed even more about the model railways available on a higher floor. I popped into the Comme Ca store to purchase a cute Japanese baby hat for a niece, then had a bad ramen on the top floor dining area.

By the time I got back to the room most of Umeda was closing. My photos were still uploading the next morning.


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