I had been looking forward to the alps and thought Kanazawa was much smaller than it turned out to be. With no mountains in sight we toured the city basking in the glory of cherry blossoms and two sunny days.
The long paved entry to the castle grounds were lined with several statues and the castle grounds were adorned with dozens of blooming cherry trees and a garden, with only one such tree and several inaccessible curved bridges. Many fires over the centuries destroyed the buildings leaving only two storehouses and an impressive gate with restoration slowly beginning.
Kenrokuen Garden is one of Japan’s most celebrated, if not at the top. Despite the numerous visitors, the height of the cherry blossoms (have I mentioned them yet?) and the warm sunshine made it a great day to enjoy the landscaping. We even took a break at a teahouse where we kneeled on a cover over the tatami mat, and were served tea and a sweet while a Japanese woman explained the history of the building. Then in English she gave us the condensed version of the restoration. The ceiling is cypress, very few nails were used, and those were covered with decorations. She showed me how the shōji screens are carefully opened by holding the frame so as not to break the paper. Then we were allowed to photograph the garden from the deck. All this was only $3 each. According to japan-guide.com, “the name Kenrokuen literally means ‘Garden of the Six Sublimities’, referring to spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views, which according to Chinese landscape theory are the six essential attributes that make up a perfect garden.” We feel they succeeded admirably!
Before leaving the area we rested and energized on a large skewer of pineapple. After finishing we noticed an ice cream store selling cones with gold leaf over the scoop. Using sign language and a few English words I asked the young couple buying some if they eat the gold. They nodded and laughed as I said doubtfully, “ok”.
On the way home we stopped by Omicho Market with vendors preparing and selling seafood, vegetables, and fruit. One woman was cleaning an octopus or squid and letting the ink wash away to the floor. Crabs everywhere are very expensive. A two-story crowded grocery store sells imported food upstairs. Canadian maple syrup sells for about thirty dollars a liter. Wine, though not seen much in restaurants, is not expensive. More gold foil covered ice cream was for sale, but we still didn’t chance it.
The second day we spent visiting three preserved neighborhoods. Higashi Chaya, where geishas perform in tea houses at night, has many shops, including those selling gold leaf items. Cosmetics and foods dusted with gold are included! Why would one want to eat gold? One small room is covered both inside and outside with gold leaf. An artist was in somewhat distant view working. We entered another private residence, all of which require taking off one’s shoes before stepping onto the floors covered with tatami mats.
The next neighborhood’s main attraction for us was a former samurai residence. When the feudal system disintegrated many samurai residences were destroyed and this house was part of the ruins. Any nails are hidden behind decorative wood. The busy garden contains several stones lanterns, a waterfall, winding stream, cherry granite bridge, and tower. Nearby were other remains of samurai residences but for those low on the totem pole. They were just tiny rooms near the gate and stable.
There is also a restored storefront of a pharmacy showing the day book, abacus, herbs, etc. used in the feudal time. The residence behind allows visitors to see various rooms. The lounge has a fire pit in the floor with a pot hanging from a ceiling beam. Only top class merchants had tea rooms, about a quarter of the size of a lounge. Owners of traditional pharmacies had knowledge of flower arranging, tea ceremonies, incense burning, or practiced haiku poetry or calligraphy. Upstairs are exhibitions of artisan tools and crafts, typical wedding gifts such as bridal curtains, desserts, and cords. A display of elaborately wrapped gifts was intriguing.
The last neighborhood was really quite short and housed shops. Nearby was a maze of temples, dozens of them, all crowded together. We didn’t spend much time there as we were fatigued by then.