Our first destination in Kanazawa was Kenroku-en, which is a couple of kilometres from the centre of town where the train and bus stations are located. Our hotel was a 1 minute walk from the bus station and it was pretty simple to find the bus which would take us to the castle and gardens. Like most of the buses in Japan it was a flat rate fare so no worries about how much it was to a specific destination and also no worries about reaching the destination as announcements were made and a screen showed the name of the next stop. In the UK (and most of Europe) I hate buses because I don’t know where I am or where my stop is, whereas here it’s so simple and easy. The fare is paid when you get off and there is the change machine if you only have large notes.
Kenroku-en are famous Japanese gardens and considered one of the top three gardens in Japan. The name means, six attributes garden. The attributes were described by a Chinese poet in a poem famous in both China and Japan. The attributes of a perfect landscape are: spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, waterways, and panoramas. The garden is huge and really nice. There’s no flowers and very little colour, it’s all about the trees and bushes and water flowing through the garden. We wandered around the huge lake at the top of the garden first, then down past a large steam to another section of the garden.
We ended by seeing the fountain, which is supposedly the oldest fountain in Japan.
We walked for an hour around the garden and covered almost a mile.
Opposite the gardens is Kanazawa Castle. This is a reproduction of the castle, it burnt down for the final time in 1881 and wasn’t rebuilt until 2001. Before that fire, the castle had burnt down at least 5 times since it was originally built in 1583. I don’t know why the castles weren’t built of stone, but all Japanese castles were built of wood and almost all have burnt down a few times. The Chinese had the same problem with their city gates, built of wood and frequently burning down. Amusingly, the vast majority of the fires were internal, not enemies burning it to the ground but people working within the castle. Oops! And in battle I’d imagine that sitting near the top of a wooden castle is a frightening experience, all the enemy has to do is fire enough blazing arrows at the castle and one of them will probably start a decent fire.
As we entered the castle grounds it started to rain and within a minute it was slinging it down. We both had large umbrellas (essential in Japan in the rainy season) so we continued walking. The castle is long and not so high. A different design to most castles which are a square design about 5-6 floors high. Inside there is little more than a long corridor a few floors high and a small fort section at the end with a couple of extra floors. It was known as the castle of ‘a thousand tatamis’, in reference to it’s huge size. Inside was a brief history of the place, but it was mainly an empty, hollow shell of a building.
After visiting the castle we went to the nearest convenience store to get lunch. I’d ordered a mobile SIM with data two days before and it had arrived at the hotel that morning, so now we could use the internet whilst out and about, allowing us to quickly find the closest place to get food. We ate in a quiet (but incredibly humid) place beside the hill that the castle is on.
Those were the two main attractions in Kanazawa, everything else seemed uninteresting. But we had the afternoon and after some research found that the city had a samurai district with a few original houses that the samurai class once lived in. It wasn’t much of a walk so we set off, walking around the hill that the castle is on. The road was the built over the outer moat in the early twentieth century and only the inner moat by the castle walls remain.
We found the samurai house a little sooner than expected. We were just walking down the street through a boring looking neighbourhood and suddenly there was the sign for the house. We had expected an old looking district of houses, but this was just one house sitting in the middle of a normal, modern neighbourhood. The house was a reasonable size, a few passageways and all the rooms were covered with tatami mats. The garden was small but incredibly compact, getting most features into the small space. The house also had a small shrine. 10 generations of the Nomura family had lived in this house over the years.
We walked down the street to another samurai house. This person had been a lower rank and his house was a much smaller affair with only a couple of rooms, but it wasn’t too shabby. The Japanese may have lived in smaller houses than their European counterparts, but their houses were clean, compact and efficient. They had everything they needed to be comfortable.
It started to rain again, but only for a few minutes. The rain usually comes in short bursts and you can either carry an umbrella all day or hide indoors for a while. We chose to always carry the umbrellas and so we continued back towards the hotel. On the way we decided that with little else to do in the city we’d hunt down a coffee shop. Earlier we’d spotted a Starbucks and although we usually avoid them unless necessary we decided that would be fine for an afternoon coffee and muffin.
We walked all the way back to the bus station and found a coffee shop which after some hunting through a small shopping centre turned out to be little more than a bar and stools in the shopping centre. The humidity was rising and felt even worse when the rain stopped and the temperature rose again. Dripping in sweat we decided to follow the bus route till we found the Starbucks. It took about another 10 minutes to find the Starbucks, but even better was an alternative coffee shop over the road. An independent store with delicious looking cakes on display. I’m easily swayed by things like that so we crossed the road and went in. The cake and coffee was delicious!
After coffee we walked back to the hotel via a convenience store to buy something to eat later in the hotel room. To save money in Japan this is our usual meal plan. The convenience stores have a huge selection of meals, both hot and cold. Pasta, noodles, rice, whole curries, etc. They are usually a couple of quid which is half the price of CoCo Curry, the cheapest restaurant chain we’ve found in Japan.
Posted from Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan.