Japan 2015 — Day 6: Kanazawa

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Historical dis­tricts have a cer­tain charm, and hav­ing escaped air raids dur­ing World War II, Kanazawa boasts restored samurai and chaya dis­tricts, as well as an impec­cable land­scape garden in Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s three best land­scape gardens.

So, we’re off to take a look at Kanazawa, which lit­er­ally means ‘marsh of gold’ and fit­tingly describes a city that pro­duces 99% of Japan’s gold leaf.

Osaka — Nippombashi

We’re trav­el­ling around Japan using the 7-day JR Pass this time.

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We want to make as much use of the JR pass as we can, so we’re up bright and early at a quarter to 6 to check out of our Osaka accom­mod­a­tion and make our way to Kanazawa in Ishikawa. Ordinarily, we’d leave the pre­vi­ous even­ing or later in the day — we’re late risers!

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It’s still rather dark out­side and the streets are quiet.

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Right on the dot at 6am, the clean­ing lady for our Airbnb host arrives to check us out.

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Being a res­id­en­tial apart­ment com­plex, there’s a bunch of bicycles parked outside.

Osaka –> Kanazawa

We catch the JR Thunderbird from Osaka to Kanazawa. The Thunderbird is a lim­ited express train fit­ted out much like shinkan­sens. The trip is about 3 hours long.

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Just out­side of Osaka, we spot the Meiji fact­ory with a giant chocol­ate bar as its facade.

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Outside the city, the train zooms past some rur­al towns…

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…and a bunch of fields.

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Having skipped break­fast on our rush to get onto the train, we rely on con­veni­ence store snacks pur­chased earli­er. These PaiCro are mini crois­sants. They’re super crispy and but­tery and sweet. I’m usu­ally a fan of but­tery and sweet, but these are just too much.

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D is always on the hunt for spicy chips (left). These have a chilli rat­ing of 5 pep­pers, and the heat really does build up as you eat them. And then we have the grape with cas­sis juice, a tasty grape candy fla­voured drink with hints of cur­rant and grape pulp.

Kanazawa — JR Station

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We arrive at Kanazawa around 10am, just in time for main shops and sights to open so we can make the most of our day in Kanazawa. At the sta­tion we see these stands for ‘free umbrella rent­al’. By rent­al, they mean free — just return them when you’re fin­ished with them. Ah, the Japanese are so honest.

Omi-cho Market

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After drop­ping off our lug­gage at the hotel, we head back to Kanazawa Station to take the Left Loop Bus to Omi-cho Market, Kanazawa’s largest fresh food mar­ket. You can buy an all-day pass for Y500 that lets you catch the loop buses around Kanazawa as often as you like on one day.

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There are plates of grilled eel going for Y2,700 – 2,900 (~$30).

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As well as pump­kin pud­ding KitKat. I like to col­lect KitKats but I’m afraid my aver­sion to all things pump­kin means I have my limits.

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A shop called Diamond L-II sells freshly fried cro­quettes using loc­al seafood.

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We try the crab cro­quettes. You can see the crab meat in the potato, although the crab fla­vour is rather subtle. It’s pip­ing hot with a crunchy exterior.

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There’s fresh pro­duce in abund­ance. Even was­abi root for Y1,000 – 1,500.

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There’s frozen pine­apple as well as fresh grapefruit and orange juice served inside the fruit.

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There’s even three impec­cable straw­ber­ries on a stick at a premium.

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There’s pre­pared fish of all kinds.

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After mak­ing our way through the crowds, we spot grilled sea­food on skewers.

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We try ikayaki (grilled squid) which we see eaten often at fest­ivals in anime. They heat it up to order. The flesh is quite tender, although it’d have been tasti­er if it was heated a tad further.

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The squid whets our appet­ites for a prop­er break­fast, so we head to Sushizanmai a few steps out­side the entrance to Omi-cho Market.

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We sit at the bar in front of the sushi chefs as we weren’t sure wheth­er we wanted to order dishes off the menu or sushi before see­ing the menu.

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We end up order­ing off the menu, though. This is a a tuna chir­ashi arranged in the shape of a rose. Isn’t it just beau­ti­ful? Much of the sea­food in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market comes from Kanazawa, so the tuna is bright and fresh as expected.

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D tries the clams cooked in sake. The sake takes on the fish­i­ness of the clams, which left a weird fla­vour. Some of the clams were still gritty, but it’s an inter­est­ing dish.

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To go with his clams, D also gets some squid tem­pura. The bat­ter is thing and crispy, the squid is tender and and goes well with the salt.

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Having chosen to sit at the bar, we feel bad for not order­ing nigiri, so we take look at the menu.

…and try sea urchin and snow crab nigiri. The sea urchin we’d seen sold in boxes at depart­ments stores and mar­kets, so we were curi­ous as to what the big fuss was — it’s got a very creamy tex­ture with a some­what fishy tasty. The snow crab nigiri comes with a dol­lop of crab paste — the snow crab is sweet and melt-in-your mouth, but we could do without the crab paste.

Nagamachi Samurai District

After a rather late break­fast, we hop back onto the Left Loop bus and head towards the Nagamachi Samurai District.

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There are cute samurai and geisha fig­ures on the bus. And anoth­er cute loc­al mas­cot for the shop­ping street lead­ing to the Nagamachi Samurai District.

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All the shops on the shop­ping street have a short walk­way bridging over the river that runs imme­di­ately in front of the store.

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On the way, we spot a res­taur­ant using styl­ish Japanese-style cal­li­graphy for its English.

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There’s a mod­ern res­id­en­tial build­ing that’s devoid of win­dows street side.

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The houses on the oth­er side of the road look less imposing.

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At the end of the road, we reach the Nagamachi Gardens. The sign explains how the mud walls through­out the are were built.

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The gar­dens look to be a styl­ish garden sur­round­ing a toi­let block.

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There’s maple tree with bril­liantly red leaves — my favourite!

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You feel as though you’re walk­ing in an bygone era in the district.

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One of the open build­ings exhib­its ceram­ics. There’s a rather well-loved lan­tern hanging outside.

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And anoth­er two in bet­ter con­di­tion hanging by the main gate.

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At the oth­er end of the nar­row street we reach a river with more bril­liant red maple leaves.

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Some houses look to be recent con­struc­tions in the style of the old buildings.

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There are quite a few dragon­flies buzz­ing around.

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A souven­ir shop sold all sorts of Hello Kitty mer­chand­ise. Rilakkuma isn’t so pop­u­lar in Kanazawa.

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This view faces the south of the dis­trict where you can see a school in the distance.

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One of the fam­ous build­ings in the dis­trict is Nomura-ke, a restored res­id­ence of a high ranked samurai fam­ily who went broke when Japan’s feud­al era came to and end.

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There’s a small beau­ti­ful garden inside, but we opt out of pay­ing the admis­sion fee to see the garden.

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Instead, we have a quick look at the tiny garden out­side with its stone sculptures…

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And straw sculp­tures too!

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At anoth­er build­ing for an art exhib­it, we see this pic­tur­esque tree in its courtyard.

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At a con­fec­tion­ery store oppos­ite Nomura-ke, we see these col­our­ful sticks being sold. Each slice from the stick reveals a per­fectly blos­som or leaf.

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…and we’re back on the bus to Kenrokuen.

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On the way, we pass by a fire sta­tion giv­ing a demon­stra­tion to some school kids.

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We get off at the stop for the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. While I love con­tem­por­ary art, view­ing art isn’t as much of a pri­or­ity when trav­el­ling over­seas any­more. We alight from the stop before Kenrokuen so that we can enter via the Mayumizaka entrance and exit via the Katsurazaka entrance, mean­ing we don’t have to double back. Efficiency!

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Opposite the entrance to Kenrokuen, a shop sells all sorts of gold leaf products. Indeed, even a Y1,080 gold leaf soft serve. The store also has a rain­bow dis­play of sil­ver leaf that’s changed col­our due to chem­ic­al pat­in­a­tion (above).

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Outside the store, there’s a gold dog plush toy wel­com­ing visitors.

Kenroku-en

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Kenroku-en is one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. The oth­er two Great Gardens are Kairaku-en (in Mito, Ibaraki) and Koraku-en (in Okayama, Okayama). We vis­it Koraku-en later on our trip. Kenroku-en trans­lates to Six Attributes Garden, being built around three sets of con­trast­ing garden ele­ments: spa­cious­ness con­trasts with seclu­sion, arti­fice con­trasts with antiquity, and water­courses con­trasts with pan­or­a­mas.

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Late November is the per­fect time to catch the autum­nal foliage, and it could not be bet­ter than in a well-man­i­cured garden.

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We make our way into Shigure-tei, a recon­struc­ted rest house, where people are wait­ing for their tea cere­mony to begin.

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The Japanese think of everything — even the lights fit in with the design of the garden.

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There are many wind­ing paths and streams in the garden…

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…and beau­ti­ful red trees that aren’t maples.

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The plum grove is just behind the tea house. I’m sure it’s a sight to behold in spring and summer.

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Situated in the plum grove is the Funa no och­in. This is a recon­struc­tion after it was torn down in the early Meiji Period.

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The Funa no och­in frames a beau­ti­ful view of the plum grove.

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Midway to the east­ern side of the park, we see work­ers tend­ing to the garden on a nation­al hol­i­day. There’s grid drawn with string over the entire area — either to assist with main­tain­ing the shape of the shrubs or to relieve the veget­a­tion of the heavy weight of the impend­ing snow.

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Yamazakiyama Hill is in the east­ern corner of the park. It’s main attrac­tion is maples.

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We get some beau­ti­ful yel­low ones against the sunlight.

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There’s some that are still a little green.

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And then, entire trees turned bril­liantly red — how magnificent!

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Ascending Yamazakiyama Hill, we get a wider view of the garden.

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At the top of the hill is a sheltered space to enjoy the view.

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Maple leaves cov­er the moss car­peted ground.

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And just before you think I only took pho­tos of maple trees, we spot some evergreens.…

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Along to north-east­ern side of the park, there’s expans­ive views of the Kanazawa skyline.

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Further north, we see a tree lean­ing pre­cari­ously over the sidewalk.

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A moss car­pet seems so much less main­ten­ance than grass!

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Having seen almost all the edges of the park, we circle back towards Kamsumigaike Pond where we meet the stat­ute of Yamato Takeru, the 12th Emperor of Japan.

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Gardeners erect yukit­suri on the Karasaki Pine from November 1. The Karasaki Pine (left of the path) is a pine tree grown from a single seed from Karasaki, near Lake Biwa.

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Yukitsuri are ropes attached in a con­ic­al array (koto) that pro­tects the trees from dam­age caused by heavy snow­fall by sup­port­ing the trees branches in their desired arrangements.

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Here, we see the Kotoji-toro lan­tern, a stone lan­tern with two legs said to resemble the bridge on a koto, and emblem­at­ic of Kenroku-en and Kanazawa.

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Overlooking the lake is Uchihashi-tei, where you can enjoy your tea and the view at once.

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The Uchihashi-tei faces onto a tor­toise-shaped island in the centre of Kasumigaike Pond.

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The tor­toise shell shaped island said to rep­res­ent per­petu­al youth and longevity.

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Walking around the pond, you get a beau­ti­ful view of the Karasaki Pine next to the island.

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And finally, to wrap up one of the most beau­ti­ful gar­dens we’d seen to date, this foun­tain is the old­est in Japan oper­at­ing by nat­ur­al water pressure.

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Outside the Katsurazaka entrance is Chamisedori.

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A num­ber of res­taur­ants and souven­ir shops line the street.

Kanazawa Castle

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The Ishikawa-mon Entrance to Kanazawa Castle is dir­ectly oppos­ite the Katsurazaka entrance to Kenroku-en. Kenroku-en once formed the castle’s private out­er garden. The Ishikawabashi Bridge spans over the busy Ohoridori Ave below and con­nects the two sights.

The castle’s main keep was des­troyed by fire and nev­er rebuilt, and what was rebuilt was burnt down sev­er­al more times. As such, only two store­houses and the Ishikawa-mon Gate now remain of the ori­gin­al build­ings. Many of the castle’s build­ings are being recon­struc­ted and the com­pleted sec­tions charge admis­sion fees, although entrance to Kanazawa Castle Park is free.

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The castle’s former main entrance gate, the Kahoku-mon, was com­pleted in 2010. Going through the gate, you find anoth­er gate at right angles to it, a mas­ug­ata.

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Looking down from the plat­form for enter­ing the second floor of the Kahoku-mon, you can see the vast grounds of the castle.

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Looking towards the oth­er side, we see the recon­struc­ted Gojukken Nagaya storehouse.

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…and com­ing back down to the ground, we see the vast expanse of the storehouse.

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We don’t spend too long at Kanazawa Castle as we want to vis­it a geisha district.

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Walking down towards Ohoridori, we spot a more ‘reas­on­ably’ priced gold leaf soft serve. And, if you’re des­per­ate to get in on the fun and can’t afford to pay Y891 for a soft serve cone, you can get one with gold dust for Y450 instead.

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We enjoy the view across the street as we wait for the bus.

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The view above is quite pic­tur­esque too!

Higashi Chaya District

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On our way to the Higashi Chaya dis­trict we pass a shop selling gold leaf soaps. Supposedly, the gold leaf and the soap does amaz­ing things for your skin.

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There’s a basin in the middle of the store for you to try out their soaps. I begin to regret wash­ing my hands, though, as I rinse off under the icy cold water com­ing from the taps. But to my sur­prise, the shop assist­ant pours warm water from the buck­et (on the left) after wash­ing your hands. Japanese cus­tom­er ser­vice is unfail­ingly thoughtful.

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A book­store, has a cute Japanese akita pro­mot­ing their loy­alty card.

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The sun’s about the set as we cross the bridge towards the Higashi Chaya District.

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But before then, we diverge into anoth­er souven­ir shop that explains to us that hojicha is the main tea con­sumed by people in Kanazawa (as opposed to sencha).

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On the street lead­ing into the Higashi Chaya dis­trict, we stop at this souven­ir shop to pur­chase some black ses­ame mochi — we only ever pur­chase from shops with samples.

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This is the cent­ral square of the district.

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Many chaya houses line the streets of the dis­trict, although many have been convereted into res­taur­ants and souven­ir shops.

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Sunset casts a beau­ti­ful light on autum­nal foliage.

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We enter Hakuza. Hazkua is world renowed for the pro­duc­tion of gold leaf, and in their store is a a store­house turned tea house covered with gold leaf both intern­ally and externally.

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The exter­i­or is ‘white washed plaster covered with pure gold plat­in­um leaf’.…

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…while the interi­or is ‘a mix­ture of earthen indigo from Okinawa and the ori­gin­al store­house wall, in cross braided pat­tern and fin­ished with a gradu­ation of 24K gold leaf’. It’s a sight to behold! It’s also the only part of the store per­mit­ting pho­to­graphy. They also sell matcha roll speckled in gold leaf!

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The dis­trict is get­ting dark with the sun set­ting around 4pm.

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The area has a cer­tain charm that’s unlike the more spa­cious geisha dis­tricts in Kyoto.

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With that, we’re back on the main street.

Kanazawa Station

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This is the Tsuzumi-mon Gate at the east entrance of JR Kanazawa Station. The gate sym­bol­ises the tra­di­tion­al Japanese hand drums by the same. Behind, is the glass Motenashi (‘Welcome’) Dome that looks like a huge umbrella.

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It’s a mag­ni­fi­cently impos­ing wooden structure.

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After the early start and the packed day explor­ing Kanazawa, we head back to the hotel for a rest. This is by huge by Japanese stand­ards, and even beats the biggest hotel room I’ve stayed at in Australia (for 150% of the price, too!). It’s wide enough for two Queen sized beds, and then some. Oh, and big TV!

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Our hotel is a 3 minute walk to the sta­tion, which we can see from our window.

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After a short rest back we to Forus, the shop­ping mall across the street, in search of din­ner. In the spir­it of try­ing some­thing new, we eat at Pomme’s.

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Pomme’s spe­cial­ises in omurice, a staple that pops up in anime all the time, but not some­thing we’ve ever actu­ally eaten all our times in Japan.

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They’re quite used to English-speak­ing cus­tom­ers, with an English menu at the ready. This page explains what the sizes mean — SS (smal­ler size, when you want to eat lightly), S (stand­ard size, when you want to eat nor­mally), M (large size when you want to eat firm), L (dodeca­car­bonyl size, when you want to eat a lot). I’m not sure what they mean by dodecar­car­bonyl size oth­er than it being ‘very big’.

I order the tomato sauce with egg­plant and mush­room with but­ter rice. I love tomato based dishes and this was no excep­tion, and I’m always keen for a veget­able fix in Japan that isn’t cabbage.

D tries the beef stew with ketch­up rice. Whereas I loved the but­tery fla­vour of the rice, he found it a bit weird, and the meat lov­er in him would’ve liked more hunks of beef.

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After din­ner, we take a walk around the shop­ping mall and stop by Muji for a Soda White Grape & Lychee, a refresh­ingly fizzy drink to wash down the omurice.

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We spot some cute bear and sheep plush toys wear­ing hats.

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This store lured us in with its pretty bottles of syr­up bases for drinks, until we find out they’re all ginger-based. Nothing ruins our interest as quickly as ginger!

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We stumble upon a branch of my favour­ite tea store, Lupicia, and I end up stock­ing up on so many teas the shop assist­ants amus­ingly give me the deep­est bows ever.

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Next door at Mochi Cream, we find dessert for the even­ing: cream filled mochi.

We try the houjicha (top) and the black sea­same (bot­tom). The houjicha mochi­cream is dus­ted in houjicha fla­voured powder and filled with a anko (red bean jam), while the black ses­ame mochi­cream has black ses­ame seeds stud­ded in the dough as well as a black ses­ame cream with­in. The fla­vours were pro­nounced in both these tasty morsels, with the black ses­ame being the favourite.

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And to fin­ish off our night, we encounter this funny device at the entrance to the shop­ping mall — it’s an umbrella drier! They’ve done away with plastic bags.