White As Snow

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Aug 27, 2010

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Where I stayed
Kanazawa Central Hotel

Flag of Japan  , Chubu,
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It's quite a trek from Hiroshima to Kanazawa, but three trains later we made it. Our hotel took a bit more finding than usual and the rain didn’t help matters. However, we were given a little shelter waiting for and crossing one intersection by a rather amusing and chivalrous gentleman who, presumably having spent the evening drinking, was going our way and insisted on sheltering Sarah with his umbrella! Check-in at the Kanazawa Central Hotel was smooth enough and the price was surprisingly low; we soon discovered this was in keeping with the room size….it was a twin room with two beds only slightly larger than single beds, a tiny bathroom, a wardrobe so narrow that the backpacks couldn’t fit inside and not even enough space to lay our bags on the floor (they had to go on the tiny desk)!

Despite the tiny room, we slept well and set off the following morning on a loop bus to see the main sights of Kanazawa. First stop: Kanazawa Castle; A beautiful imperial castle with a large moat, impressive gardens and best of all, very few people. The cherry blossoms were still quite spectacular here although by now there was a blanket of petals forming on the ground…or at least there would've been had the diligent grounds staff not been on hand with brooms at the ready! The kids had great fun playing with the fallen blossoms….maybe they were missing the snow this year?

After strolling around the castle, we made our way across the bridge and into the Kenrokuen Gardens – said to be one of the most exquisite gardens in all of Japan. After admiring their beauty and reaching the far side of the gardens, the rain began again, this time in earnest. We made our way back to the entrance, but not before passing a rather amusing sight. I think we’ve mentioned previously just how clean Japan is, but this takes the biscuit. Two men dressed in full waterproofs were standing in a little stream that runs through the gardens brooms in hand, sweeping the stream bed… I kid you not! Once outside of the park, feeling rather damp and cold, we stopped for lunch and warmed our hands on mugs of green tea while waiting for our rice and noodles to arrive.

Fully warmed both inside and out, we donned our rain jackets once more and marched back through the park to the Museum of 21st Century Art. The museum is built to a unique architectural design which is almost as interesting as the exhibits themselves. Unfortunately due to the incessant rain we hurried inside only to find that the (outdoor) exhibit Derek was most interested in seeing (called the "Swimming Pool") was closed due to the weather. There was nothing for it but to hop back on the loop bus and so we headed for the local market. Unfortunately the market wasn’t overly exciting if you’re not looking for fish or if you’ve recently visited the mother of all fish markets so we caught the very next bus and were soon back in our hotel trying to warm up over green tea for a second time that day.

As our day had not panned out quite as well as we had hoped, we thought we’d take the kids to “game city” right across the street from our hotel. We entered to a wall of sound that was almost deafening … inside was row after row of (maybe 1000) one arm bandits and the like, a little bit of Vegas here in remote Japan! We skirted around the edge of the gambling machines and made our way up to the next level where the floor was covered with video games….Alex and Derek were drooling at the sight and trying to decide which game they wanted to play first when we were approached by a member of staff. Apparently kids were not allowed in and this was just one big playground for the overgrown kids! So, instead of playing games we headed on to find some dinner. After browsing the array of eateries on offer at the mall (this was no food court), we settled for a place whose specialty was rice-stuffed omelets. We gorged and left as rice-stuffed-omelet-stuffed-people and waddled back to bed.

We spent a second night in Kanazawa because all accommodation in Takayama was spoken for, and so it was an early start indeed by our standards to catch a 7am train that would get us to our destination by 9:30am. Takayama is a small town in the mountains and is home to huge spring and autumn festivals, the earlier of which was held April 14th & 15th this year. After managing to find a couple of lockers big enough for all of our bags, we set off to find a good viewing spot for the main event. The big draws of the festival are a couple of puppet shows and a parade of very tall and brightly coloured wooden floats. The puppet shows take place on three of the floats parked in one of the town squares and are watched by thousands of people. We secured our places and as the crowd filled in around us, it actually began to snow. The flurry was a short lived novelty and dissipated miraculously to be replaced by glorious sunshine just as the puppet show got underway. These displays have been carried out with few changes for hundreds of years and were quite entertaining and very different to anything we’ve seen before.

Once the puppet show was over, we had time to wander around town taking in the festival vibe and inspecting the remaining nine or ten floats that would be parading later in the day. We also enjoyed meandering through some of the back streets and their quaint little shops! We had to make a hurried departure from one store after one of the children dropped and scratched a wooden ornament… and no, we’re not talking about Lauren or Alex here!

In search of a decent bite to eat before we boarded our next train, we came across the Best Western hotel which had a buffet lunch, although it was due to close soon. Whilst pondering whether or not to try it out the manager happened to return to the hotel and assured us that they would keep the buffet open for us until 3pm. True to their word, not only did they keep the buffet running they also brought freshly prepared pasta and pizza directly to our table….mmmm, good decision to eat here!

Having done all that we wanted to in Takayama, it was back to the station in the hope that we could catch an earlier train than the one that was already booked. Our luck was in and the earlier train had available seats. It was only when the new tickets were being issued that we noticed our original tickets had been booked for the wrong date. Had we turned up an hour later for what we thought was our train, we’d have discovered that we were 24 hours early and all remaining seats for today were sold out! Not only that, but since there were no rooms available anywhere in Takayama during the festival we’d have been in a bit of a pickle. I guess sometimes it pays to be early, or maybe it’s just that lady luck was on our side once again! Whatever the forces at play, we boarded the earlier train and after a quick change in Nagoya caught our final Shinkansen train to Kyoto. This was the final day of our JR pass and so things will slow down a little as our final days in Japan would be based in and around Kyoto.
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