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Trip Report Four nights in Kanazawa + Noto Peninsula self drive + Shirakawago stopover

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My husband and I travelled to Kanazawa last month. The dates of our trip (25-29 March) fell over a Japanese school holiday period when advance planning is essential but we managed to pull it together two weeks before travel. (we are based in Tokyo, so this was a domestic trip but it was still dangerously close to last minute.) The plan: shinkansen to Kanazawa, two days touring the city, third day rent a car to drive up the Noto Peninsula; fourth day, Nohi Bus to Shirakawago for a few hours, then bus to Toyama to rejoin the shinkansen back to Tokyo.
Given the short lead time, our usual tactic of buying a JTB hotel and rail package wasn't an option; their Kanazawa properties were sold out. Based on recommendations from posters here, I rang the Hotel Trusty Korinbo and booked what they said was one of their last doubles (76,200 yen total for four nights and 8 breakfasts: the price rose on the weekend so not sure of the per diem rate). Shinkansen tickets were bought through JTB: 14,120 yen each way. The concierge at our apartment building helped me with bus reservations to Shirakawago and Toyama. The fares: 1,850 yen from Kanazawa; 1,700 yen to Toyama. ( JTB also handles bookings but for a small fee.)

Booking a car for the Noto daytrip was easily done via a phone call to the national office of Toyota Rental Car (one day for 6,480 yen). The agent spoke perfect English and asked me to note the national number as well as the local Kanazawa office number so that if we encountered any language difficulties at branch level, the national office could translate. This proved unnecessary but it was nice to know backup was there.

I also booked a slot at Myoryuji (the 'Ninja Temple) for which telephone reservations are required. The website makes it crystal clear they do not cater to non-Japanese speakers. My language skills are rudimentary and the very formal polite speech (keigo) of the woman at the other end unnerved me to the point I ended up bowing repeatedly to the phone. Something she said at the end made me suspect her English was far better than my Japanese.

The only other bit of advance planning was to email the hotel to ask for dinner reservations for our Friday night arrival.. The answer was not to worry, something could be arranged upon check in. Reading online reviews I knew there were a handful of extremely popular places that we wouldn't be walking into without a reservation but we aren't foodies focused on trying the top rated places so let it drop. As long as we didn't go hungry that first night, we weren't too worried.

The Front Desk's suggestions on our Friday night check in included exactly those 'reservations required' places, eg Otomezushi and Itaru Honten. I queried those, at which point the Front Desk person laughed merrily, agreed we'd never get in there on such short notice and crossed those off and then for good measure crossed off the Itaru Korinbo branch too. Everyone - including the taxi driver who took us to Tokyo Station, had advised us to eat lots of fish in Kanazawa so we asked for someplace nearby with good sashimi. They suggested Jinya, a small counter + couple of tables restaurant just by the gate to the Oyama shrine, a few minutes walk away. They called first, describing us as 'foreign guests' and put down the phone to say there was availability though the menu would be limited to a choice of set courses - 3,000 yen, 4,000 yen or 5,000 yen. We are very comfortable with omakase, that is, leaving it up to the chef but when we got there discovered the restaurant was festooned with hand written signs of the days' specials in Japanese. The English language set menu was obviously aimed at tourists.. We chose the 4,000 yen menu and assumed (incorrectly) that it would include at least one of the daily specials. We started with sashimi sprinkled with gold leaf and there was a delicious salt grilled Nodo-guro (rosy sea bass, a Kanazawa specialty) but that was it for the fish. It was all good but served extremely quickly and we were the only diners. This was our least enjoyable dinner in Kanazawa. From here on, we chose an izakayas for the evening meal, sometimes having to walk into quite a few before finding one with space but never again being confined to a separate 'tourists' menu.'

The Hotel Trusty had come highly recommended for its breakfast buffet. As my husband tends to skip lunch, I am extremely keen on fuelling up in the morning and the Trusty certainly provided a tempting choice: the traditional Japanese selection of miso soup, fish, pickles, as well as scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and sausages (of the cocktail type). I thought this must be the extent of the Western offerings and the first morning, loaded up my plate before discovering a whole other buffet on the opposite side of the room where French toast, pastries, yogurt and fruit completed the Western selection.

The hotel's location is superb: we walked just about everywhere except for the station and the rental car office. The room itself was miniscule - the previous year a friend and I had shared a twin room in a business hotel in Matsumoto for about 9,000 yen/night, B&B. That room had twin beds, a desk, two arm chairs. It included toiletries and night shirts and a big window with a view of the mountains and it was perfectly fine. But the Trusty definitely had the design edge: all very smart and sleek, with some very nice touches. Our third floor room would have looked directly onto the next door building but this had been obscured by an interestingly textured wall with bamboo planted in front, the whole thing floodlit. The shower, though small, was one of the all time greats in terms of pressure. Each night a pair of highly starched nightshirts was laid out on the beds.

There are a couple of different strategies when choosing hotels in Japan. One is the big splurge ryokan for that special experience but if it's not on business expenses or points, going with a basic business hotel makes a lot of sense, as long as the location is good. Trusty falls between these two extremes. (We have done minshuku in our time but now rule out places without ensuite facilities.)

More to follow - if any interest shown!.

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