This post is way overdue but as I always say better late than never. ^-^ On Christmas, me and my husband went to Ishikawa prefecture to visit the famous Yamashiro onsen and Kanazawa city which is something like Kyoto – old and traditional with lots of streets that look like movie sets.
At first, we went to see Tojinbo – cliffs on the rugged west coast of Japan that are to the present day haunted by various ghost legends. It also remains one of the popular places to commit suicide. According to wikipedia, as many as 25 people (mostly male and mostly unemployed) a year commit suicide by jumping off these cliffs. I have seen people in uniforms patrolling the area when I was there. I’ve also been told that If you are traveling alone, you are likely to be asked questions by these guards.. So, Tojinbo are very sad cliffs but the view is breathtaking. The Japanese sea is much darker and on that day it was emerald green, quite different from the Pacific ocean that I am used to see.
After the cliffs, we drove to the Eiheiji – temple of eternal peace situated deep in the mountains. That’s when the weather started to change so by the time I pulled over in front of the gates, the area was wrapped in fog and the thunder was rolling every minute or so.
We had lunch at oroshisoba restaurant next door – we were the only customers there because the whole area was closing down for the day. I guess nobody visits old temples after 3PM.
Visiting a 12th century old temple in the middle of thunder with bunch of monks practicing zazen everywhere you go is something of a rare experience. I’ve never been to an active monastery before so seeing all those monks really fascinated me. In winter, they were living in a room with one wall missing, sleeping on tatami mats in their robes, without blankets or anything of the sort. You have to have a lot of willpower to stay in a place like that. I’ve read a lot about Russian monks and hermits living in caves and forests but it was a long time ago, when people were much stronger.. To actually see someone doing it in the time of central heating and video games? That’s really special. Although I am Christian, I felt a tremendous respect to all those young monks on their path to enlightenment.
The main hall had this beautiful ceiling with 250 paintings of birds and flowers. I wouldn’t mind joining the monks for a couple of hours of meditation if I was allowed to stare at it the whole time. ^-^
We stayed at Shiroganeya – an old ryokan that once, probably in the 90ties during the bubble period hosted the royal family. It was recently renovated by some investment group so although it looks rustic from the outside, inside it is all modern and comfy.
The room had many amenities including organic cosmetics, facial masks and several types of Ippodo – high quality brand tea from Kyoto. We could also have a private tea ceremony performed in the main hall by a chatty old woman in a very beautiful kimono. ^-^
The dinner, as always in such places was great – all fish and veggies intricately prepared and beautifully served.
Onsen itself was left untouched by the renovation so it is very old and very tiny. I had to open terrace windows to let all the steam out to be able to see inside. It was raining by then and thunder kept rumbling. I had never enjoyed my bath quite like at that moment. When I was a child, I experienced a couple of very exciting incidents that happened during thunder so I always have these butterflies in my stomach every time I hear it. There was no one else but me so I just sat in a steamy hot water and listened to the rain and thunder till my skin turned bright red. ^-^
In a typical Japanese onsen, there are several types of baths that are usually shifted between men and women depending on time. In the morning, before breakfast I could use an outside bath – rotemburo that was available only to men the night before. Again, there was no one else so I had it all to myself – cold mountain air and hot bath in a beautiful Japanese garden.
For breakfast, we’ve been served a typical Japanese morning spread. This is what is expected of you if you are a Japanese stay at home wife. My husband’s mother cooked it for us when we were visiting and I remember, she had to get up at 6 just to make it ready by 9 – really ridiculous and there is just no way I am doing it! ^-^
After breakfast, we took off and arrived to Kanazawa. The peculiar thing with Japanese traditional towns is that the older it is the more futuristic it’s main train terminal looks. Kyoto station as well as Kanazawa station both look like they belong in Tokyo, 20 years from now. ^-^
The old part of town is perfectly preserved – some streets and buildings are active to the present day, some became part of an open air museum. One of such places was an old samurai house we visited.
The former estate of Nomura family was used for 12 generations until the feudal system broke down and the building was sold to the industrialist. Now, it’s a part of the museum compound together with it’s artistically crafted Japanese garden – famous for it’s intricate water system and cherry granite bridges and lanterns.
After the samurai house, we visited “21st century museum of contemporary art” – one of the main attractions in Kanazawa city. It held an exhibit of Peter Fischli & David Weiss as well as many permanent exhibits by various artists from all around the world.
I really liked the colorful spectrum by Olafur Eliasson – three plastic screens in yellow, blue and magenta forming a circle maze. As you walk it, the color changes around you. I particularly like this picture my husband took inside the maze because you can see Santa Claus on scooter on the background – kinda adds Christmas spirit to it. ^-^
From there, we went to the Kenrokuen – an Edo period landscape garden with beautiful majestic pine trees. The suspended ropes around them are there for protection against wind and snow.
Then, we crossed Umenohashi bridge to the Higashi-chaya – an old tea house strip, north of the Asano river.
That’s when it started to snow so I had to put down my Lumix and take pictures with waterproof Sony camera which was accidentally set to a low resolution so the following pics aren’t very good…
Higashi-chaya has around 80 old wooden 2 story Japanese style restaurants, tea houses and souvenir shops – not the kind that sell paper fans and refrigerator magnets but the original art studios where you can buy beautiful jewelry, pottery and organic cosmetics made by century old recipes.
There are several famous tea house areas spread around the old part of town but we could only see two because of bad weather. The second one, we went to was on the south side of Asano river and it was called Kazue-machi.
Where Higashi-chaya is the main sightseeing spot that accommodates a lot of tourists, Kazue-machi is more private and doesn’t accept first visit customers. Unless you receive a recommendation or an invitation from a patron, you are politely denied any service.
Our last stop, before going back to the station was Oumicho market that had lots of really great sushi restaurants. It also sold seafood – crabs in particular, herbs and vegetables – very similar to Kyoto market near San-chome. You could also get rare delicacies – typical for that particular part of Japan but not available anywhere else. Ever since I started living in Japan, I involuntarily adopted food freak culture looking for deli instead of souvenirs on my travels. Even coming back from my trips to Saint Petersburg I recently bring nothing but food – pickles, dairy, sweets etc. ^-^
Then, we had a coffee at Nikko Kanazawa hotel’s lounge. They had those big windows and little tables with cozy sofa chairs next to them so you could drink your coffee and watch snow outside falling down quietly. There was Christmas music on the background and a Christmas tree near fireplace – I just love places like that. I finally had my white Christmas after years of snowless eves in Tokyo. ^-^