After five leisurely hours on the Shinkansen, I arrived at my first stop, Kanazawa. I have always been drawn to this city for some reason, maybe because I’ve heard it being compared to Kyoto a number of times, and I love all that cobbled streets and teahouse district stuff.
Upon leaving the station, I immediately felt like I was in some kind of small but refined European city. The buildings were glassy and sleek, cobalt and mahogany. Sharply-dressed businessmen chatted in pairs as they walked down the street. The thing that struck me most though, was how quiet it was. There was hardly any traffic, and everyone went about their way in a composed manner. I’d heard that Kanazawa was a reserved city, due to it being so hard to access from other parts of Japan until recently, which would also explain its traditional feel.
Not wanting to waste my first evening, I got a taxi to drop me off at Higashichaya district, where all the old teahouses are. Unfortunately all the shops were shut, and it was extremely quiet, which in a way made my stroll around the area more pleasant. The hustle and bustle of Kyoto wasn’t there, but the soft glow of light against the sliding front doors created a lovely quiet ambience.
The next day I rented a bike and immediately set off looking for a French toast place that one of the hostel workers recommended to me to have breakfast at. (I went for the lemon curd French toast, although was intrigued by the potato salad with walnuts and honey one, which the menu assured me was “a surprisingly delicious combination”…)
Kenrokuen was next on my list, one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan (another of which I’ll see in Okayama this weekend). Midday probably wasn’t the best time to go as it was absolutely sweltering, but the trees created a welcome shade and I had green tea flavoured kakigouri (shaved ice with syrup) so that cooled me down a bit.
I hopped back on me bike in search of the sushi place the guy on the train told me about. It was a take out place with an old lady watching TV inside while she waited for customers. I called through the glass hatch and asked for eel with cucumber, and it seemed a shame to only order one, so I got one filled with octopus and tartare sauce as well. Maybe I should open my open shop at home?!
I pedalled off to a different teahouse district, wondering if it would be any different. Nope, just smaller and fewer shops. I thoroughly enjoyed riding my bike on the way through the residential areas, as there were so many streams that the houses had been built so that little bridges connected the main road to their front doors over the water. I went to a tiny museum about a Japanese author I’d never heard of, who wrote an extremely succesful book when he was about 21, went insane from the fame it brought him and died in his early thirties. The museum worker was very keen to take my picture sitting in the author’s living room, so that was fun.
I got severely judged when I bought a chocolate soft serve ice cream from a very posh chocolate shop where three ladies in black suits were working. Probably because I was wearing a Marvel T-Shirt and demin shorts, also looking a bit sweaty from being out in the blazing sun, but I didn’t let their cold service ruin my enjoyment of demolishing the ice cream. It did make me miss friendly Aomorians a little, though.
Finished the day at the 21st Museum of Contemporary Art, which I only really wanted to go to because of its exhibit, The Swimming Pool. I made the mistake of getting a ticket for the temporary exhibition, which was about three artists from Korea, China and Japan, who created a fictitious state where people who love art could live, called Xijing. Some of the installations were quite fun, like their Winter Olympics room, where a video showed two of the artists having a fencing match with feather dusters. Some of it was a bit too weird though, like the room where a man in a bunny costume was lying down on the floor. The sign said he was an illegal Korean immigrant and was being paid to lie there for seven hours a day. I enjoyed the Swimming Pool though, both looking over the surface at the people “swimming” underneath, and getting to go under it myself so I could feel like a mermaid.
Click on the link for photos as I don’t have any room left on my WordPress account 😦
On Wednesday I headed for Kobe where I just had one night planned. I got there in the evening, and went off to find somewhere to eat Kobe beef. I got to a restaurant, the first customer of the evening, sat down and looked at the menu. There were two options: 8,500 yen (£64) beef or 10,000 yen (£75) beef. There’s nothing more awkward than having to apologise and leave a restaurant because you’re not carrying enough cash. I opted for a safer-looking Italian place and ordered the nicest beef they had there, with garlic butter sauce. I had summer vegetable and eel fritters with miso sauce for starter, which was absolutely delicious. The beef was a little disappointing; it was very fatty and took me about five minutes to chew each piece.
Eager to experience some nightlife, I walked over to Harborland to see the pretty lights and stuff. It was a lovely area for a stroll, with lots of little shops lining the deck and the reflections of the Port Tower and other illuminated buildings reflected in the water. As I was sitting on a bench with my iced tea, Queen’s I Was Born To Love You suddenly began playing over to my left, and bursts of water shot up into the air in synchronisation. There were lasers, coloured lights and pyrotechnics, all jumping out of the water to the beat of Queen like performing dolphins. I have no idea why it was happening, and one of the workers at my hostel said she’d never heard of something like that either.
I was going to go back the next morning, but the beef didn’t agree with me during the night and I was a bit sick in the toilet of my shared hostel dorm. I decided to have an easy morning, but it was so hot and I forgot it was a national holiday, which meant by the time I got near Harborland you couldn’t move for people. I had a quick lunch, got my stuff at the hostel and headed to my next stop, Takamatsu, a little earlier than planned.
Despite the people on the Shinkansen from Kobe to Okayama being packed liked sardines, I managed to get a seat at my transfer and felt a sense of relief as I watched the scenery change to rice fields and trees again. Crossing the bridge over the sea to Shikoku, seeing all the little islands and fishing boats dotted around, I realised how much big cities stress me out. I’m so glad I got to spend two years in the countryside, even if it did seem boring sometimes.