Train: Limited Express Thunderbird 29 Kyoto to Kanazawa
Depart Kyoto Station: 16:10
Arrive Kanazawa Station: 18:26
Seats: Car 11, Seats 5C and 5D
Train: 683-4000 series Top Speed: 100 mph (160 km/h)
We finally hauled, harried, pulled and dragged our way to the platform and unlike the perfect organisation of every other train we took in Japan this felt like chaos. As per usual the platform was littered with stickers and numbers telling us where to stand, normally one quick look at the departures board and you could work out where you needed to be. However, our train was giving nothing away. We took a guess and hoped for the best, thankfully as our train pulled in it turned out we’d chosen the right option.
We entered the train and let’s say first impressions were poor. Compared to the spacious shinkansens this Thunderbird was not designed for us or our luggage. Eventually we got settled and just hoped the train wouldn’t get busy or we’d have to have contorted into our seats with our luggage. Thankfully we never had more than 4-5 other passengers in our carriage the entire trip and rather than a crush of legs we developed our increasing crush on Japan.
As the train sped a long we were treated to a beautiful lakeside view, wonderful mountain ranges, lush green trees and plants with the occasional urban jungle or two on the way. Hands down this trip from Kyoto to Kanazawa was the most beautiful of all our travels in Japan. Between the majesty of nature and the occasional station stop I spent some time complaining and working on this instalment.
Before long we pulled into Kanazawa and as we entered the station we could see the progress being made on the new shinkansen tracks heading back the way we’d come.
Feeling a lot better it was time to exit the station and find our hotel.
Hotel: My Stays Premier
Room: 1017 Standard King (Non-Smoking)
After the opulence of a suite at the Ritz almost anything was going to be a come down. That said, check in at My Stays was friendly, our room was spacious and had a nice view of the station area. We briefly unpacked and settled in. We felt it was a nice room and great value for money. The only downside was the bathroom, it was tiny and cramped but on the upside it had a nice deep soaking tub and bath salts.
We were pretty tired but decided to head out for a simple meal and our guide book suggested the department store, Forus. Forus was located right next to the station and its food court was on the top floor. This location also had the added bonus of allowing us to check where we needed to get the bus to Ogimachi two days later. We headed out into the night, quickly got our bearings and had a browse at the various concessions in Forus before heading upstairs for dinner. After having a good look around and finding a reason to not eat at any of the options, we settled on Wealthy Pig (At least that’s how the Forus website translated it).
Wealthy Pig was a popular looking tonkatsu place and I decided to order the speciality Noto cutlet which came with a huge portion of shredded cabbage as well as the usual miso soup, rice and pickles. As per usual our drinks were beer and ginger ale. I enjoyed my meal along with the various sauces from the table. Anne-So was less impressed.
We trudged back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep and hopefully not too many toilet trips. I still can’t believe how often we got sick on this trip. Our bed was comfortable and we slept well. The next day was going to be busy as we wanted to get as much of the sightseeing done before the forecast rain came down.
Our day got off to a good start with breakfast at Curio Espresso and Vintage Design, a popular tourist haunt run by an American/Japanese couple serving good coffee and tasty breakfast items. Anne-So didn’t enjoy herself but I really liked it.
After breakfast we had a quick wander through Omi-cho Market, with its fresh vegetables, seafood and meat as well as a few restaurants that were setting up for the day. We enjoyed some people watching as much as looking at all the food. Anne-So was particularly taken with the fresh lotus root.
After we were done with the market we continued on our way towards Kanazawa Castle Park. As per usual in Japan the buildings were reconstructions of reconstructions as the originals had long since burnt down. There were also some brutally honest signs as to what may or may not have been present in the past.
Within the Castle Park lay the beautiful Gyokusen’inmaru Garden which had been restored to its former glory just a few years ago. The pictures here really speak for themselves. At first this garden seemed like a real highlight, up there with what we had seen in Kyoto. What we did not realise was that Kenrokuen Garden across the road was about to take things to a whole new level. What we also didn’t realise was that somebody forgot to charge the camera the night before, meaning we’d have to rely heavily on our phones for most of the day and what we should have realised was that one of us was going to feel ill. This time it was Anne-So’s turn. Thankfully there were plenty of public toilets throughout the gardens.
Anyway, back to Kenrokuen. The current garden dates from 1774 after the previous one burnt down… A wonderful combination of buildings, water, flowers and plants. Everything felt well balanced and we were truly blown away by it all. There was however one exception, the fountain, said to be the first in Japan which did not live up to the serene beauty of the rest of the gardens. Unfortunately Anne-So was still not feeling serenely beautiful on the inside.
After leaving the gardens we felt like food, but neither of us wanted anything heavy. Firing up Google Maps the gloriously named Patisserie Ofuku sprang up and we felt like high quality coffee and cake would make us feel better. I’m not going to lie, those cakes were amazing and cheered us up no end, though again, probably not the best things to have on a dodgy stomach.
We trundled along down the road thinking we’d stop in to the partially free of charge Kanazawa 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. We started outside with Florian Claar’s Klangfeld Nr. 2 fur Alina, some of the giant speaking and listening instruments made for passable shelters from the rain that had begun to come down. Once again a bathroom was required so we headed into the museum and whilst Anne-So found her rest room, I found mine, James Turrell’s quite glorious Blue Planet Sky which is basically a room with a hole in the ceiling but somehow it was just beautiful and calming and made me feel at peace.
Feeling it was time to move on we decided to head for the DT Suzuki Museum – Zen Buddhists reading this will know who I’m talking about and everyone else would have now guessed the man had something to do with Zen Buddhism. In short DT Suzuki is the man who made Zen famous in the west with his time spent working in the USA.
We arrived dripping wet from the now pouring rain and gladly put our soaked things in the provided lockers. The first part of the museum showcased the history and teachings of Daisetz Suzuki, we found it particularly interesting how challenging he found it to translate things into English. That said he left one memorable phrase in our heads, “Wonderful, wonderful and most wonderful, wonderful! And yet again wonderful…”
It was certainly how we felt when we experienced the beautiful Water Mirror Garden that still felt calm despite the rain lashing down outside and into the water feature and gutters. We just felt so calm and at peace with the world and each other.
We picked up a couple of post cards from the museum to take home with us as we knew that some of our friends would appreciate them.
Sadly the calm didn’t last as we headed out into torrential rain and continued to walk and walk as Anne-So wanted to see the sights of Kanazawa, so we did. As the sun set, the rain showed no signs of stopping as we continued to walk to the riverside, through backstreets and shopping streets. The city was eerily deserted, shops were mostly closed and piped music was playing in the streets.
It wasn’t all bad though, we finally found a Japanese whiskey to bring home for my brother-in-law, some Suntory Hibiki for half the price it sells for back here (yes in an ideal world we would have gone to Yamazaki whilst we were in Kyoto but it was too far out of the way in the time we had). Though I still think we should have spent a bit more on a bottle of Nikka that was hiding in the corner.
We kept on walking, it kept on raining, more and more and more. We went past the now closed “Samurai House” and kept on going. My North Face rain jacket had now managed to become soaked through, the rest of me had long since given up.
Eventually we made it back to the safety of the station and returned to Forus to dry off and get some food. I was so wet I could wring out my hands. We settled for steak at a place that I believe was called, Oh! My Steak – the Forus website states the place had something to do with Paris and butterflies though the only thing we felt was dry! We ordered our meat, one wagyu and one regular and decided to split them. As per usual I took a beer and Anne-So a ginger ale. The food wasn’t great and the fact it was full of mostly tired looking western tourists should have been the giveaway. But like our dining companions we were too tired to care and happy to be out of the rain.
Wanting dessert I noticed there was a gelato place on the ground floor and we had been looking forward to trying some more of the Japanese ice cream flavours (Or in my case any excuse for chocolate ice cream!). Milkissimo was still open, serving up fresh made gelato using the finest Hokkaido milk (that we couldn’t try in Hokkaido as we were sick). I went with a greedy portion of Chocolate, coffee and black sesame, Anne-So swapped out the chocolate for tiramisu. It was good gelato and we headed back to the hotel feeling a lot better than we had done an hour or so earlier.
Before bed I made time to enjoy the tub which I loaded up with bath salts and unwound. I was exhausted and as you’ve probably guessed, we had another busy day ahead of us, one that we’d both been looking forward to. We would be visiting the villages of Shirakawa-go/Gokayama/Ogimachi (which all turned out to be pretty much one place!).