Japan Travel Diary 2017: Kanazawa and Shirakawago

My knowledge of Kanazawa mostly stems from stories that my friends have told me of their exchange days in the city. As a result, my impressions of Kanazawa are surrounded by a soft, warm nostalgic glow even though I have never actually been before. Needless to say, I was keen to finally see the city that made so many of my friends fall totally in love with Japan.

Kanazawa Day 2

Ryan has long reminisced about the fresh seafood bowls from Omicho market in Kanazawa. Although he no longer remembers exactly which store it was that he used to go to many years ago, some internet browsing pulled up a list of tasty looking stores. Yamasan has the advantage of opening at the early time of 7 am. This fit in perfectly with a day of sight seeing.

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We got there a few minutes before opening, but even then there was already a small line. Yamasan is a favourite amongst locals and travellers for their kaisen don which true to the store’s name features a small mountain of seafood! Although it was still very early in the morning everyone at the counter ordered a serving.

Honestly, I’m not too sure about serving some of the items like the crab when they are not in season but it still made for a very satisfying breakfast!

This proved to be the perfect fuel for the start of a long day of walking. Kenrokuen is touted as one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan.  The large clear expanses of water and soft looking moss were particularly delightful. In late Spring there are some lovely blooms along the water. I’m also told that it is beautiful in winter when everything is pure white and frozen over.

Kanazawa Jou is another popular destination. Although there isn’t too much castle left, the vast spacious grounds and towering walls are still quite the sight. We didn’t stay for too long as it was getting a little warm, but I get the feeling that this would be a nice spot to stay and have a picnic.

Not too far away is the 21st-century museum. Japan has a lot of traditional art and museums, but this is much more fun and whimsical. On the outside of the museum are already an array of interactive exhibits to run amok in.

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Whether or not you actually want to go inside and view the exhibits will depend on your individual tastes and what’s on now. We managed to luck upon Ikeda Manabu’s first solo exhibition in Japan; Ikeda Manabu: The Pen – Condensed Universe. Photos of the exhibit weren’t allowed (so this photo is pulled from the interenet) but being able to see his work in actual scale up close was simply breathtaking. I’ve long since liked his artwork for the fantasy elements and fine details, but being able to see each pen stroke up close was another matter.

We couldn’t leave Kanazawa without eating Sekai de ni ban me Oishi yakitate melon pan aisu. Ryan last fell in love with this ice cream filled snack back on our last trip. Back then we were surprised to learn that this store got its start in Kanazawa. The original store in tatemachi was just as good as it had been last time. Even the strange sounding blueberry cheese somehow worked!

At this point in time Ryan started to get rather sick. We decided to have an early night and sit in our hotel eating oden and other convenience store foods. I have to admit that this is one of our favourite things to do while in Japan when we have nothing else planned.

Kanazawa – Shirakawago Day 3

Still in the habit of waking up early, I made my way over to Curio vintage and café while Ryan slept. This charming cafe is run by an American expat and makes a lovely cup of cinnamon cappuccino. The guys sitting opposite me were also tucking into delicious looking sandwiches.

UNESCO world heritage site Shirakawago is roughly 50 minutes away from Kanazawa and a much recommended day trip. The area is famed for its thatched roof houses. The steep roofs are meant to help the houses stay warm in winter and cool in Summer.

Building and maintaining these houses are incredibly labour intensive so not many of these structures remain in the actual town. In fact, many of the houses from surrounding areas have been moved to the open air museum next to the main town. There’s a small admission fee to get in but in my opinion it’s well worth it. There’s a variety of buildings and far fewer people around, so we were able to explore and climb up to the top of many of the buildings in peace.

Seeing as we were up in the mountains, I was very keen to try some of the local produce. Not only was Inoriya still open late in the afternoon but it was serving up some very fresh vegetables from the region. I’ve never appreciated pickles as much as I did for that meal!

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Houses aside, the Shirakawago region is wonderful for a casual stroll. Although there are a fair few tourists, the remoteness of the region makes walking around very refreshing. For the best view of the town, I highly recommend the short walk up to Shiroyama Viewpoint. During Winter months the trail up is closed due to snow fall, so make sure to head up this way if you have the chance! There’s also a bus that goes up to the view point, but it’s a fairly gentle slope up so we didn’t see the need.

The greenery in this area is amazing and apparently so is the scenery when it is blanketed in snow. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to go back one day and stay overnight in one of the houses!

As it hit late afternoon we took the bus back to Kanazawa, napping the whole way. I realised that we had just enough time to check out Tsuntsun café, which I had seen the first night in Tatemachi. Little known fact: hedgehogs are illegal in Australia. This was the first time I had ever seen let alone touched a hedgehog in real life! Our hedgehog, name Tsunko was rather shy and reticent but very eager to eat all the snacks that we fed it!

I had been rather looking forward to seeing Higashi Chaya as I love traditional Japanese tea houses. However we only managed to visit at night, when it was already well and truly dark. The dimly lit lanterns and soft voices drifting out from some of the stores made the whole thing very atmospheric (maybe even a little creepy?) even though the majority of the stores weren’t open. I was placated by the thought that during the day, that it would be a bit too touristy and crowded, but even then I made a vow in my heart that one day I would be back during the day!

Just across from Higashi Chaya, Oriental Brewing caught my eye. This interesting looking building houses a bar and brewery. I figured that on this cold night, we could do a lot worse than cosy up with some bar food and local beer. The peppery jerk chicken and yuzu ale were definite highlights.

Kanazawa isn’t exactly at the top of most people’s Japan itineraries. However, with the new shinkansen route from Tokyo directly to Kanazawa, I predict that it will only get busier! And with good reason! My first taste of the West coast of Japan left me hungry for more. I would have loved to stay a little longer to better explore some of the more traditional and far flung parts of the town.

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Tips

In Kanazawa, we stayed in Hotel Resol Trinity Kanazawa(https://www.trinity-kanazawa.com/en/). It was about 10-15 minutes walk away from the station and right next to Omicho market. This is a new hotel and it shows. The amenities are new, clean and plentiful. The room itself is also rather spacious and well kept. We found it pretty, easy to walk almost everywhere in Kanazawa although it is well serviced by buses as well.

Getting to Shirakawago from Kanazawa is fairly simple. There is a direct bus from Kanazawa station. We booked online via https://japanbusonline.com/  but there a few JTB outlets near Omicho station and the station which will no doubt be more than happy to organise it for you. If you’re looking to leave Kanazawa early in the morning, it’s probably best to book well in advance as these tickets were all sold out when we tried to purchase them the day before. The bus departed from the platform in front of Forus shopping centre.

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3 thoughts on “Japan Travel Diary 2017: Kanazawa and Shirakawago

  1. It’s definitely a beautiful place, i should put on the list of places I should go. The hedgehog is so cute, looks better well cared for compared to the on in Roppongi. I wished our out of town places/ country farms looked like Japan’s landscape. They are so beautiful to see while on the Shinkansen. Also food looks amazing and yummy.

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    1. There’s so many places to visit, I feel like I’ll never get to all of them in my lifetime! Is the cafe in Roppongi called Harry? I’ve heard mixed things about it and also that it’s really busy but I’ve never been!

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      1. I totally feel the same. Even though I went to many places and felt that I didn’t go to enough places

        Yeah the one in Roppongi is “Harry” I had a rather pleasant experience there but I think Emily said she didn’t like it and she thought they were treated badly. I think it’s due to being a such a small cafe for too many little hedgehogs. I believe each terrarium carried at least 4 little headghogs and maybe had about 10 terrarium. Also the little guys were a bit greedy like those cheeky Deers in Nara.

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