Saturday, April 18, 2009

OAT Japan, Wednesday, March 25, 2009:

Day in Kanazawa

The glassed in 8th floor dining room afforded a spectacular view of the city of Kanazawa, looking to the north toward the Sea of Japan. This sea had a major influence on the weather in Kanazawa and the Japanese Alps during this part of the trip.

The breakfast buffet had a wide choice of Japanese and Western offerings. The coffee maker made individual cups of espresso, “Japanese [strong] coffee”, or “weak American coffee”, which was not really so weak!

The weather was cold and overcast, but not raining, so we caught up with the itinerary by walking through the Nagamachi Quarter. This was mainly a stroll along narrow streets among well-preserved Samurai-era houses. Characteristic architectural features included earthen walls, cobblestone-lined waterways, weathered cedar siding and window frames, and curved tiled roofs. The Nomura-Ke (Nomura Samurai House) was the highlight of this walk. Both the house and water garden were the epitome of elegant design.

We continued this morning’s excursion with a visit to Kenroku-en Garden, considered one of the three most elegant gardens in Japan. Midway during the chilly walk, we were treated to a formal sado, or tea ceremony at Shigure-tei, a teahouse on the premises. We learned such customs as rotating our large teacup three times clockwise before drinking, and three times counter-clockwise after finishing the thickened green tea or matcha. This ceremony was a genteel aspect of Japanese culture, a cultural treasure for sure. Also, incidentally this cold day, it was an opportunity for us to warm up over glowing stoves in the tearoom!

We had another hour to stroll through the park. Despite the chill, many fruit trees were in bloom, their blossoms set off against the green and gray tones of the park.

We had an exterior view of the Kanazawa-jo Castle Gate from the bus before heading to the Higashi-Caga or geisha girl district. This neighborhood, dating to the 19th Century, featured remarkably well-preserved wooden slatted buildings, quite a different architectural style from that of the Nagamachi Quarter.

We had lunch is a former geisha house, now a French-Asian bistro, where we had onion soup, salad, teriyaki chicken, focaccia bread, and almond mousse for dessert.

The afternoon was devoted to local arts and crafts. First was the Sakuda Gold Leaf Company, where we watched skilled practitioners hammer out amazingly thin leaves of gold. Next was a visit to a pottery atelier where we observed pottery making techniques. There was ample opportunity for us to shop among their exquisite ceramic offerings.

Machiko arranged for us to visit the Ishikawa Prefectural Noh Theater, located up the hill from Kenroku-en. On display were some masks used in performances. A special treat was the opportunity to visit the stage with its characteristic pine tree representation.

When we returned to the hotel, we made plans to eat in, since dinner this evening was on our own. First, we revisited the Omicho Market, where we bought some fresh strawberries, then we considered our options for our main meal. The Sky Hotel had direct interior access to an adjacent department store with its large supermarket in the basement. We found purveyors of yakitori-style chicken, tempura vegetables and even Japanese beer (at a reasonable 130¥ per can!) We were able to assemble a decent meal for about 1200¥. After some TV, we turned in.

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