JAPAN: Hakone – Takayama – Kanazawa
Konichiwa, I am writing this post from the tiny studio we are renting in Kyoto. We’ve been in Japan exactly 10 days and we have another 18 to go but I wish it were more. We did start our adventure in Tokyo and we will finish it there too but I am skipping the post about Tokyo for now as there is much to say and show. I will post about it after our return to Los Angeles.
Hakone is a popular destination among domestic tourist who try to get away from busy Tokyo. It has natural hot springs (Onsen) and it is also a great place to see the majestic Mt. Fuji. We were lucky enough to get a glimpse of the summit before it disappeared behind the clouds.
Hakone is also the first time we witnessed sakura (cherry blossoming) and it is as beautiful as it is said to be. I, personally, have a preference for the white flowers.
When all was said and done in Hakone, we hopped on a train to Takayama in the Japanese Alps.
Takayama was special. At first, it didn’t seem all that nice but you don’t judge a book by its cover, right? Our accommodation in Takayama was nothing less than a Buddhist temple. It was an incredible experience, despite how cold it was inside the temple.
In Takayama, you take a walk along the river and you end up in the old part of the city, with traditional Japanese houses, a nice little stream and, since it is in the mountains and it is spring, sakura at a whole different level than in Hakone.
We also found little gems to eat. One, for breakfast, filled with older people in their 70s having coffee, reading a soft-porn magazine (true story), playing video games, etc. When we walked in, it was like they had never seen foreigners before. We loved it so much we went back the next day. We also found a great place for dinner. Again, all locals, floor seating and, of course, amazing food!
We only spent a few hours in Shirakawa-go and it was plenty. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful! So beautiful in fact that it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Unfortunately that means there are hordes of tourists there. We got the first signals when we arrived by bus and there were about 40 to 50 tour buses parked. Shirakawa-go is known for its thatched roof houses which are really steep to prevent snow stacking in the winter.
The one great thing we found in Shirakawa-go is zenzai. Yes, it is food. To be precise it is a hot, sweet red bean soup. It is absolutely freaking delicious and we could help ourselves as much as we wanted. It was hard to stop!
All-in-all, Shirakawa-go was nice and kind of reminded me of an Alpine village with a Japanese touch. I’m happy we saw it but I don’t know if I would recommend it. It was like Disneyland!
Kanzawa is the kind of city I like. You have to walk around it a bit to get a feel for it and that’s when you realize it has a lot to offer. We were so lucky because Tsuyoshi, our host for two nights, took us on a tour of his city and it was great! It started in the Kenroku-en garden which is a beautiful landscape garden that used to be the outer garden of Kanazawa castle.
Our next stop was the 21st Century Museum. We just walked through it and saw an incredible installation by artist Leandro Erlich. It’s basically a fake swimming pool into which people can enter. Look it up, it’s really cool! The museum is also the place I saw an umbrella locker for the first time.
From the museum we headed to the local market. A market is a market, they are all quite similar. But I did see something that struck me. The guy in the photo below is smoking. The Japanese have the weirdest relationship to people smoking. You can smoke inside, in restaurants for instance, but you can’t smoke in the streets. So this guy smoking in his market stall is normal… it kind of surprised me!
We then walked to the restaurant where we had lunch. I had the most bizarre dish. It is a Kanazawa specialty, it sounds disgusting but is actually tasty. It’s fried rice, an omelette over it, mayo, ketchup (a little too much of it) and fried fish and fried prawns. It was filling to say the least.
We needed to walk that beast of a lunch off so we went through the old Samuraï and Geisha districts, they are really nice and the traditional Japanese architecture is beautiful.
In Kanazawa, I learned something really interesting about Japan. You are not allowed to own a car unless you can prove (and you get a tag for it) you have a parking space for it. And since I’ve learned that, I realized you never see cars parked in the street. They all have their space, even if it is tight.
That’s it for now, I do have so much to say about Japan, the people, the culture, etc. But I will keep that for a post after my trip. For now, I’m just sharing travel stuff and some photos.
I hope you enjoyed this post and can only recommend you keep a smile on your face, just like this dog does.
Have a great day!