- Travel Topics
We made a huge leap up to central Japan by busing it from Kyoto to Kanazawa, which borders the Japanese Alps. Not to dwell on the buses, but they were amazing – I’ll let the pictures do the talking:
(with fully reclining chairs where even the bottom of the chair comes up, blankets, adjustable pillows and shades to shield your eyes from the sun Greyhound has got a lot to learn from the Willer Express).
Although only hosting us for one night, our Couchsurfers were amazingly kind. A husband and wife whose children had left for college, they treated us like we were their non-Japanese speaking replacements, while they were the Japanese parents we never had. Hiroko made a delicious dinner called chirashi zushi (also known as ‘scattered sushi’ is a dish consisting of cooked and cooled rice with seasoning topped with thinly sliced raw fish, tamago, seasoning etc) and she let Vicky help cook. (I was more than happy to help in the kitchen and knew the meal would be authentically Japanese when she took raw salmon, tuna and scallops out of the fridge and showed me how to slice them for the dish. Along with the rice and fish bowl we each had mini bowels of pickled veggies and miso soup- as seems to be common in Japanese meals. The meal was truly amazing and my taste buds were simply overwhelmed by the deliciousness. You could tell the fish was incredibly fresh as it simple melted away once it hit your tongue. A bit hesitant at first about eating the 100% raw fish, after my first few bites I instantly dove in for seconds and thirds. I could have easily finished the entire bowl if not for my manners stopping me).
The next morning, we woke up to the sound of pouring rain. In Kanazawa it rains 178 days a year, so this was no surprise, but we haven’t had a full on rainy day (well our day in Nara also started with the sound of rain) yet so we crossed our fingers.
Rain or shine, Hiroko made certain we were full before we left (pumpkin soup, juice, coffee, and bread with home made jam was our breakfast for the day). We made a quick pit stop to our next host to drop off our bags. If you’re beginning to get the impression we did a lot of couchsurfing in Japan, this was #6 in 7 nights. However, like all the times before, the profile of the host differed entirely from the rest.
Laura was an American from Maine, participating in the JET program, which is essentially teaching English abroad. She lives in a centrally located apartment in the city and just moved in about a month and a half ago, which made her only slightly more knowledgeable about Japan than us. She did, however, translate a few phrases that I had been scratching my head about, like why whenever I walk into a store they always seem to utter “irasshaimase”, which means “welcome”, but I guess literally translates to:
“honorable customer is present“
As an honorable individual, I’m going to allow this to continue (you can imagine Dave continues to get a huge kick out of this every single time we walk into a convenience store).
With only one day in Kanazawa, we left our bags at Laura’s and set off to see the sites…
The castle was founded in 1583. It burned down 3 times and they rebuilt it in 1762. After several minor fires and a major one which destroyed it in 1881 they said enough is enough and didn’t attempt to rebuild it. All that remains is the gate(which is stunning on it’s own to say the least) and the park.
When Lonely Planet said this garden would take 1.5 hrs to walk around I was somewhat skeptical, but they were right. This garden is massive…massively beautiful(if not for the other tourists it truly would have been an oasis of tranquility)!
(As usual Dave has left out our food adventures. For lunch I wanted to check out the Omicho market in hopes of finding some good quality reasonably priced sushi. Up until this point we had yet to try sushi out and with several days in Japan behind us it was time. Upon entering the market we found a place with a huge line – in which Dave refused to wait. We circled around and split a bowl of soup at a different place but I was drawn to the original sushi restaurant and finally go my way – we waited. Since these types of establishments are tiny – the wait can be quite long – ours was around 30 minutes but with only one chef working we continued to wait another 20 minutes for our food – a combo sushi platter. The fish was fresh and delicious. Without being able to identify all the different types I happily popped each piece into my mouth, taking the time to let all the flavors slowly hit me. Delicious – and for only 1250 ($16) not a bad deal at all. As a side note our host Shutaro in Kyoto has recommended this exact spot as the best sushi in Kanazawa but without internet access at Hiroko’s we did not discover this until later on that night)
This was definitely one of Vicky and my favorites, the highlight of which was a letter thanking the Samurai for the head he brought. It also had a nice, Japanese style garden, which has inspired me to build my own personal one someday (somehow I don’t quite see the gardener in Dave).
Cute streets and a bunch more temples. I had to keep Vicky on a tight leash (we always have to head back to the couchsurfer’s place earlier than I would like as Dave starts to whine and throw his daily temper tantrums).
With Laura as our host it was a nice opportunity to speak some fluent English with someone about Japan. She took us to a Ramen noodle restaurant (which was seriously amazing).
Think Sturbridge village, except people are still living there…for real.
When Vicky and I arrived we immediately realized that neither of us had much cash (about $20 total in Japanese Yen) – a huge oversight (let’s clear something up here – I knew we had no money before we even left Kanazawa and insisted that we go to an ATM there, but Dave told me we’d be fine). Ironically I had about $300 in my wallet – in theory enough to buy a modest plot of land in this town, in practice not enough to buy even a small ice cream. We were virtually in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains (literally in all directions) and with no sign of an ATM. We had a bus ticket out so that wasn’t an issue, as well as enough money for lunch (I considered our money better spent on admission to the sights instead of lunch). The situation wasn’t dire, but with our current supply of cash we basically had a choice between lunch and 1 or 2 sights that only one of us could enjoy. Vicky was getting her camera ready while I prepared to sit on the sidelines (since I’m the photographer here that’s fair right?).
We asked the tourist center if they knew where we could take out some money, but the nearest ATM was over an hour away (each way). Distraught and demoralized, Vicky and I made our way on foot through the town, discussing the trade offs of having lunch or having only one of us see the sites and take pictures.
The heat was beginning to get to me…Vicky was looking like a nice piece of Kobe beef (and I was starting to increasingly grow more irritated by the second).
About 15 minutes down the road we stumbled onto what looked like a bank. Unfortunately, they didn’t accept American cards BUT they did point us to a post office 15 minutes away that would.
We had wasted a bit of time meandering around, but the day was saved, and Vicky was off my back and with 10k Yen in my pocket I felt like the richest man in Shirakawa-go.
A steep climb about 30m up but well worth it as it truly presents a view of the entire town.
Despite being up in the mountains, Shirakawa-go is a bit of a tourist attraction, and therefore, has tourist attraction prices. (I had read about the hoba miso being a regional specialty and insisted we seek out a lunch place where I could try it out. Dave ordered some sort of meat popsicle on a stick and I received what look like a tablespoon of miso paste on a maple leaf with 2 inch cubes of tofu – all of this layered on aluminum foil which was delicately placed over a ceramic cube with a burning flame. Interesting presentation doesn’t even begin to cover it. I was expecting a bowl of noodles with miso paste but instead had to settle on a measly lunch gobbled up in three bites. I guess this is what you get when you don’t research the local specialties beforehand).
I decided I’d let Vicky do this one solo since I had a feeling I knew what it was going to look like inside. Typical farmhouse. (I personally found this house to be particularly interesting and would highly recommend it)
I wasn’t expecting much from this but it was actually pretty cool – essentially a preserved part of the town where you can enter all the buildings and see the tools they used (at the end of grounds there is a video showing how the farm houses are made and re-thatched – our video watching was cut short since Dave insisted we catch the earlier bus out of town, but I highly recommend sticking around to view the whole thing).
78 yen = $1
Bus from Kanazawa to Shirakowago – 1800 yen
Bus from Shirakowago to Takayama – 2400 yen
Castle Grounds: Spend about 1hr, free
Garden: Spend about 1.5hrs, 300 yen
Samurai House: Spend about 45 minutes, 500 yen
Wada House: Spend about 25 minutes, 300 yen
Heritage Museum: Spend about 1 hr, 500 yen