Sunday, July 23, 2017

初めて北陸旅行 (Part 1: Kanazawa)

14-18 July: Toyama & Kanazawa
(Part 1)

Summer is unbearable. I've despised it all my life in Singapore, and even more so in Japan. In all my self-introduction classes to the new batch of students I have to teach, I would always mention that my favourite season is winter, because I've had enough after 22 years of summer. "もういいよ!!! (No more!!!)" and my students would laugh in response but kiddos... I ain't joking. I hate summer so, so much.

So, I took advantage of a long weekend in July and a couple days of leave that I had to clear, and made a completely impromptu trip out to visit Iggy - a Singaporean JET senpai in the last month before she returned home. During her time in Japan she kept a very comprehensive blog about the JET Programme and being a vegetarian in Japan. Do check her blog out!

Pro-tip for those living in Japan and can't take advantage of the JR Pass: I always book my northbound shinkansen tickets on Eki-net えきねっと - if you reserve early enough there's always 10-15% discount per trip. You'll have to navigate the website in Japanese.

So on Friday evening after work, I took the Kagayaki かがやき shinkansen from Omiya Station. It was the fastest train on the Hokuriku line, so there were only three stops to Kanazawa in Ishikawa prefecture, and I alighted one stop before at Toyama Station. The journey took a little more than two hours.

One more train to get to Iggy!


Tried to take a "Poster Singaporean JETs" photo, with a Singapore flag in the background and of course, a token Merlion in hand - because we really didn't have anything better to do.
Yes, the flag is mirror-reversed because of the selfie camera. 

The next day, I chose to spend the day in Kanazawa in the neighbouring prefecture, and leave Toyama for the rest of the time there. Both Toyama-shi and Kanazawa are connected by the Ainokaze Line (あいの風とやま鉄道) and it takes just under an hour. What's really amazing is that this train is a wanman ワンマン - there was only one carriage. I didn't manage to get a picture of the train - sorry! Since most people in the prefecture get around by driving, there isn't a need for a full-length train.

One hour later, I arrived in Kanazawa - the main city of Ishikawa prefecture.

In front of Kanazawa Station stands a beautiful gate - the tsuzurimon (鼓門), modelled after the drums used in Noh performances. Ishikawa is one of the significant places in Japan that still performs traditional Hosho Noh theatre (宝生能).

I went for a quick lunch - at one of the popular sushi chains in the city, もりもり寿し. I have some friends living in Hokuriku, a region that faces the Sea of Japan - and they're very proud of their seafood. I didn't have a big appetite that day, or in the entire trip unfortunately - because of the summer heat, so sushi was a small meal that allowed me to sample some of the fresh seafood here. It's usually very crowded in all its outlets, but if you're dining alone it's relatively easy to get a seat.

Next, I headed to Omicho Market (近江町市場), Kanazawa's biggest market. It's a lovely place, not too crowded, and comfortable to walk around even in the summer heat, thanks to the sheltered walkways. They even put out giant blocks of ice for you to touch and use to cool yourself down.

Seafood paradise

The next stop was Oyama Shrine (尾山神社). This is one of the more prominent shrines here, because of its unique gate - it's an amalgamation of Japanese, Chinese, and European architectural styles.

I was starting to get really tired of walking around in the sun (read: blazing, blinding, burning, skin-searing, nausea-inducing sun) when I spotted this across the street. "The Second-Most Delicious Ice Cream Melon Bread in the World" (世界で2番めにおいしい焼きたてメロンパンアイス) is a shop selling freshly toasted melon bread, with an ice cream in the middle. It's been raved about in Osaka and some other parts of Japan, but it was actually founded right here in Ishikawa. I was getting hungry from all the walking so I decided to get one to try.

It's not expensive and I liked how soft the bread was (because it was toasted right before serving). I'm glad I got to try it. If I do come across the shop again in the future I don't mind eating it, but I probably won't go out of my way to look for it. However, this has been known to be a great hit among melon-pan fans, so if you're one you'll probably love it.

So, more walking. At this point I realised that I had more or less developed heat exhaustion - I had a splitting migraine for the rest of the day, but I persevered. I didn't bring any salt tablets or Pocari sweat it's actually surprisingly I could last the entire day. Admittedly I was very stubborn and didn't want to take the local sightseeing bus in an attempt to save some money. I walked everywhere the ENTIRE day... but this is probably the last time I will ever try something like this.

This was a picture I sent to my friend that afternoon. Very accurate GPOY.

Finally crossed the Asano river - to the next district.

The Higashi-Chaya Street (東茶屋街) of Kanazawa was at the top of the list of things I wanted to see on this trip. Not so much because it's UNESCO-listed, but because I'm an architectural geek. I love visiting any building, street, cobbled path or town that's old and preserved. I'm a boring old fart like that. On my way there, I spotted this shop selling... soy sauce ice cream (!!!). I REALLY WANTED TO TRY IT.

And it was glorious. It's basically like salted caramel/salted vanilla flavours, but with the more umami profile of soy sauce. If I didn't have melon bread ice cream earlier, I'd have gone for a second cone. 

I also got a bottle of dashi for cooking after sampling at the store.
(You can also find it on the online shop here.)

I really loved the taste of it - it's stronger than katsuo-dashi, and more similar to the Southeast Asian fish sauce. It's best used in hot pots, or simmered dishes.

I finally made my way to the Higashi-chaya Street. 

I've never seen an area that's so architecturally pleasing and soothing for the OCD soul. Everything is so parallel. So neat. So beautiful.

Evening soon came and I made my way back to the station to meet Kimberly, one of my fellow JET batchmates living in the next city. We had dinner at a popular oden restaurant, Kuroyuri (おでん 黒百合).

Hung out at a Lindt cafe afterward, caught up with each other and went to get some souvenirs for myself and the colleagues back in Tokyo. Finally caught the train back to Toyama at 9pm. This time, I took the express liner which cut my ride down by 20 minutes, and the conductor collected the extra ¥300 from us on the train. It was a really good day spent in Kanazawa.

One thing I decided to leave out of my list this time is Kenrokuen 兼六園 - a very famous and historically significant garden in this city. If the weather wasn't so dreadful, I'd definitely have made a visit there. I'd love to visit again, perhaps in autumn or winter. 

One thing I did not really care for, but some might "for the 'gram" - is gold leaf ice cream. Kanazawa is known for its production of gold leaves, gold specks and gold dust especially for use in lacquerware. Of course, over the years they've thought of ways to capitalise on it and you can now easily buy a bottle of gold flakes to sprinkle on your food if you're feeling a tad fancy (or if you want sparkly... poop?) They sell a lot of gold-laced souvenirs too.

(continued in Part 2!)

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