Japan- Kanazawa to Kyoto March 16-20

April 18, 2016

The flight from Addis Ababa to Narita took about 14 hours including a one hour stop in Hong Kong. We slept most of the way after snapping up 2 empty rows in the back of the 787 as soon as the doors closed. Travelling has made us a bit ruthless.

Within 30 minutes of landing we were able to clear immigration, collect luggage and catch the hotel shuttle bus. You have to love Japan for its efficiency and white gloves.  Our first night was at the Nikko Narita Hotel- a large modern JAL hotel about 10 minutes from Narita Airport. My Jet lagged first impressions of Japan consisted of;  1) a ramen shop filled with Chinese tourists 2) a Japanese 7-11 with an  assortment of rice ball and Oden (boiled fish paste balls)  as well as these addictive chocolate/biscuit Ice Cream bars, 3) a huge breakfast buffet with 3 types of fish, miso, sea weed, charcoal bread and pickles; and 4) A Japanese girl playing with a robot that was bigger than she was. Talk about travel shock, a week earlier we were in the mountains without electricity or water where the kids had only balls and sticks.
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After picking up a SIM card for my phone and  Japanrail passes we headed to Kanazawa via Tokyo. We took the one year old Kokoruku Shinkansen (bullet train). The trip took about 2.5 hours and in between tunnels we saw neat little towns, industrial installations, a ski hill followed by views of the sea of Japan on one side and snow capped peaks on the other.
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Kanazawa was larger than I had envisioned. We walked with our packs from the Train station to our hotel near the market. On our way we passed modern buildings, a temple and a police station with a wanted men page in one window and a hello kitty display in another. The building looked more like a street front community centre than a police station.
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Our booking.com choice was Sumiyoshiya – a small modestly priced Ryokan. We had a large traditional tatami room with a vestibule, sleeping/sitting room and a rectangular room in the back and a separate room for the toilet. The toilet seat was heated, and there was a washlet and special slippers for the two square feet of floor space. On top of the toilet tank there was a tap and small sink. When you flushed water would come out of the tap, soak a deodorizer and drain in a hole to fill the tank. On the end of the tap there was a gizmo with a goldfish that would spin in a bubble when the water flowed.  You have to love Japan for its elegant no-nonsence simplicity and occasional touches of childlike tackiness.
Hotel Room Kanazawa
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On the first night we walked along the main street past up market shops and malls. The side streets with their little restaurants and clubs gave way to quiet residential areas. We crossed over a number of small canals and rivers. The town was very clean and had beautiful parks and cultural centres. There was no snow but it was chilly and the grass was still brown from the winter.
When we stopped to look at an old theatre a man took us to the Box Office to see if there were tickets for a Noh performance but none were available. He was a musician and had been to Vancouver.
Dinner was at a restaurant that served local seafood. The meal was not better than the sushi we have had in Vancouver but cost a lot more.
That evening we  bathed in the hotel’s Japanese bath and slept very well on our futons. Breakfast was fish, rice, miso, pickles. Coffee came from an espresso machine and was nowhere near as good as the hand made coffee in Ethiopia.  It occurred to me that in Japan machines are used to do a lot of the work and that travel in Japan will involve mostly public form (bus, subway, train) compared to private for hire transport that we used in less developed countries.
Breakfast Kanazawa
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The next day we biked along the river followed by a visit to the Higashi Chayagai – the historical Geisha district. We saw a lot of tourists and tea houses but no Geishas, confirming that”they are shy” as the woman at Sumiyoshiya told us. Other sites included well preserved wooden homes and  shops selling local delicacies and gold leaf knick knacks (a Kanazawa specialty) including soft ice cream with gold leaf. We had Japanese market food for lunch including Octopus on a stick, meat balls, and grilled salmon. In the afternoon we visited temples, picked up reserved seat train tickets and slept off some of our jet lag.
eliot biking by river kanazawa
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The next day rained and we went to see the Kanazawa Castle park, followed by the  Kenrokuen Garden and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa.
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 more modern art
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Castle Park
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We returned to the garden at night to take photos. The Sakura (cherry blossoms) were not yet out. The Japanese take their Sakura very seriously with nightly updates on the news following the progress of the blooming of Sakura around Japan.
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That evening we went to the gay bar and chatted with a Spanish guy from Lebanon who lives in Japan- go figure. My overall impression of Kanazawa was that it is a very interesting and friendly town. After Kanazawa the plan was to go to a small seaside hotel in Obama. En route to Obama we stopped at Tsuruga a nuclear power plant town where we walked around in the hour we had to kill before the next local train. The countryside was pretty with small plots of land villages small industries and nuclear plants. In the Obama tourist office we found out that our hotel was 7km away and that we would have to wait 3 hours for the bus. Using dictionaries, we got the woman to call the hotel to see if they could pick us up. She told us he was “obstinate person”.  We walked to a restaurant on the coast and had local seafood. The town was almost deserted. The music playing from speakers of the covered sidewalk in the deserted shopping  street did little to cheer the place up.  I was looking at an ad in an optics store when I was noticed by the young clerk getting all excited about a potential customer. It was interesting to see the different between small town Japan and the big cities where everything is available and easy. After lunch we decided to skip Obama and go to Kyoto because there was no bus the next morning. Japan rail is good because it allows for changes in plans, but not so good for an ADD person like me.
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In three hours we were in Kyoto. The station was and the tourist info office confirmed what I had seen on booking.com- no hotel rooms. We dropped off our bags in a locker and went to Osaka where I used our points to stay at the Marriott Shin Osaka. A huge modern hotel near the train station The room was modern and large and had a book of mormon and a bible. The ease of travel between cities in Japan is incredible. In three hours we had gone from a depopulated town on the Sea of Japan to Kyoto and then to Osaka.  It is less easy to travel around once you get into a town, especially a crowded busy town like Kyoto.
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