Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Day Trip to Kanazawa

Every day trip begins with a stop at the local convenience store to pick up a few onigiri, which are rice balls stuffed with something and wrapped in nori. Just like every other type of food that I've experienced in Japan so far, the possible ingredients for the inside of the onigiri is as limitless as your imagination. Emily picked out a few chicken and mayonaisse onigiri and I grabbed a snack made of rice and smoked salmon.

We stuffed our snacks into my bag, bought our train tickets to Kanazawa, and boarded the train, which was already waiting for us at platform 3. While we were on the train we ran into Lesley and Linda Parker, two sisters from Canada who had been in Takaoka for two weeks with NOVA (another English teaching program in Japan). They were looking lost and distraught and were having one hell of a time trying to get to their NOVA orientation and training.

I think they were pretty happy to run into us. Emily was able to help them get tickets for their connecting train. We chatted on the train and exchanged email addresses. It turns out that they live right up the block from our apartment. I'm sure we'll be seeing them again soon.

We arrived in Kanazawa after only about 30 minutes on the train.

It was raining, but do you think that stopped us? Of course it did! We ducked into the closest bookstore we could find. When we warmed up we walked for another 5 minutes and then ducked into the closest Starbucks.

We ordered a pair of grande cappuchinos, which were pronounced "grande cappuchino" instead of the usual "gurande kapuchino" that we hear whenever somebody utters an English word, and took a few minutes to warm up again and to look through my Fodor's Japan guidebook to see what we wanted to do in Kanazawa.

I like parks, so we decided to go to Kenroku Gardens.

The only problem was that it looked like it was on the other side of town. However, as we kept on reading, we discovered that there is a tram called the Kanazawa Loop Bus that encircles the city every 45 minutes AND it just happened to hit every main tourist attraction, INCLUDING Kenroku Gardens.

What a deal! We hopped on the next tram and took it right to the doorstep of Kenroku Gardens for only 200 Yen each.

Kenroku Gardens is the largest of the three most famous landscaped gardens in Japan. Quick, name the three most famous landscaped gardens in America: Um, Epcot....


I absolutely love Japanese gardens. Emily and I spent about four hours winding hand-in-hand through the parks innumerable trails and enjoyed watching the people as much as we enjoyed watching the changing of the maple and ginko leaves.

Kenrokuen (the Japanese name for the garden) gets her name because she possesses the six superior characteristics judged necessary for the perfect garden: spaciousness, artistic merit, majesty, abundant water, extensive views, and seclusion. The name literally means "integrated six park."

They should probably rename the place Kengoen because it isn't exactly secluded anymore. Walking throughout the park are roving bands of middle-aged Japanese being led by a tour guide belting out the history of the park over a megaphone. If you ever got tired of taking pictures of the trees and changing foliage you could turn your attention to amateur photographers setting up tripods to take pictures of thier friends and family flashing the peace sign. We didn't even experience the park at even close to capacity. We were there on a weekday during the day. I can only imagine what weekends and Golden Week or Cherry-Blossom Season are like.

One of my favorite parts of yesterday occured while we were sitting on a bench on top of a rather secluded vantage point in the park. We were just sitting and watching the people in the park below us and looking out at the city of Kanazawa beyond the borders of the park when an older Japanese man meandered up to where we were sitting. He initiated the conversation, which surprised me because we're told that the Japanese are very shy and do everything possible to NOT have to talk to a foreigner. He was very nice. Even though we told him that we spoke very little Japanese and he told us that he spoke very little English, he was able to tell us that he thought the view was very pretty and we were able to tell him that we were American (which is barely obvious, right?)

I also really liked the way they protect the ancient trees from breaking during the winter months. They tie a large pole to the trunk of the tree. The pole extends well over the crown of the tree. Ropes are tied to the top of the pole. The ropes reach down to the different branches on the tree and hold them up.

It is really pretty because they use all natural looking materials to tie up the trees. There are no plastics or metals involved (that can be seen, anyways); all you see is a tall bamboo poll extending from the center of the tree and lots and lots of rope.

It makes the trees look very graceful, especially in the parts of the park where there are several trees tied up this way in one place. I posted a picture of one such area in my post last night.

When we had walked through more than once and after I had taken more pictures of maple leaves than I care to admit, we decided to head back towards the bus stop and to find something to eat. We took the Kanazawa Loop Bus up to the business district and got off right in front of Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

Food could wait. It was time to go shopping! We didn't buy anything before dinner; We only went from store to store and up to the 8th floor of a department store with Emily periodically informing me of which dresses, jackets, shoes, and purses were beautiful, gorgeous, or simply "works of art."

Thankfully Emily cherishes food over shopping and her stomach eventually got the best of her. She took me to a little Italian place that was down a little side alley off the main drag. We sat down and looked at our menus, which were competely in Japanese and figured out that I wanted a beer and she wanted another cappuchino. When the waiter came over and took our drink order, he took up our menus and walked away.

Uh, we wanted food.

I whispered to Emily across the table, "I'm hungry, I wanted to get some food."

To which she replied, "Then you ask for the menus back."

It is little things like these that seem like monumental tasks when you first encounter a foreign language. You have to get over sounding like an idiot, because after all, as a foreigner, YOU ARE AN IDIOT.

"Well, how do you say menu in Japanese?" I asked.


When the waiter came back I asked, "Menu, onegai shimasue."

To which he replied, "Hai, hai, hai."

That wasn't too hard, now was it?

After dinner, let me just add that I still don't know what I ate, we did a little more shopping. This time we actually bought something. We both got matching fleece jackets that cost around $20. I consider it a very smart purchase, since I have no idea when my winter jackets will arrive.

We walked back to the train station from the shopping district, but not before stopping for donuts at Mister Donut. Our only other purchase was some fruit. I bought a pineapple, some strawberries, and some mikans at an outdoor market. I'm sure this outdoor market has a name, but it escapes me right now.

It started raining on the walk home. We didn't get too wet, but we got really cold. We were frozen solid by the time we got back to the apartment.

(By the way, I think the apartment needs a name. I guess we could just call it FISTA, but I'd like to think of a more exciting name for this place.)

I was so tired when I got back that all I could do was to post those pictures of the changing leaves and drag myself over towards the tatami to crash.

I woke up at 3 AM. Damn you, JET lag!


The Angry Sicilian said...

wow a mr donut.. you gotta be kidding me.. i guess we really are in a global village.. or something ;) great to read these stories. keep them coming.

Mom said...

I think you should contact a publisher and get a book deal. Think Year in Provence.