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Chasing Colors in Japan: A November 2023 Trip

Chasing Colors in Japan: A November 2023 Trip

Old Nov 8th, 2023, 03:21 AM
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Hmm, I just wrote a post that has disappeared. If it shows up, I apologize.

I see that you’re off to Kanazawa soon. In addition to Kanazawa castle and grounds and Kenrokuen gardens, I highly recommend a visit to the DT Suzuki Museum. The simplicity and elegance of the museum reflects his Buddhist philosophy and the architecture is stunning. We found it to be a calming place to visit.
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Old Nov 8th, 2023, 03:45 AM
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tp, apparently my post or posts recommending the DT Suzuki museum in Kanazawa are in the “waiting for approval’ phase, but I just want to make sure you see at least one post! This is, IMO, a must-see and I think you would appreciate it.
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Old Nov 8th, 2023, 06:32 AM
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yestravel, thank you. Which Osaka neighborhood(s) did you find most interesting?

progol, thank you. We will make sure to check it out.

Spiritual Travel Bliss

We left Tokyo again today, this time for Kamakura, a former capital of Japan. Kamakura is about an hour away from Tokyo by commuter train. We had breakfast at one of the many bakeries at Tokyo Station, enjoying some of the delicious breads and pastries on offer with tea and coffee, before hopping on one of the JR Yokosuka Line for Kita Kamakura. The northwestern part of Kamakura is home to several important Buddhist temples from the early part of the second millennium, when Kamakura was the center of political and religious life in Japan. We visited Engaku-ji, Tokei-ji, and Kencho-ji. Engaku-ji is the largest of these three temples, and one of the most beautiful we visited today. As with the other grand temples, we entered via a series of massive wooden gates to a main prayer hall and smaller temples (similar to chapels in Roman Catholicism). We admired statues of the Buddha and of Kannon, said prayers to them, and enjoyed the art found all around us, from a beautiful dragon at the ceiling of the main hall at Engaku-ji to thr peaceful garden at the back of the temple complex at Kencho-ji. We wandered among some of the hallways leading to the quarters of monks and nuns, and make offerings of incense at each of the temples. The Kita Kamakura temples resemble several of the temples in Kyoto that we previously visited. We felt like we were pilgrims, even if only for the morning.

From Kencho-ji we made our way to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, the most important Shinto shrine in Kamakura. Similar to the other Shinto shrines we visited thus far, Tsurugaoka has a main hall, a gate leading to it, and a torii before that. Despite the similarities, we did not tire of yet another Shinto shrine visit. Even better is the sense of festivities in the air, as there were offerings being made, children all decked out for Shichi-Go-San, and stalls selling snacks of all sorts. Also on the grounds of Tsurugaoka is a small but worthwhile Kamakura Museum of National Treasures, with its impressive collection of wooden Buddhist statues.

Leaving Tsurugaoka, we wandered down Wakamiya-oji and Komachi-dori towards Kamakura Station. Wakamiya-oji is lined on either side by atmospheric cherry trees, all of which had shed its leaves for the season, and different stores and restaurants on both sides of the street. Komachi-dori is an alleyway lined with restaurants, snack stalls, and souvenir shops as far as the eye can see, none of which are tacky as some of types of places could be. We also enjoyed lunch just off Komachi-dori, at Miyoshi, which specializes in freshly-made udon. The noodles were heaven, and the accompanying tempura - symphony for the mouth.

We travelled by tram from Kamakura Station to Hase Station for Hase-dera and the Great Buddha of Kamakura. Hase-dera is dedicated to Kannon, our favorite Buddhist deity, and the statue dedicated to her is massive. Seeing her was spiritually overwhelming. A small museum next to the main prayer hall hosted wooden statues of each of the 33 faces of Kannon - spectacular! At Hase-dera, we also enjoyed the gardens, including koi ponds and large displays of Jizo statues. Also special was a man-made cave with several carvings of Buddhist deities. and viewpoints overlooking the sea. The Great Buddha or Daibutsu needs no introduction as we've all seen photographs of it; it looks like the ubiquitous images. But we enjoyed seeing it up close and personal no less.

From Hase, we continued via tram to Enoshima, a resort island not too far from Hase. Arriving shortly after sunset, we were greeted with an unexpected surprise - views of Mount Fuji against the backdrop of an orange sky produced by a sunset just minutes beforehand across the water from us, as if it was floating. What a visual and spiritual treat! On Enoshima, we walked up to the island's Shinto shrine, enjoying it all lit up at night. At the top is also the Enoshima Sea Castle, an observatory offering 360-degree views both indoors and out.

What an awesome day it's been.
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Old Nov 8th, 2023, 03:36 PM
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One more tip for Kanazawa - if you have time, try to visit the “Ninja” Temple. It’s in the temple district, so there’s much to explore in the area. It’s a fascinating temple and was given this nickname because of the many clever defenses that were created within the building.

It’s not a must-see, but still worth a visit if you have the time.
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Old Nov 8th, 2023, 04:14 PM
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Originally Posted by progol
Oops! Google translate is good, but it definitely has its moments!
I think laxative is a word that doesn’t translate directly. Had concierge write me a note that basically translated the word to medicine for constipation. At least that is what the translation of the note said. Clerk handed me a box that said For Constpation. I like learning new things!
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Old Nov 8th, 2023, 04:22 PM
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Originally Posted by tripplanner001
What an awesome day it's been.
I've been to Kamakura twice on day trips and haven't seen as much as you did in one day! It is an awesome destination - would love to go back and stay there some time.
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Old Nov 8th, 2023, 08:05 PM
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Kyoto, 73 degrees this afternoon. Walking around in a tshirt! I’ve never done that before in November lol.
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Old Nov 9th, 2023, 05:55 AM
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progol, thank you. Myoryu-ji or the Ninja Temple is definitely on our list although the validation is most welcome. However, we’re anxious for tomorrow given the weather reports of heavy rain.

ms_go, thank you for reading and following along. As you know, there’s so much to do in Japan and hard to decide what to forgo.

curiousgeo, I understand what you mean. It was similarly hot in the Tokyo area.

helloim_tay, thank you.

Glass and Gardens

Today marked our final day in Tokyo. We began our morning in the western district of Shinjuku, known for government, business, and nightlife. We ate breakfast at Musashino Mori Diner in Shinjuku’s Central Park. In addition to bacon, eggs, and such, we treated ourselves to Japanese soufflé pancakes – soft, fluffy pillows of goodness. I thought I was eating cloud. Even though the pancakes look massive, I felt like I was eating a cloud. Could have easily had half a dozen of it as it was oh so good. Following breakfast, we went on a walk through Shinjuku. We walked in the shadows of skyscrapers such as the recognizable Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and Cocoon Tower, wandered through Kabukicho and Golden Gai with its bars and nightclubs, stopped at a small Shinto shrine, and strolled through the vast Shinjuku National Gardens. The gardens host an annual chrysanthemum exhibition the first half of November within the Japanese traditional gardens. The mums of different shapes, sizes, colors, and the products of various pruning were beautiful and interesting at the same time. The Japanese stroll gardens with its trademark stone lanterns, ponds, and bridges were also delightful. And to add it all up, it was a perfect 70+ degrees and sunny. We spent about two and a half hours at the gardens including time for tea and coffee. Ah, the good life.

From Shinjuku we made our way by subway to the Imperial Palace East Gardens for more botany. While the Imperial Palace, home of the Emperor and the Empress of Japan, is off-limits to visitors, parts of the palace gardens are open to the public. We spent about an hour in the gardens enjoying the different views it had to offer. It was not as impressive as the Shinjuku gardens though.

We finally made our way back to our hotel in order to collect our bags and head for Tokyo Station. There we travelled by Shinkansen bullet train to Kanazawa, a city on Japan’s west coast. The trip by bullet train took roughly two and a half hours. Arriving at Kanazawa Station, we travelled by taxi to our home for the next three nights, Machiya Kikunoya, located in the historic Kazue-machi Chaya District. A machiya is a traditional townhouse made of wood and found in cities such as Kyoto and Kanazawa. Machiya served as residences in the past as well as businesses or a combination of the two. As we’ve never stayed in a machiya, we thought it might be fun and at least part of the Japanese cultural experience. We selected Machiay Kikunoya as I recall some of our Fodorite friends in the past have stayed here and enjoyed it. Touring the different rooms and hearing the host describe the multiple uses of each room was fascinating. It is simple and elegant yet beautiful.

After settling into our home in Kanazawa, we walked to Fuwari for dinner. Fuwari is an isakaya located about eight minutes away on foot. The place was buzzing with people, both locals and foreigners alike. The food here, everything from tempura and miso soup to unique specialties of the house, were gorgeous, even better than some of the higher-end cases in which we’ve patronized. Definitely recommended.
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Old Nov 9th, 2023, 07:47 AM
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SFO waiting for KIX flight!
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Old Nov 9th, 2023, 02:49 PM
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"Which Osaka neighborhood(s) did you find most interesting?"
-- the one that we liked, but I bet you might find a touch sleepy was Nakazakicho -- lots of small shops and cafes. Much was closed but we found plenty to keep us interested for a few hours of aimlessly wandering. Its got the juxtapositon of the old homes with the towering skyscrapers looming over it. https://insideosaka.com/nakazakicho/
Dotonbori is the area with all the neon and is the "instagramable" place -- it was fun to look at. We did a 20 minute boat trip that takes you past all the big neon signs and billboards.

Last edited by yestravel; Nov 9th, 2023 at 02:56 PM.
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Old Nov 9th, 2023, 05:44 PM
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Originally Posted by mjs
SFO waiting for KIX flight!
NRT waiting for ICN flight then on to LAX!

ffom Hilton to LAX will be 24 hrs, but flights in C on OZ

fastest train in Japan is Hyabusa Shinkansen was 3 hr 11 min for Shin Aomori to Tokyo with 4 or 5 stops
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Old Nov 9th, 2023, 05:53 PM
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Osaka castle has a nice local museum inside worth a visit and it has an erebeta, so no climbing stairs

Osaka-jo had an important role in Japanese history. Dramatic events there.
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Old Nov 10th, 2023, 03:17 PM
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Went to one of my favorite Jinja (shrines) in Kyoto. Popular with locals but not on the bus tour list of places or top ten sites.

Last year I was still suffering from two months of long covid symptoms. I prayed before a bodhisattva there and a feeling of warmth and peace washed over my body from the top of my head down to my toes. I was astonished! The next day I was almost feeling normal and was clear of symptoms in another day. No way I could explain what happened to my physician.

I returned yesterday to pray, give respect and thanks before the same statue. We spoke with one of the docents and he said that bodhisattva was watching over me. Pretty cool experience!
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Old Nov 10th, 2023, 03:26 PM
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Looking at the Castle now. Waiting to meet my niece who yeahs here. Arrived late afternoon KIX. Limo shuttle 1600Y direct to Sheraton. Sheraton decent 4 star with large rooms for Japan, maybe 350 sq feet. Platinum benefits of free breakfasts for my daughters while the two of us eat in Lounge. Weather here about 60 and partly cloudy.
put 2000Y in each of our Suica cards and transportation taken care of for now. American Visa cards will not load on Suica so used my AMX
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Old Nov 11th, 2023, 06:16 AM
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mjs, glad that you've arrived in Japan safely. I wish you the best moments with your niece and that you enjoy your time in Japan as much as I do.

yestravel, thank you for your thoughts about Osaka neighborhoods. Hope you and gottravel have had a chance to recover from your trip.

mrwunrfl, thank you for the tip about Osaka Castle.

curiousgeo, may I ask which temple you're referring to? We would love to check it out if we have time.

Deluge

Located on the west coast of Japan, in the middle of the island of Honshu, Kanazawa is the largest city in the Hokuriku region. Kanazawa was an important city in much of Japan's history. It was ruled by powerful Maeda clan after they secured victory over other rival clans during the reign of Tokugawa Ieyasu and stayed in power until the Meiji Restoration in the 1800s. Kanazawa Castle and Kenroku-en are legacies of that era as are the samurai and tea districts scattered around the city.

We woke up to the sound of rain drops on our first morning in Kanazawa, on a day that was forecasted to be wet throughout and heavy at times too. Should we rearrange our day given the potential washout for all activities outside? It's a question that was in our minds as we went about our business getting ready for the day. Our morning routine was a bit different than usual, as we were still getting used to staying in a machiya and the low furniture. Make for a couple of funny moments though. In any case, we headed out as soon as we were done, umbrellas in tow.

We headed to Omicho Market, Kanazawa's wet market and a place for eating as well as shopping. Just before 9:00, the market was bustling. We filled ourselves up with bowls of noodles and enjoyed wandering about the stalls. It's crab season in Kanazawa, so there were plenty of those crustaceans. Different types of mushrooms were on sale, fruits in season, vegetables that were both familiar and unfamiliar to us, etc.

From Omicho Market we headed south to Omiya Shrine, a Shinto place of worship. By now, the rain stopped, so we continued with our original plans. Omiya was built during the Meiji area although it was partly financed by the Maeda family who ruled Kanazawa during feudal times. The shrine is unique in that it incorporates European elements to the design of the temple, including stain-glass windows. There is a small garden within the shrine complex, complete with small bridges made for wandering and contemplation.

East of Omiya is Kanazawa Castle. We entered the castle complex via Nezumita Gate, newly constructed a couple of decades ago. Right in front of the gate is Gyukuseninmaru Garden, a small but beautiful landscape garden. We enjoyed the gardens views and continued onward to a couple of storehouses located within the castle walls, but not before admiring the walls itself. We made our way around to the front of the castle, built in a Japanese style that is familiar to us in the West when we think of what a Japanese castle looks like, with white walls and high-sloping black-tiled roofs. As we wandered around the castle, it began raining again, coming down heavier as we were about to enter the castle itself. Much of the castle was lost to a fire in the 1700s. What we see today is largely reconstructed, which the vast majority of it still to come. Inside the castle are exhibits to the history of the castle, its unique construction of interlocking wooden puzzle pieces, and how it was defended during times of conflict. We spent about two hours at the castle. We exited the castle via the massive Ishigaki Gate, towards Kenroku-en.

The rain was coming down hard and it was about 12:30. Instead of proceeding to heading into the garden, we decided to stop at one of the teahouse right outside the garden entrance, Kenjotei, overlooking Kanazawa Castle. We each ordered the delicious chestnut and red bean soup along with a selection of sweets and green tea. Is it wrong to have dessert for lunch? The rain stopped when we left the teahouse, so we proceeded as planned. Kenroku-en is known as one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan (everything in Japan is measured in threes, as in China for that matter). Kenroku-en is laid out like most other Japanese gardens with the different trees, rolling landscapes, stone lanterns, pagodas, and such. One of the defining features of Kenroku-en is the pine trees supported by ropes tied up into the shape of cones to prevent it from damage from wind and snow, called yukisuri. It rained on and off during our 2-hour visit to the gardens, but thankfully not enough to scuttle our plans. It was a joy to wander among the paths, taking in the scenery from different perspectives and simply relaxing. We also visited Seisonkaku Villa, adjacent to the gardens. Built as a retirement home for the mother of a Maeda ruler at the time, the villa is elegant with interesting details found throughout - from wood panels to paintings on screen doors. We also dropped by the Ishigawa Museum of Traditional Products and Crafts for a look at the fantastic Kaga (the historic name of the region where Kanazawa is located) pottery, although we especially enjoyed the prayer altars.

We then walked over to the museum district, where several were of interest. We could have spent an entire day or two here if we had the time, but we didn't. We selected the D.T. Suzuki Museum and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. A Zen Buddhist philosopher, the museum dedicated to him offered exhibits that demonstrated the story of his life and teachings. Sitting by the outdoor garden featuring an outdoor pool surrounded by walls and tall trees was very relaxing - and yes, Zen. At the 21st Century Museum, we enjoyed the special exhibit devoted to big data, digital technology, and artificial intelligence. The exhibits were engaging and thought-provoking. We were glad we saw it.

The skies really opened up while we were at 21st Century and didn't let up when we left. As it was still quite early, around 6:00, we walked around the Korinbo area, home to the city's shopping district (department stores and the same boutiques found everywhere around the world). While we were not looking to buy items we could find at home, it provided us a place to go that's indoors. And the food emporia in the basements of department stores in Japan are worth the trip.

We ate dinner at an izakaya down the street from our machiya as we didn't want to go far in the rain. The place, which consists of counter seating and a few private rooms, is called Tamura. The seasonal local crab, prepared shabu shabu style, was a good choice. The meat was tender and so, so sweet. The nodoguro was excellent too. We also tried other delicacies such as jibu-ni, a meat stew, and items such as sushi and sashimi.
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Old Nov 11th, 2023, 08:31 AM
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Oh good, you got the crab. The season just started there. Kanazawa (gold marsh) is famous for gold leaf. You might see it sprinkled on a dish. You can buy a small container of gold leaf for use as a dietary supplement! though I don't know if it has any specific supposed beneficial properties, or just for show.

Kanazawa is also famous for a style of hand-painted kimono, Kaga Yuzen (iirc, Kaga is the old-time name for region). There is a place where you can see them work on kimono and have several on display. They are just gorgeous. They would be happy to sell you one.
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Old Nov 11th, 2023, 09:13 AM
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"We selected the D.T. Suzuki Museum and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. A Zen Buddhist philosopher, the museum dedicated to him offered exhibits that demonstrated the story of his life and teachings. Sitting by the outdoor garden featuring an outdoor pool surrounded by walls and tall trees was very relaxing - and yes, Zen. At the 21st Century Museum, we enjoyed the special exhibit devoted to big data, digital technology, and artificial intelligence. The exhibits were engaging and thought-provoking. We were glad we saw it."
FAbulous, loved the Suzuki Museum! [size=13px]Thanks[/size] for asking -- jet lag is slowly receding after 2 days home. BTW, cold in DC--in the low 40's already!
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Old Nov 11th, 2023, 02:55 PM
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mrwunrfl, yes, there were crab everywhere in Omicho and at the food halls in the department stores.

yestravel, glad you're easing your way back. This year has been a wild one weather-wise in DC, for sure. Temperatures in Kanazawa this morning were pretty much the same.

Stepping Back in Time

We enjoyed a breakfast of the items we purchased at the department store food halls last night in the comfort of our machiya. It was nice to sit in the living area with our food and coffee while looking out to the small courtyard garden - this must be how Japanese people spend a lot of their free time.

By about 9:00, we were ready to venture out to Kanazawa again. The rain stopped and we were greeted with partly sunny skies. However, the temperatures dropped and it was significantly colder today than yesterday. It was 50 degrees today compared to about the low 60s the day before. What a difference from Tokyo just two days before, when we experienced temperatures in the high 70s. Fifty degrees in Kanazawa definitely felt colder than 50 degrees at home, although I'm not sure why.

On today's agenda were several historic districts: the Nagamachi Samurai District, the Nishi Chaya District, and the Higashi Chaya District. Nagamachi, with a canal flowing through some of the streets, was the most atmospheric. We visited several samurai homes, with the most substantial being the one belonging to the Nomura family. My favorite places in the Nomura home were the prayer room with the exquisite Buddhist altar and the sizable inner courtyard garden with multiple lanterns and large koi swimming around. We also visited a shinise belonging to the Maeda family. A shinise is a building in which the owner operated a business on the first floor and lived on the upper floor. The shinise we visited used to house a pharmacy on the first floor. It was interesting to understand what one of these business-and-home combos looked like back in the days. Also in the Nagamachi district is the Nagamachi Yuzen Silk Center, where we viewed exhibits dedicated to the process of painting and dying silk that were made into garments such as kimonos. The exhibits, in a part museum and part gift shop, were more interesting than I expected.

From Nagamachi we headed about 15 minutes on foot south and west, to the Nishi Chaya District. Home to teahouses during the samurai era, the buildings today are home to restaurants and cafes. There is one that is operated by the city as a museum and helped us visualize what an upper-class residence in this area looked like in feudal times. Not too far is a temple district, with one being Myoryo-ji. Known as the Ninja Temple not because of actual ninjas but because of the numerous clever security features found throughout the temple such as hidden doors, traps, and escape paths, Myoryo-ji could only be visited via a guided tour only conducted in Japanese. While my Japanese is too poor to be able to follow along the fast narration, we were provided printed English guides; besides, the temple itself was interesting and we could always let our imaginations wander.

From here we made our way back across the river towards Kanazawa Castle and Kenroku-en on foot. We stopped by a melonpan shop near Kanazawa City Hall and picked up a few of the delicious bread that we enjoyed yesterday that we ate right outside the walls of Kanazawa Castle. Soft and chewy on the inside and crispy and sweet on the outside, the melonpan was worth returning to the shop.

We ended our explorations today at the Higashi Chaya District, although it was almost 5:00 by the time we arrived and it was starting to get dark. The largest of the three teahouse districts in Kanazawa, we once again felt like we were transported back in time, as we did throughout the day. We visited the Shima Teahouse in the district. Other than that we browsed a couple of shops as it was too late to do any more. Had the sun set later or we had more time, we would have loved to wander around and perhaps even explore the mountain behind it. We felt our time in Kanazawa was too short.

From there we walked back to our lovely machiya to freshen up. We traveled by taxi to our Gyohan Bukeyashikimaeten, a casual Japanese restaurant, for dinner. As tonight was our final night in Kanazawa, we reordered a few of our favorites that we know we won't be able to get elsewhere, including the seasonal crab, nodoguro, and jibu-ni. We could eat crab and nodoguro every day, although my wallet may not like me for it.

We wrapped up our day with a return to Kanazawa Castle for the special exhibition of teamLab: Digitized Kanazawa Castle (thank you progol for letting us know about it). This is a digital art show that uses the castle itself as its canvas. We entered via the Ishigawa Gate and followed a prescribed course through the castle. Projected onto the castle walls are various images, accompanied by colors and sound. Near the start of the course, we walked along a passageway flanked by stone ramparts on each side. Projected onto the walls are animals and then samurais, as if they are parading before us. Towards the back of the castle was a collection of inflated plastic eggs. We could walk along the path or find ourselves among the eggs, turning the objects into some sort of fluid maze. The colors of the eggs were constantly changing. While there was a crowd near the ramparts, they spread out once we reached the back with the eggs. Coming around the moat to the front of the castle, the crowds started to thin out (it could be that we were there in the last hour or it could be that it was very cold). Here we enjoyed a colorful display of various animals, flowers, and other objects projected onto the stone rampart and castle walls.


While we enjoyed our time in Kanazawa and glad we were able to visit, our timing may not have been ideal given the rain and cold (it was raining again this morning as we left Kanazawa and when I am writing this report, which may explain my feelings here). At the same time, it seems that Japan experiences more microclimates than where we live, which may explain the drastic variations in weather between seemingly short distances. Or perhaps this is not normal and a product of climate change.

The other regret is that we only allowed for three days in Kanazawa and could have easily enjoyed a fourth. The allotted time did not permit us to delve into the arts and crafts that Kanazawa is well-known for. We would have liked to spend more time in the Higashi Chaya District, for example, and visit some of the pottery kilns in the area. I had really hoped to purchase a piece of pottery or two, but ran out of time to check out anything other than the tourist-oriented shops.

Also, with the exception of the area around Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, we've been unsuccessful at spotting the fall colors. We knew going into our trip that we were too early for the leaves turning red and yellow in Tokyo and had no expectations of it. Other than a tree here or there, leaves largely remain green in Kanazawa. And it seems like we're too late for colors in Takayama, but we'll find out tonight. The search for koyo continues.
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Old Nov 11th, 2023, 05:38 PM
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tp001, great reports, I wish I could express my travel experiences as eloquently as you do.

Wasn’t nodoguro delicious? My favorite way to eat it is slightly charred as nigiri sushi. Before it gained such national popularity it was considered fisherman’s food, the part of the catch unsellable that they brought home to eat.

The winding, dipping roadways leading to the Kanazawa castle are also interesting. They were purposely constructed to impede invading armies, creating ambush and choke points.

The shrine I prayed at is Toji, in central Kyoto. It is actually my second favorite shrine, the first being Honen-in along the Philosophers Path in the eastern hills. Set above the canal in a quiet wooded area, very peaceful and zen. It’s a bit of a hike but very rewarding if you go.

Looking forward to more from your trip.
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Old Nov 12th, 2023, 04:11 AM
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curiousgeo, thank you. I've only had grilled nodoguro and it was divine. Now you're whetting my appetite on the nodoguro for nigiri sushi. We enjoyed To-ji during our last visit to Kyoto ten years ago and intend to return at night this time for its evening illumination and fall foliage. My favorite bodhissatva in Japan, so far, is the one at Hase-dera in Kamakura.

Into the Mountains

We bid a reluctant goodbye to a rainy Kanazawa this morning as we traveled by highway bus to Takayama, our next stop on our travels across Japan. Before we got to Takayama, we made a stop in the village of Shirakawa, or Shirakawa-go, for a look at the famous gassho-zukuri high-sloped thatched roof homes. We hopped on the first bus of the day bound for Shirakawa-go, at 8:10, but not before a tasty breakfast of pastries from DONQ, a bakery inside Kanazawa Station. And yes, we once again ate melonpan, along with a selection of other breads.

The not-so-comfortable motorcoach, similar to Greyhound buses in the United States, departed on time. Soon after we left Kanazawa, we were in the countryside, with single-family homes scattered throughout the green-and-gold landscape. Flat plains soon gave rise to mountains, covered in a mix of evergreens and trees that are beginning to turn yellow. By the time we went into the mountains, the dreary skies started to brighten up. The sunnier weather and the beautiful mountains we were passing through also lifted my spirits. We arrived in Shirakawa-go at 9:25, at the scheduled time.

Nestled in a valley among the Hida Mountains that receives lots of precipitation, including snow in the winter, Shirakawa-go is famous for its collection of high-sloping, thatched roof homes that allows the rain and snow to fall off easily. Traditionally these homes were occupied by farmers, silk makers, and families of other trades such as medicine. Today the main industry is tourism. Most of the gassho-zukuri, or praying hands in Japanese for its resemblance, house restaurants, snack shops, and souvenir shops. Three of these homes - Wada House, Kanda House, and Nagase House - have been converted into museums that give visitors like us a glimpse of what the lives of these residents were like. Each of these homes share a common layout, with a room (irori) with a wood-burning stove for warmth and cooking, a prayer room, living space, etc. Wada House's exhibit focused on the silk industry while Each of the house museums also offered exhibits about the types of industry that flourished in Shirakawa-go in times past. Wada is also the largest of the three. However, we enjoyed Nagase the most. Nagase was the only home that allows visitors to climb to the roof level, from where we can really appreciate the wood and rope construction. Its exhibit focuses on the tools and materials used by the local villagers. Nagase was also not crowded with tourists as the other two were. None of these, though, compare to the open-air museum located on the other side of the river and accessible via a suspension bridge. The open-air museum is home to 25 gassho-zukuri from all over the area. The museum showcased life in the region and tools and processes (e.g. silk making, rice drying) used by the locals. In addition to the house museums, we also viewed a Buddhist temple and a Shinto shrine. We also shopped, enjoyed hot bowls of soba noodles for lunch at one of the small establishments, and snacks on a few local favorites such as Hida beef skewers. The setting of Shirakawa-go is also spectacular, surrounded by mountains all around. While the foliage was past its peak and the trees at the top of the mountains were gone, we still saw the last remaining leaves lower down on the hillsides. Our time in Shirakawa-go passed quickly. We thought that six hours would give us plenty of time as most suggested two or three. While we enjoyed most of what the village had to offer, we didn't even have time to make it to the observatory. Perhaps this was for the better as the on-again, off-again rain throughout the day turned into steady rainfall. We were back at the bus station at around 3:30, leaving us with 15 minutes to grab our luggage, use the restrooms, and wait for our bus.

We hopped back on the bus bound for Takayama. Most of the road pass through tunnels traversing the Hida Mountains, so there wasn't much to look at. We arrived in Takayama an hour after we left Shirakawa-go. From the train station, we walked over to the reception office for our machiya. We were greeted with warm tea and wagashi, completed our paperwork, and were driven to our machiya, Iori Miyagawa, next to the river just south of the Sanmachi Historic District. Located in a historic Takayama townhouse, the interior is fully modern with all the Western creature comforts. The 2-bedroom townhouse with wood throughout has a kitchen, washing machine, and two terraces. Complimentary hotel upgrades aside, this is the most spacious accommodation we've enjoyed anywhere.

Dinner, though, was more challenging. We tried three different restaurants specializing in Hida beef before we found one that even accepted us on the waiting list - Maruaki. After nearly an hour's wait, we feasted on some of the best beef anywhere. We grilled our own beef using the tabletop grill. While fun, we're no experts on grilling meats so some pieces wound up being tougher than we would normally like.

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