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Great Escapes Kanazawa
(Entered Jan. 25, 2010)
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Upon polling a bunch of Japanese people (my students) about the best time to go to Kanazawa, the almost unanimous answer was 'in the winter'. The main draw apparently is the famous Kenrokuen park, which apparently looks fabulous covered in snow. I'd been wanting to go to Kanazawa for years now. Why? Mainly because it's one of the few places left in Japan that I haven't yet been, plus everyone I've talked to that's been there has good things to say about it.
Located on the 'Sea of Japan' side of the country, Kanazawa doesn't seem that far from Tokyo when you look at a map, but logistically speaking, it is. It's not a stop (yet) on the famous Shinkansen (Bullet Train), so to get there you need to transfer to a more local train at Echigo Yuzawa (a ski resort in Niigata) which isn't exactly on the way....
You can also fly there if you've got money to burn.

kanazawa kenrokuen lake

We arrived at Kanazawa station after a 4 hour journey, quickly checked into our hotel, and without delay headed to Kenrokuen, supposedly one of the top three parks in all of Japan. The other two are Kairakuen in Ibaraki (which I went to last March) and Korakuen in Okayama, (which I went to many years before this site's creation). Kenrokuen, Kairakuen and Korakuen. If you're wondering what's up with all the Ks, I have no idea.

kanazawa kenrokuen lantern

Although the weather forecast called for snow on both Saturday and Sunday, all we got was a bit of hail followed by intermitent rain. Snow on the ground then maybe? Unseasonably warm temperatures insured that most of the snow had already melted away. Actually this was a major disappointment for me. I'd saved Kanazawa specifically for the winter so I could see a snow covered Kenrokuen. After 10 years of living in a snowless Tokyo I find myself missing the white stuff, (which is strange because I remember hating in when living in Ottawa). It was especially galling to remember that when we passed through Etchigo Yuzawa station, there was about 3 feet of snow covering everything. We should've just gotten off there and gone skiiing in hindsight.

kanazawa kenrokuen torii

Even without snow however, Kenrokuen was still quite beautiful, and miles ahead of Kairakuen (whose inclusion in the top three parks of Japan remains a mystery to me). I can only imagine how much more amazing Kenrokuen would be minus the tours, the tour guides shouting into megaphones, and the general crowds milling around.

kanazawa kumi

I found some time to practice, outside of a workshop, with my new sb600 (above and below shots). Still honing my technique though.

kanazawa kenrokuen mike and kumi flash

Kanazawa may be best known for Kenrokuen, but there are other interesting sights you shouldn't miss, not the least is Higashi Chaya, an area of traditional teahouses, shops, restaurants and geisha that has basically been left unchanged for hundreds of years. Kumi and I went in the evening when the shops were all closed and only a few restaurants still remained open, so we had the place almost to ourselves.

kanazawa higashi chaya night

According to Kumi the restaurants here are extremely high class, and you can't even enter one of them, much less eat there, without being very highly connected and, (it goes without saying) very wealthy.

kanazawa higashi chaya lantern

Kanazawa station was a monstrosity, towering above the skyline, and obviously designed by an architect with lots of time, and an endless supply of money on his/her hands. If you can get past that though you can't help but be impressed.

kanazawa station night

'Welcome to Kanazawa' spelled out with mini fountains. The sign changed every few seconds with various other messages, plus it showed the time. A neat gimmick. Our hotel is directly behind us.

kanazawa mike and kumi night

Kumi and I also paid a visit to Kanazawa castle, another tourist destination, although fairly disappointing as far as castles go. Once you get inside there's construction going on everywhere, making for a generally ugly scene. Entry to the grounds is free however, so one can't really complain.

kanazawa castle mike and kumi

We headed back to Higashi Chaya in the daytime and went to a small cafe, and checked out some of the shops.

kanazawa higashi chaya mike and kumi

Kanazawa is located right next to the Sea of Japan, so it goes without saying that the fish is fresh, and since this isn't Tokyo, cheap. For lunch we went to a famous sushi restaurant and had a big bowl of crab (kani), sea urchin (uni) and salmon roe (ikura) on rice. Those are pretty much the top three most expensive kinds of seafood (with the exception of high grade fatty tuna). In Tokyo I'm sure you'd be paying about 4000 yen for something like this, but in Kanazawa? 2000 yen. And it was amazing.

kanazawa sushi bowl

Kanazawa might not have lived up to the super high expectations I had for it (I had dreams of it being a snow covered, photographic paradise, without crowds), but it was still a fun trip, with lots to see and do. If you're the kind of person who loves traditional Japan, such as the one that can still be found in parts of Kyoto, Kanazawa will suit you just fine, being kind of a smaller, cheaper, and more compact version of said city. And if you can wait until 2014, you won't have to put up with the long ride and heading in the wrong direction for hours, the Shinkansen will take you there directly.



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