Saturday, April 18, 2009

OAT Japan, Tuesday, March 24, 2009:

Hakone to Kanazawa

The Gora Asahi Hotel sent us off with a most lavish Japanese-style breakfast that was a visual as well as culinary feast. Most of the rest of this day was devoted to our transfer to the northern coastal city of Kanazawa.

Most exciting was the opportunity to ride the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) from Odawara to Nagoya. We had assigned seats and had to stand at the proper doorway for efficient boarding. In fact, it’s all about efficiency and punctuality as far as Japanese mass transit is concerned.

The Shinkansen sped along at a reputed 160 to 180 MPH, helped by no at-grade road crossings and welded rails. We were astounded how smooth the ride was, given the high speeds.

Most of the terrain between Odawara and Nagoya was heavily urbanized, but we were afforded a spectacular view of Mt. Fuji when the clouds parted!

We arrived in Nagoya Station and had a chance to browse the sleekly-designed commercial concourse stores before boarding the Shirasagi (Express Limited Train) to Kanazawa. Even the Shirasagi, which traveled at about half the speed of the Shinkansen, seemed fast and smooth to us! A few stops before Kanazawa, the train switched tracks and we all swiveled around the paired seats, to face the opposite direction.

There was some time set aside to see a few sights in Kanazawa. First was to be a walk through the Nagamachi Quarter, where the samurai once lived. A sudden rain squall scuttled this activity, so we settled into the Kanazawa Sky Hotel. The weather lifted later that afternoon, so Machiko took us to the vibrant Omicho (Kitchen) Market (above), located right across the street from our hotel.

She then led several of us on a stroll passing historic buildings along a major street. Kanazawa was fortunate in being spared bombing raids during World War II, so much of its historic fabric has been preserved.

The hotel treated us to an elegant French dinner (with Asian-Fusion overtones). Highlights were a shrimp, scallop, tomato and asparagus appetizer; a fish dish with yellow lemon sauce; very tender beef with mushroom; mashed sweet potato; and a dessert medley, consisting of a green tea/almond mousse, chocolate fudge cake, strawberries and star fruit.

We then retired to our room. As noted earlier, Japan has gone over the top in toilet technology, and the “shower” or enhanced bidet toilet here was the most elaborate we encountered on the trip! The toilet seat warmed up upon sit down contact, and the bidet or shower feature was customizable for the male (blue button) or female (pink button) anatomy! This one even had a wall panel of buttons, including two for the electronic lifting of the toilet seat and/or cover, and additional controls we did not even bother to explore!

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