Monday, April 7, 2014

kanazawa in a day

To salvage this weekend we headed over to Kanazawa, the second largest city after Kyoto to escape destruction by air raids during World War II. Because of this large parts of the old districts have survived in pretty good condition. I was excited to be able to see all the old historic areas but the most famous attraction here is Kenrokuen, one of the three best landscape gardens in Japan.

We started the day off at Omicho Market filled with fresh seafood. There were a lot of restaurants but most of the food were pretty pricey. We stopped at this combo restaurant and seafood market where I got a bowl of unagi-don for 1200 yen!

Not the best unagi I've ever had but can't beat the price! Then we headed over to Myoryuji Temple also known as Ninjadera, called this not because of its association with ninjas but because of the temple's defenses against attackers. This temple was designed to serve as a disguised military outpost where its defenses and escape routes would allow defenders to alert the castle to attacks.

The temple had a bunch of secret rooms, traps, hidden staircases, etc.You are only allowed to view the temple via a guided tour in Japanese. However a very detailed English brochure is available upon request. Pictures aren't allowed inside and so none of the cool ninja elements were captured on film :(

The staircase is made of wooden slates and paper with a hidden room beneath it. When attackers rush up the stairs, the defenders can spot their shadows through the paper. Defenders can also stab attackers through the paper, hindering their progress.

One last stop at Kenrokuen Garden before Paige had to head home. The entrance we entered through was very obscure and didn't have anyone manning the booth so I though we had somehow managed to get in the park for free. Turns out that for two weeks during cherry blossom season the garden is open to the public for free! Of course because it was free there were so many people there. I would rather pay the entrance fee and have it be less crowded.

flying wild geese bridge

I really enjoyed the gardens especially with all the cherry blossoms in bloom. The grounds are huge with several ponds and streams surrounded by some amazing greenery and humongous trees. Unfortunately Paige had to leave early so I had to view most of the garden by myself. The castle grounds are located right across from the garden but I didn't have enough time to visit those. So many spots to hit up so little time!

Next stop was to see the chaya districts. Chayas are exclusive teahouses where customers are entertained by geisha. In Kanazawa there are three well preserved chaya districts and I manage to see two of them, Higashi and Kazuemachi, the largest and smallest respectively.

higashi chaya district
kazuemachi chaya district
I had a hard time finding the Higashi Chaya District and when I finally arrived I was quite disappointed. I was expecting it to be a bigger area than it was but its really just a small courtyard and maybe a single street where all the houses looked very kitschy and from the past. In Higashai Chaya District you can pay to enter the Shima Teahouse which was an ochaya in the past. It was cool to be able to see how a teahouse looked like since the average citizen usually wouldn't have a chance to see the inside of a chaya. Still true to this day! So all you ever see when you enter this districts are just rows of closed up shops. I actually preferred the Kazuemachi Chaya District because it was situated along the Asanogawa River. The light wood used here in the buildings combined with the cherry blossoms, river scenery and the lack of people made this area very serene.

The Details
Transportation within Kanazawa - Kanazawa Loop Bus
There was a bus every 15 minutes and it had stops near every attraction!
One Day Pass - 500 yen or adults - 200 yen every time you get on
We purchased the one day pass at the Kanazawa Tourism Office located conveniently at Kanazawa Train Station. Passes can also be purchased on the Loop Bus
This pdf provides you with a route map, stops, bus times, etc

Omicho Market
Access: Musashigatsuji Bus Stop - Left Loop (LL1) or Right Loop (RL16)
If heading here straight from the train station take the Left Loop (LL) or you will go all the way around the city before reaching it via the RL
Hours: 9:00am - 6:00pm (shops vary)

Myoryuji Temple aka Ninjadera
Access: Hirokoji Bus Stop - Kanazawa Left Loop (LL5)
At the bus stop you will need to cross the street. The temple is 5 minute walk down the street on your right hand side.
Hours: 9:00am-4:30pm
Admission Fee: 800 yen
Reservations are required call 076-241-0888 (Japanese only)
However if you don't make a reservation and show up they will allow you to enter if there is space in the tour. It seemed like they had a tour every 30 minutes or so.
website (Japanese only)

Kenrokuen Garden
Access: Kenrokuen Garden Bus Stop LL9 or RR8
Hours: 7:00am-6:00pm (March-October 15), 8:00am-5:00pm (October 16-February)
There are also free early admission times starting around 4 or 5am but you must depart the park before regular opening hours.
Admission Fee: 310 yen - adults

Higashi & Kazuemachi Chaya District
Access: Hashiba-cho Bus Stop RL5 or Higashi Chaya District Bus Stop LL11
To reach the Kazuemachi Chaya District just head towards the river and then walk along it around a 5 minute walk away from the bus stop. To reach the Higashi Chaya District you must walk away from the river and the main street. These two districts are diagonally across from each other. 

Shima Teahouse
Hours: 9:00am-6:00pm
Admission Fee: 400 yen but you get a discount if you show your One Day Bus Pass
They have an English info sheet that describes the function of each room.

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