Kaga, Japan (April 10, 2023)

We woke up pumped to take Japan’s famous bullet train, or shinkansen. With a top speed of 200 miles per hour, it is renown for punctuality, comfort, and its flawless safety record. Before boarding the train for our two and a half hour ride, we shopped for a carry on lunch at a labyrinth of gourmet shops.

We headed to Kanazawa, former home to the second most powerful and culture-loving feudal clan. With that distinction it’s easy to understand why it rivaled Kyoto and Edo in terms of cultural achievement. Like Kyoto, the city avoided major destruction from air raids during World War II and fires from centuries before that. Consequently its winding cobblestone streets, samurai residences, geisha houses, and lavish gardens have survived in pretty good condition. We walked the narrow lanes and enjoyed the ambience of this quaint neighborhood. Some homes remain private residences and others are now used as restaurants and boutiques.

We strolled through Kenroku-en Garden which used to be the outer garden of the local castle. What we enjoyed today is thanks to the efforts of gardeners who have worked on it for nearly two centuries. It was open to the public in 1871 and is classified as one of Japan’s three most beautiful landscape gardens. Chinese theory says there are six essential attributes of a perfect landscape garden: spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water, and broad views. That being the case this garden hits it out of the park. A sophisticated water system constructed in 1632 diverts water from a distant river to feed the streams and ponds. Each season brings new color to the landscape. We hit the tail end of the cherry blossoms.

The castle grounds are near the garden. The castle is long gone but the enormous barracks and the wall next to the moat are still intact and have been kept in wonderful shape. We strolled around and admired how well maintained the remaining structures are.

Our last stop was at a gold leaf company. A reproduction of a gold leaf-covered suit of armor greeted us at the door. A samurai of days gone by actually wore one like it which had to give the enemy the advantage of knowing right where he was at all times. We learned about the labor intensive process of producing gold leaf and the importance of the paper layered between each leaf before we watched a man pounding gold leaf and a lady cutting it to size. We were offered the opportunity to apply gold leaf to a set of black laquor chopsticks before heading to the snack shop for ice cream with a sheet of golf leaf on top!

We are sleeping in a traditional inn (ryokan) tonight! Although they have existed since the eighth century, ryokan are no longer common in large cities because of the expense of operating them. So lucky us to be in an area where this experience is still available. Guest rooms are typically constructed with tatami flooring, sliding doors, and a small entryway large enough to remove shoes and put on slippers before walking on the mat floors. Almost all ryokan feature common bathing areas which are usually segregated by gender. Guests are provided with a yukata, an unlined cotton summer kimono, to wear after their bath. We didn’t have time for a bath before we ate, but everyone in the tour group wore their yukata to dinner.

We luxuriated in a full course kaiseki dinner here at the ryokan. This cuisine elevates farm-to-table dining to a whole new level! Seasonal food meets art meets presentation. Kaiseki features a set course meal chosen by the chef to highlight the season of the year. Japanese kaiseki dining is considered the epitome of formal dining and is characterized by a calm atmosphere, subdued lighting, and elegant tableware. New to this whole concept, we were wowed! Our meal had 12 courses, some room temperature and some served hot. Each person had two small hot pots, one with rice and one for sukiyaki. It was hands down the most beautiful dinner I’ve ever had.

We were both tired from our long, full day, so we passed on luxuriating in the hot bath. No sooner had we turned out the lights than I regretted that decision.

… City Trivia …

Kanazawa is the #1 producer of gold leaf in Japan.
It is used extensively in decorating temples, shrines, folk crafts, and even food.

Kanazawa is the ice cream capital of Japan.

Instead of plows and shovels, Kanazawa uses a system of warm-water sprinklers to keep roads and sidewalks clear.

Buffalo, New York is Kanazawa’s sister city.
A bronze statue of a buffalo was given to Kanazawa and is now in Sister Cities Park.


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