Samurai Homes

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Japan  , Chubu,
Friday, September 21, 2012

As the self-declared editor of a blog read by thousands... or maybe just a few people, I have a particular responsibility to acknowledge any significant deeds of our most loyal readers and I've been a bit neglectful. Carol Banks, who fulfilled a lifelong dream to move to a country where she could pay twice as much for the basic necessities of life ($5 for a thimble of beer in Australia should be illegal!!), and changed her last name to Cooke to avoid any further entanglements with Canadian authorities, has recently bagged a gold medal at the Paralympics in London. Having traded in her Canadian passport for an Australian 'passie' that has more flash than a rat with a gold tooth, she picked up the medal for Oz but we are still enormously proud of her. Excessive liquid celebration prevented her from adding to the medal haul but she's already talking about Rio in 2016 (to be fair, she probably wasn't used to affordable booze- did I mention $5 for a thimble of beer??).

Back to our story boys and girls. Kanazawa, Japan has never been much of an industrial centre and as such, it was not bombed during the final days of WWII. The result is a town that retains a number of older traditional neighbourhoods and an ancient garden that is rated as one of the top three in all of Japan. It is also the former home of samurai Andrew S who, while working with me in a former life, claimed to have taught the vast majority of the Kanazawa population to speak English "very goodly like me". I was looking forward to conversing with some of his former students and maybe throwing his name around to get a few discounts since he had also suggested that he is still quite famous in the area.

Our first stop was in the Higashi Chaya district, the former/current geisha district. Along with Kyoto, this is one of a handful of places in Japan that claim to have an active geisha presence so we were actively on the prowl but I suspect that, like Kyoto, the time of the geisha has passed. It was nice to wander through this old neighbourhood of wooden structures trying to imagine just what would have been happening on these streets not so long ago- a Chaya is a traditional place of feasts and entertainment, where geisha (traditional female Japanese entertainers) have been entertaining people by performing dances and playing Japanese traditional musical instruments. The white make-up and elaborate kimono and hair is the popular image held of geisha which should make them easy to spot and although we did spot one older lady with dramatic purple hair, we didn't hit the geisha jackpot. There was even a home that was apparently a former geisha residence but unfortunately front and centre was a sign restricting photography to 'small cameras'. This is one of those signs that makes no sense and points to a bureaucrat with too much time on his/her hands. As part of my ongoing protest against mindless bureaucracy (and since the interiors of most sites in Japan aren't usually such a much), I withheld my $5 entrance fee (which will probably have them changing the rule post haste). DH, on the other hand, blew right past me and did the tour on her own- she won't tell me what she saw but did mumble something about "alone time" and apparently someone's driving her crazy?

Our second stop was the very reason we were here, Kenrokuen Garden, rated to be one of the top three gardens in all of Japan. As Sam S knows, hockey players don't typically make gardens a focal point of their day, so I wasn't too sure about Kenrokuen but DH (where the D stands for Daffodils R Us) was particularly keen and the ticket taker suggested that the gardens were very "goodly". Immediately sensing I was dealing with a former student, I mentioned Andrew S's name only to be hit with a punitive surcharge on top of the ticket price- not sure what Andrew did to the people when he was here but we never did find his statue that he claimed was near the entrance.The literal meaning of Kenrokuen is "The Garden of Six Sublimities" which refers to its spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views and apparently it took 150 years to complete the ponds, streams, waterfalls, flowers and teahouses. I suspect that the gardens themselves are a seasonal attraction- cherry blossoms in the spring and leaf colouring in the fall, but for our visit, they were nice but certainly not in the Wow! category.

One thing hockey players can relate to is the samurai warrior- we almost dress the same, look angry most of the time, and even carry a weapon that guys that Jeff M are constantly using to stab other people on the ice. Kanazawa has a very well preserved/restored samurai neighbourhood n the Naga-machi area, where top- and middle-class samurais (members of a feudal powerful military class) once lived. Samurai were the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan- a rigid social caste system was established that placed the samurai at the top, followed by the farmers, artisans and merchants respectively. During this time, the samurai were forced to live in castle towns like the one in Kanazawa, and were the only ones allowed to own and carry swords (including the tanto used used voluntarily by samurai to die with honour rather than fall into the hands of their enemies).
Hunting for geishas and samurais can work up a good appetite so it was time to check out the plastic food offerings. The quirkiness of Japanese cuisine doesn't start and end with the plastic food displays. Kanazawa is chock-a-block full of those conveyor belt restaurants that offer up local delicacies on a seemingly endless train of colour-coded dishes that rattle by you at a speed that doesn't allow for any significant indecision (our conveyor belt must have been serving multiple restaurants/buildings/neighbourhoods because if a tasty looking dish evaded capture, it was quite a while before it reappeared if at all). This strange concept has been exported worldwide but it is somehow special to be in Japan with the ultimate sushi experts and grabbing food from an assembly line in much the same way Lucille Ball was grabbing her chocolates. The colour of the plate dictates the price and when you're finished gorging, the waitress waves a wand over your dish stack and, presto, you're presented with a bill. For a country that prides itself on it's extensive train system, having your meal offered up on a dish train just seems to be a natural extension.

And is any blog on Japan complete without at least some acknowledgement of the high tech western style toilets like the one in our Kanazawa hotel? Pressing any of the buttons on these high tech creatures, with labels in Japanese (although somewhat ambiguous diagrams were sometimes available), took an act of courage. You were never quite sure that you wouldn't trigger some sort of lift-off procedure or accidentally open up a Swiss bank account. I'm sure there's computer consoles in NASA that have fewer buttons, lights, and switches- are heated seats and foot massages really needed.

The garden wasn't quite what we were hoping for but throw in a little geisha and samurai action and we really enjoyed our brief stay in Kanazawa.

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Carol Cooke (Banks) on

Now Vic, I must respond to your opening paragraph. Thanks so much for the acknowledgement but I must clarify a few things! I do believe that your blog is read by thousands as I have sent the link to every person I know in the world! I told them you were a very smart and informative writer...but now I'm not so sure! Not sure where you had your beer in Oz, but if that is what you paid, boy they saw you coming (and at least our beer doesn't taste like water)
"Special Olympics"?, no I don't have Downs Syndrome or an Intellectual Disability, so i didn't take part in the Special Olympics but I did compete at the Paralympics. Yes I did compete for Oz, but am still a proud Canadian at heart so by happy for you to claim me as one of your own! So again thanks for the mention but I'm really surprised that DH has only had her 'one alone time' which you mentioned in this post!
I am REALLY looking forward to you coming to stay...maybe I'll be able to introduce you to the fabulous life in Australia! See you soon :-)

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