Our next stop on our honeymoon was to Kanazawa, a lovely city with beautiful old streets, gardens and a castle to boot. More popular with local Japanese tourists than with foreigners, we really enjoyed the wide open spaces offered by the gardens, well-laid out roads and lack of crowds.
To get there from Hakone, we journeyed back by bus to Odawara then took the train to Tokyo. We had an unfussy lunch at Eataly in Tokyo station, fancying a break from Japanese food. Meat and veg-topped focaccia filled our tummies whilst sfogliatella filled my gastronomic soul. I gave in to the temptation at the dessert counter. My, it was the most delicate pastry filled with heavenly orange-scented cream which shattered in my mouth and coated my lips with icing sugar.
Because our journey to Kanazawa was going to take most of the day, we got some takeaway bento boxes from Ekibenya Matsuri for dinner. The crowds in the shop were unbelievable. I grabbed a beef bento box for Gareth and a seafood one for myself and hurried right out.
The bullet trains travel so quickly that you can actually feel the G-force pushing against you in the train. And I’ve said this before already but I couldn’t get over how punctual the trains were. Like clockwork.
From Kanazawa station we took a taxi to our hotel, The Square Hotel, and had a very chilled rest of the evening. Our hotel was functional and clean with a bonus view of the mountains from our window. There was also an onsen available to use with robes provided in the room but I didn’t check it out that time.
The next day, we had a very nice breakfast at Curio Espresso and Vintage Design Cafe, a place serving excellent coffee and breakfast sandwiches. I had the bacon and egg sandwich and Gareth had the pulled pork sandwich, both of which came in freshly baked rolls, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. We had an extremely pleasant meal there before taking a leisure stroll to Kanazawa Castle.
Just outside the cafe there were interesting little shops with cool street artwork to admire.
On our way to the castle we walked through Oyama Shrine, a quiet peaceful shrine with a beautiful compact garden surrounding it.
Within the grounds of the castle and park itself is Gyokusen’inmaru Park, a beautiful park stunning in its simplicity and botanical architecture. This was the first time I had seen pine tree branches being supported by tentlike frames of ropes. The way the branches had been shaped in tiers was quite a triumph in gardening. Japanese garden styles are so interesting and different to the English gardens I’ve been used to seeing. Whilst English gardens have a wilder, freer style to them Japanese gardens are much more structured and disciplined, both beautiful in their own right.
Kanazawa castle was the seat of the feudal lords from the Maeda clan who ruled the Kaga region. Much of the castle has been rebuilt, with the oldest structures of some storehouses and the Ishikawa-mon Gate being the only ones remaining from the 18th century. The castle and grounds are well worth a visit. You can explore the insides of a gate itself, walk around the gardens, climb up a small hill to look at the view over Kenrokuen and generally have a pretty chilled couple of hours there. You can buy a separate ticket to have a look inside the castle but we chose to just explore the grounds instead.
Across the road from Kanazawa Castle is Kenroku-en Gardens, one of the most beautiful gardens in all of Japan. They were designed and developed by the same Maeda clan and used to form the outer gardens of the castle itself. The gardens were quite a bit busier than the castle but again worth a visit to enjoy Japanese garden design in splendid form.
The cherry blossoms were only just coming out but were clearly very popular with lots of people (us included!) flocking there to take photos of them.
These beautiful and clearly very old pine trees were supported by solid wooden poles, in themselves creating beautiful shapes against the spread of the branches and pine needles. They are intended to protect the branches from sagging and breaking under heavy snow in winter. We then doubled back on ourselves (there was a lot of walking that day!) to head to Omicho Market, where our lunch destination was. Quite a lot of the stalls had closed for the day by the time we got there, but there were still a few selling fresh seafood, including massive crabs with the longest legs I’ve seen.
Iki-iki Tei is a small stall tucked away in a corner of the market selling kaisen don, fresh sashimi on a bed of rice. The set is served with green tea and a fish broth made presumably from the bones of the fish they serve.
If I remember correctly, the system is you write your name or give your name to be added to a list, then wait until you’re called in.
Although working in a cramped and clearly very busy place, the lady behind the counter was so friendly and even offered to take a photo of us. I liked how they served the sashimi separately on a plate perched on the bowl of rice. The fish was incredibly fresh and delicious. The fish broth came served with bones and all. No pandering to tourist palates here!
After lunch we walked to the Kazuemachi Chayagai and Higashi Chaya districts, atmospheric old buildings and streets built in the Edo period when they used to be teahouse districts. Today amongst these old wooden buildings there are not only teahouses, but shops and restaurants to enjoy. Gareth bought a bottle of sake from a specialty shop in Higashi Chaya. We much preferred walking around Kazuemachi Chayagai – as far as I could see, the buildings were mainly private residences with fewer shops and consequently fewer tourists around.
There were lots of tourists dressed up in traditional clothing walking around. You can rent them from specialty kimono shops, mainly geared towards tourists. At first it was quite exciting as we thought they could be maiko or geiko (geishas) but after seeing a real geiko on the street in Kyoto later on, I could really tell the difference in the quality of the costume, the hair and the make-up.
After all that walking, we had a good old rest back at the hotel before going out again for dinner. This time we went to The Godburger which is situated along a street by a canal. That street had lots of other places to eat as well, and made a pleasant walk in the evening. Our burgers were really tasty, and although they left out the avocado in my burger we still had a very enjoyable meal there.
Look at my more conventionally sized meal against Gareth’s behemoth of a burger!
After another night at the hotel we headed to Kyoto the next day, our last leg of the honeymoon. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Kanazawa, and would love to head back one day.