Another early start, this time from the magical Takayama, on the ever impressive and efficient Japan Railways (JR) and our next destination is Kanazawa on the central west coast of Japan on the central Honshu island. It’s the capital of the Ishikawa prefecture, and as we found out, is considered to be a quieter and less well know city than Yokohma or Tokyo. If I am honest, before we decided to visit Kanazawa, I had never heard of it.
We arrived at Kanazawa station, which like every other railway station we have arrived at was incredibly impressive both from an architecturally aesthetic and a functional perspective. As I have said many times before, everything has been thought through and everything works. We needed to catch a bus to our hotel in town, and that again was easy and efficient. Nowhere else in the world that I have visited makes it so easy to travel on public transport and it is relatively cheap. Far cheaper than the U.K., far cleaner and far more comprehensive. We bought a JR 21 day rail pass which cost around £400 each. Given Kanazawa was the fifth place we had visited since we arrived in Tokyo, and the Shinkansen is a superb service, we had already got our money’s worth. Given all the travel to come, the pass will earn its money three or four times over.
We had met many rugby fans on our journey so far, more on that later, but there weren’t too many in Kanazawa which given it is not one of the host cities, wasn’t much of a surprise.
We got to our hotel easily on the bus. In Japan you pay for the journey as you leave and the amount you pay is calculated based on zones. Paying after receiving the service is totally in line with how Japan works and everyone follows the system without fail.
The weather was pretty miserable, for a change, so we needed to borrow some umbrellas, something all Japanese hotels have to hand given that there is a lot of rain and the Japanese prefer to stay out of the direct sunlight. We did some research and decided that we would visit the famous Omicho market which specialises in fish, seafood and other local delicacies.
What a joy to behold! It was mid afternoon and the market was still busy and the noise and smells were fabulous. Kirsty wanted to visit the biggest fish market in the world, the Tsukiji market in Tokyo but we had run out of time and the next time we were due to be back in Tokyo to see England and Argentina play, our schedule was going to be tight it may not have been possible. We need not have worried, this place was awesome. I managed to get my favourite smoked dried squid, something I had fallen in love with when I was out here for the football World Cup in 2002. We dived into a small Sushi place and had the freshest most wonderful food direct from the market.
Next stop was the Kanazawa castle, built in the 1580’s and another amazing example of predominantly wooden and stone construction. We had a great walk around the grounds, all be it in the drizzle which wasn’t the best to enjoy the wonderful gardens, but the provenance of these places equals anything we have in the UK and it has inspired me to read up on Japanese history now as I am pretty much an ignoramus when it comes to this part of the world and it’s history.
Before we headed back to our hotel we hit the Kanazawa 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art via a small version of the famous shrine at Kyoto. That was to prove very small as we were later to find out. The museum was the very definition of minimalist, that or it was undergoing a complete changeover or exhibition!
We walked back to our hotel to freshen up and get ready for an evening out. Phileas Fogg, aka Kirsty, researched where to go and where to eat as usual. It was about 6.30 local time when we heard via LBC and @Mrjamesob that the Supreme Court in the U.K had ruled that the U.K government had acted illegally to prorogue Parliament. This was big news and my interest in politics said to me, ‘this will have all sorts of implications’. Anyway, enough of Brexit, back to Kanazawa.
We found the most amazing Sushi restaurant which was run by another husband and wife team. It had room for no more than ten customers and everyone sat at the black marble counter. There were no sign of plates. The Sushi chef’s father had founded it and the son, now comfortably in his late 60’s or even 70’s was as fast and as sure preparing the Sushi as anyone I have ever seen. He cupped the Sushi in his hand, with his hand over the Sushi and delivered it straight to the cleaner than clean counter like a magician would place a cup down performing a three card trick. His wife served drinks, organised customers, cleaned the counter and tallied the bill. The husband however actually took the cash! Like many places in Japan, this restaurant did not take credit cards.
As we left we saw the chef’s bicycle outside with his big expanded polystyrene box on the back which he used to cycle to the market to get his fresh fish daily.
We agreed to have a walk to the Nagamachi neighborhood which is where the Samuari used to live. We found it easily and the cobbled streets and extravagant wooden buildings evoked that age wonderfully. It was just brilliant to walk around these quiet, deserted old streets late at night. Before we headed home, we decided to have a late night cap at a little bar.
The owner was incredibly welcoming. He had an amazing collection of spirits, focused heavily on whisky, whiskey and sake. John Lee Hooker was playing on the sound system and we were the only people in there. The owner knew a little English, but through the power of Google translate we established that Japan was obsessed with baseball, interested in basketball and football and was getting to grips with rugby, all be it slowly. The owner loved wrestling and his hero was Giant Baba, hence his brilliant model on show. A model that yours truly would relish and cherish!
We had some sake at the owner’s recommendation and were questioned about who ‘the worst’ rugby supporters were. I think I helped him understand there were no ‘worst’ supporters as all rugby fans just enjoy the game and mingle very easily. I did point out that the toughest players were probably the All Blacks but Japan had a very decent side and could well qualify for the quarter finals. They would be a stern test for both Ireland and Scotland so he should have faith.
Before we left the owner asked me about Brexit. I was actually pretty surprised as Japanese don’t really do that sort of thing. Diplomatically I said we had a vote and decided on a course of action and we were taking our time to make sure we got it right. He laughed a lot and said he could not understand why we would do this. I smiled a lot and got back to rugby.
It was a fine way to end another great one day stop in a city we had never heard of, but would not forget in a hurry. Thank you Kanazawa!