I escaped to Japan last week. I was itching to travel and since my friends were planning a trip there, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to get up and go with them. Coincidentally, it was also cherry blossom season so I was extra excited since I have never seen them in person.
I met my friends in Kanazawa, which is the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture. Kanazawa is 2.5 hours traveling west from Tokyo and about 2 hours 45 minutes traveling north from Osaka on the shinkansen or bullet train. I flew into Tokyo because the flight times worked out better for me since it left Honolulu later in the day.
The train stations in Japan are huge, congested, and can be confusing because there are many rail lines and entrances. As foreigners going to Japan for a temporary visit, we are eligible to purchase the Japan Rail (JR) pass to use only on the JR train lines. However, it is not sold in Japan so you must purchase an exchange voucher from one of the Japanese travel agencies. I purchased my 7 day voucher at HIS Hawaii before my trip. After arriving in Japan, you can exchange the voucher for the JR Pass at a ticket office inside the train station or at the Tourist Information office at the airport.
After getting my JR Pass at Tokyo station, I reserved my seat on the next shinkansen to Kanazawa. Before I hopped on the train, I went into the food shop inside the station and bought a bento for the train ride. I also purchased a coffee from the vending machine. To my surprise the coffee was hot!
From Tokyo station, I took the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Kanazawa. This train travels at 160 mph and passes through the mountains of Nagano. There was still snow in the mountains! Also, the farther away from Tokyo, the more open space there was. I loved seeing the beautiful countryside.
After arriving in Kanazawa and meeting my friends in the station, I dropped off my luggage at the hotel and we took a taxi to the Kanazawa Castle. The sakura or cherry blossoms were in full bloom. What a treat!
The castle grounds was expansive and there were lot of families with kids running around the grassy areas. Also because it was the weekend, there were a lot of local tourists. Near the castle, we walked up to the Kenrokuen Gardens. The walkway was full of food vendors that sold takoyaki, cotton candy, candied fruit, grilled meats, etc. so you can grab something and bring it to the garden to snack on.
We trekked up to the garden where there were more sakura trees. The garden landscape was beautiful and serene. There were lots of people, but I imagine it would be a nice quiet place to escape to during the weekday.
After walking around the garden, we walked to the Higashi Chaya District, which is a historic district preserved by the city. Kanazawa is small enough to walk to all the sights but large enough to spend an entire weekend because there is a lot to see.
There were a lot of shops and tea houses along narrow walkways. I love seeing the old architecture from an ancient past so well preserved. It wasn’t very crowded when we were there so it was very peaceful walking around and enjoying the views. There were some Geisha teahouses as well with scheduled performances during the week.
Unfortunately, there were none the day we were there, so instead we went for tea and dessert and spoke to the Geisha who owned the teahouse about the history. She explained that the house was built in 1822 and during the day they open the teahouse to tourists but is closed to the public at night for their regular Geisha house business, which you can only attend by referral of an existing customer. The house also has a underground tunnel for those customers who want to exit through the back without being seen.
She also explained that unlike Kyoto, there are no Maikos, where girls as young as 5 start training to become Geikos and then ultimately become Geishas. Instead the girls in Kanazawa start off as Geikos and train very hard to become Geishas. She mentioned that there used to be as many as 100 Geishas in the Higashi Chaya District but now there are only 43. There are also several other chaya districts with Geisha teahouses around Kanazawa. The city of Kanazawa provides financial support, similar to scholarships, to those who want to pursue this career. So interesting to see this art form has survived into the modern ages. Now I really want to go to Kyoto to explore the history of Geishas even more.
After saying our goodbyes to the Geisha, we headed back to our hotel to rest before dinner. It was a full and tiring day after all the walking. There were more days of walking and exploring ahead of us but the first day so far was amazing. So happy I got to see the sakura in full bloom and learn some Japanese history.