ultramarinus – beyond the sea


DAY 8 (3/6): PEACEFUL STROLL ALONG ASUNO RIVER, Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.06.01

After SANAA’s 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, it was about time for us to go back in time again to Edo Japan.  In Kanazawa, there are three well preserved geisha tea house districts that draw visitors from close and afar.  Out of the three, Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街) is the smallest one and receives far less tourists than its more prominent sister Higashi Chaya.  Although small in size, sleepy Kazuemachi along the peaceful Asuno River (浅野川) is a very pleasant place to wander around after lunch.  Only a handful of tourists would come to check out the elegant timber houses and take in the relaxing air of this geisha distinct, despite Kazuemachi is conveniently located between Omicho Market and Higashi Chaya.  After having a delicious sushi lunch at Kourin Sushi, we walked over to Kazuemachi on our way to Higashi Chaya District.

DSC_8670Topping the restaurant recommendations on Tripadvisor.com, the small restaurant Kourin Sushi (香りん寿司) is highly popular with foreign visitors.  We made our reservations days in advance via email, otherwise, our chance of getting a table would be slim.

DSC_8668Kourin Sushi (香りん寿司) is slightly bigger than Sushi Ippei.  It was another wonderful sushi meal in a reasonable price.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKazuemachi is pleasantly located along the waterfront of Asuno River (浅野川).

DSC_8688Approaching from the west, the elegant Nakanohashi Bridge (中の橋) signified our arrival at the Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANear Nakanohashi Bridge, a small park named Ryokusui-en ( 主計町緑水苑) also marks the beginning of Kazuemachi.  Inside the park, a bit of the former castle moat has been preserved.

DSC_8694Kazuemachi was peaceful and sleepy in early afternoon.  We walked on the riverside path for a bit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe air was relaxing and we hardly saw any people, except occasional locals passing by, including a few high school kids riding on their bikes.

DSC_8701The back lane of Kazuemachi away from the river was even more peaceful.

DSC_8704Posters on the walls of the timber houses reminded us the sense of traditional Japan at Kazuemachi.

DSC_8703We passed by the administration building of Kazuemachi District in the back lanes.

DSC_8705At the end of the lane a small stepped path named 暗がり坂, or the Slope of Darkness brought us to a small shrine on the hill.

DSC_8707A small Inari Shrine (久保市稲荷社) awaited us at the top of the stepped path.

DSC_8715Returned down to the Kazuemachi District, we saw a poster of the Hyakumangoku Matsuri (百万石まつり), the three-day festival that commemorates entry of the Lord Maeda Toshiie into Kanazawa in 1583.  We were lucky to have the chance to check out the pretext of the festival known as Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi when floating lanterns are placed into the Asuno River later that night.


DAY 8 (2/6): ARCHITECTURE OF THE 21st CENTURY, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.06.01

For architects and designers, the single most important reason coming to Kanazawa is perhaps to visit the contemporary art museum just across the street from Kenroku-en Garden.  Designed by Pritzker Prize awarded firm SANAA under Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa and opened in 2004, the unique 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館) is one of the most widely published contemporary architecture in Japan during the 2000’s.  Staying low as a single storey building, the circular building aims to minimize its impact to the surrounding landscape.  Exhibition galleries, library, lecture hall, workshops, offices, lobbies, and courtyards are housed in a huge circular building fully cladded with glass at its circumference.  Given we have seen the architecture in design magazines and Internet websites throughout the years, SANAA’s famous museum in Kanazawa is like a friend that we have never met.  Since the museum would get crowded with its popularity not just for tourists but also local visitors coming for workshops and cultural events, we made the effort to arrive before the facility’s opening time.

01With multiple functions configured within a circular plan with a diameter of 112.5m, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館) is a unique piece of architecture accessible from all four directions.

02The outer facade is entirely covered with full height glazing to express a sense of welcome and transparency for visitors.

03Outside the circular building, there are a number of outdoor art installations erected around the museum.

04Perhaps inspired by the building form, the outdoor art installations are also organic or circular in form.

05Before entering the museum, we walked around the building once to check out the art installations as well as the building itself.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWorkshops and other common areas lined along the circumference of the museum building.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust like many tourist attractions in Japan, the famous museum is also popular with school kids.

08We managed to get our admission tickets without much queuing minutes after the museum opened its doors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first thing we did was to find a locker to store our bags so that we could enjoy a carefree visit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlong the curved glazed facade, there were a number of gathering spaces of different sizes available, perhaps catered for different programme.

11Everything in the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is clean, minimal and neutral in colour.

13Photography was prohibited at indoor exhibitions.  At the centre of the building, a glazed walkway passed through a courtyard dominated by a beautiful archway made of green wall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the glazed walkway, we could have a glimpse of the interesting art installation on the roof.

14The Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich is the most famous art installation in the museum.

15The piece is accessible from both the Ground and Basement levels.  From the Ground level, spectators can look down and see the visitors in the basement level through a shallow level of water, as if looking looking into a real swimming pool.

16From the basement level, spectators find themselves in a pool like environment as if walking at the bottom of a swimming pool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe water effect appears in the most spectacular fashion when the sun is out from above.

DAY 8 (1/6): CHIRASHI & COFFEE, Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.06.01

Kanazawa is a foodie’s paradise if fresh seafood is your cup of tea.  Staying near Omicho allowed us to sample daily catches from the Sea of Japan as soon as we stepped out the hotel door in early morning.  There are a number of seafood restaurants in the market, both on the ground and upper floors.  For a special seafood breakfast, we chose Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭), a tiny and popular sushi restaurant near one of the market entrances.

01We arrived at the door of Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) right at 7am when it opened.

02Fugu (河豚), a kind of puffer fish, is an exotic Japanese dish not everyone is dare to try because of the toxins in the fish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Japanese à la carte menu is displayed on the side wall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor most tourists, a chirashi (assorted local sashimi on sushi rice) don is the most popular option.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEverything we needed for a tasty sashimi meal were available on the two tiered counter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABehind the stack of dishes stood the sushi chef busy preparing the dishes and don bowls for each customer around the counter.

07Thank you and appreciation notes from customers were displayed allover the restaurant.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe chirashi don was a tasty sashimi collection of local catches.

09Below the dish of sashimi was a bowl of sushi rice with seaweed and pickled vegetables.

11The chirashi don also came with a bowl of fish miso soup.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApart from chirashi don, we also ordered sushi and sashimi from the à la carte menu.

12Out of the snow crab season, other crabs from the Ishikawa Prefecture also worth trying.

13After our sushi dinner, we walked to the nearby Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店) for a cup of aromatic coffee to officially start the day.

14The roasting machine and coffee aroma from Higashide Coffee made us impossible to resist.

15Higashide Coffee offers professional filtered coffee with beans from all over the world.  Their delicious cheese cake is also a must try.

16The decor of Higashide Coffee was warm and homey, with touches of Western influences and colourful stained glasses.

DAY 7 (7/7): SIMPLE SUSHI BEHIND BUSY KATAMACHI, Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.05.31

Sitting between the Japanese Alps and Sea of Japan, visitors to Kanazawa will be spoiled by the city’s freshest seafood from the Sea of Japan and vegetables from the surrounding areas of Ishikawa Prefecture.  After a day of walking, it was time for us to sit down and finish the day with some local sushi.  From Nagamachi, we passed through the colourful Kiguramachi (木倉町), an old neighborhood with small lanes full of restaurants.  Time was still a little early.  Chefs and staff of most restaurants were still busy making preparation for the night.  We wandered in the neighborhood a little bit and reached busy high street of Katamachi (片町).  We crossed the high street and found our way into a side street for Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), a tiny sushi restaurant that is highly popular with foreign tourists according to online research.

The sushi restaurant only had about ten seats along the sushi counter.  The menu was simple and there were only two staff, the chef and his wife.  A Western couple arrived before us and they were about to finish their first round of order.  The wife spoke some English and politely took our order.  All sushi was made by the chef right in front of us and they were really fresh.  The price was reasonable too.  The ambience was causal and the decor simple but delightful.  Dining at Sushi Ippei provided the perfect ending to a day of sightseeing in Kanazawa.  After dinner, we decided to walk back to our hotel near Omicho Market (近江町市場).  We walked along the main shopping high street of Korinbo (香林坊) and made a detour at Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) to have a look at the stained glass of the gateway lit up with artificial lights.  In about 20 minutes, we found ourselves back at Omicho Market where we started our day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe walk from Nagamachi to Kiguramachi took us through a series of small residential lanes and water channels.

02Time was still a little early when we reached the high street of Kiguramachi (木倉町).

03In many restaurants and pubs, staff were busy preparing their venues for the night.

04It might look empty before 6pm, but the area would soon be filled with people after work.

05Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), a tiny sushi restaurant that captured the hearts of many foreign visitors in Kanazawa.

06The chef would prepare the sushi and place them right in front of the customers on the counter.

07_01The menu was mainly categorized in mackerel, tuna, white fish, prawns, fish eggs, shell fish, and others.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sushi was really fresh and tasty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe fresh sushi and ginger made the perfect match.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe sampled sushi from each category and were fully satisfied after a few rounds.

12On our way back to the hotel, we dropped by Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) again to check out the gateway with the stained glass under artificial light.


DAY 7 (6/7): THE SUBTLE BEAUTY OF A WARRIOR’S REFUGE, Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.05.31

We wandered around Nagamachi (長町) on narrow lanes flanked both sides by yellow earth walls.  We slowly found our way to Nomura Samurai House and arrived at the house’s forecourt about an hour before its closing time.  Once we took off our shoes, we were free to walk around the former samurai house.  It was hard to imagine that such a tranquil complex with a picturesque garden and tea house was actually the home of a powerful samurai (warrior official who served the feudal lord) in the Edo Period.  In the 16th century, Nomura Denbei Nobusada, an official of the first feudal lord of the Kaga Domain Toshiie Maeda, was assigned with the Nomura Family House.  12 generations had passed until the 19th century when the Nomura lost their property during the Meiji Restoration.  It was the historical moment of transition when the samurai system quickly became obsoleted against rapid modernization of Japan.  A business man and shipowner named Kubo Hikobei bought the house in mid 20th century.  He restored the garden and house and was responsible for several alterations, which included adding a tea house.  The focal point of the Nomura Samurai House was undoubtedly the small  garden at the back of the house.  Stone lanterns, stepping stones, pine trees, a small waterfall, a tranquil water pond, and several curious koi fish form a beautiful picture to welcome visitors and exemplify the essence of traditional Japanese gardens.  Journal of Japanese Gardening even claims that the small Nomura garden is one of the top three gardens in the entire nation.  While judging beauty is purely subjective to the eye, the layering of natural scenes and careful arrangement of the verandas, pathways, stepping stones and stone bridges would definitely slow down the pace of visitors.  Only with patience and a peaceful heart could one fully appreciates the carefully configured beauty of the garden at Nomura.

01After a path made of large stepping stones, a humble entrance welcomed all visitors at the entrance garden.

02Prominently displayed at the foyer was a samurai armour.

03The painted screen doors at the tatami drawing room were quite eye-catching.

04Japanese cypress wood, rosewood, ebony, paulownia wood, etc were used for different functions inside the house.

05The family altar is lavishly decorated with gold paint and leaves.  Kanazawa has been a famous place for gold leaf manufacturing for over 400-years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Japanese is almost a synonym to fine craftsmanship.  All nails in the Nomura House are carefully kept out of sight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the back garden, trees and shrubs of different sizes provide a layered backdrop to the stone lantern.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe boundary of garden and architecture almost disappears.  Walking or sitting at the wooden veranda would make one forget all the troubles.

09Irregular stepping stones, rectangular stone bridges, and the smooth wooden veranda allow spectators to appreciate the beauty of the garden at his/her own pace.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA plinth like water basic reveals a certain contemporary charm of minimalism.  Gentle ripples and the sound of the dripping water create an almost spiritual effect to the visitor experience.

11At the end of the veranda, we found our way into another small outdoor space and a stair up to the tea house.

12The transitional space between the garden and the stair to the tea house is another masterpiece of landscape design.

13Before one reaches the stair up to the tea house, a small water feature reminds visitors of the purity and vitality of water.

14The outdoor spaces at Nomura Samurai House are full of beautiful surprises.

15A large variety of bamboo, timber and stones have been used to create a rich palette of textures.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust like many tea houses in Japan, the tiny tea house at Nomura Samurai House is an artwork in itself.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the tea house, the lush-green vegetation of the garden defines the ambience.

18Before leaving Nomura Samurai House, a display bonsai reminded us the beauty of many traditional Japanese art did require tons of patience, techniques, care and imagination to maintain.  What might seem to be a simple pot plant was in reality had gone through decades of care and subtle alterations.

DAY 7 (5/7): LIGHTHOUSE, CHOCOLATE & SAMURAI HOMES, Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.05.31

Branded as Little Kyoto, Kanazawa is famed for its century old neighborhoods and buildings.  With only a fraction of Kyoto’s tourists, Kanazawa is a great place to appreciate the machiya, or the old Japanese timber townhouses from the Edo Period, and neighborhoods of geisha and samurai.  Close to the castle hill, Nagamachi (長町) is the most famous samurai neighborhood in the city with well preserved samurai residences.  From Kenroku-en and Kanazawa castle park, It is about 15-20 minutes of walk to Nagamachi.  On our way, we made a detour to Oyama Shrine (尾山神社).  Moved to its present location in 1872, the shrine is the most prominent shrine complex in Kanazawa, especially the iconic west facing gate structure standing proudly with a mixed style of Japanese, European and Chinese influences.  As soon as we stepped in the shrine complex, we saw groups of people setting up art installations in the temple garden.  Perhaps the artworks were set up for the upcoming Hyakumangoku Matsuri (百万石まつり).  We strolled around the complex and finally came to the unique front gate.  Designed by a Dutch architect, the gate is consisted of three levels. The first level presents design features from Japanese and Chinese influences, and the upper levels are inspired by European styles, including the famous stained glass window at the top tier which was once served as a lighthouse.

Exited Oyama Shrine from its front gate, we continued to walk west into the Nagamachi (長町), the tranquil neighborhood famous for its samurai residences.  Sitting just a stone throw away from Kanazawa Castle, Nagamachi had a high concentration of samurai residences in the Edo Period.  Today, the water canals, narrow lanes, earthen walls, old trees, and traditional gateways still exist.  Some houses are still occupied by families of former samurai.  Before visiting one of the former samurai residence, the Nomura Clan Samurai Home (武家屋敷跡 野村家), we couldn’t resist the temptation and stopped by a chocolate patisserie shop called Saint Nicolas.

4The Oyama Shrine is dedicated to Maeda Toshiie, the first lord of the Kaga Domain.

5While we were there, local communities were busy setting up art installations in the temple ground.

6Some of the art installations were made of materials that we could hardly imagine.  This piece set up laser disks (LD) in an arrangement that resembled a lily pond.

7A glassy pavilion seemed like a brand new addition to the shrine complex.  It might well become an information centre soon.

2We exited the Oyama Shrine through its main gate.  Once served as a lighthouse, the top level of the gate features a colourful stained glass window.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring daytime, it is difficult to see the real colours of the stained glass window.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOutside of the gate, a small procession route led us west towards Nagamachi, the neighborhood famous for its samurai residences.

8Before going into the lanes of samurai residences, we reached a small street flanked by a small water channel and stopped by Saint Nicolas, a delightful patisserie and chocolate shop.

9Saint Nicolas offers a wide range of chocolate, ice-cream and patisserie.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe decided to sit down for a tea break before ending our day with a visit of the Nomura Clan Samurai Home (武家屋敷跡 野村家).

11Finding our way to Nomura Clan Samurai Home (武家屋敷跡 野村家), we wandered around the small lanes of Nagamachi.

12Unlike the historical districts in Kyoto, Nagamachi of Kanazawa to us was much more peaceful and saw far less tourists.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor 280 years, many top and middle class samurais lived in Nagamachi near the Kanazawa Castle.  Although most mud walls were reconstructed in modern days, the charm of the old samurai era remained.

14The Onosho Canal is the oldest waterway in Kanazawa.  In the old days, it was a means to carry goods from the harbour to the castle town.


DAY 7 (4/7): A STROLL THROUGH THE HISTORICAL HEART OF KANAZAWA, Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.05.31

Since early 20th century, Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園) of Kanazawa (金沢) has appeared in travel literature along with Koraku-en (後楽園) of Okayama (岡山) and Kairaku-en (偕楽園) of Mito (水戸) as the Three Great Gardens in Japan (日本三名園).  Today, Kenroku-en Garden remains as a popular destination in the heart of Kanazawa.  For most visitors, it is not only the crafted beauty of the manmade landscapes that is astonishing, but also the continuous effort and care throughout generations involved in maintaining the beautiful trees that leave many in awe.  Unfortunately we didn’t come at the right season to appreciate the visually stunning yukitsuri (雪つり), which literally means “snow hanging.”  It is a traditional protection of the famous pine trees against potential damages caused by heavy snow, whose delicate limbs would be supported by bamboo poles and ropes arranged in conical arrays.  In winter, a number of pine trees in the garden would appear like suspension bridge structures.

Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園), which literally means Garden of Six Attributes, refers to the six traditional qualities of a perfect Chinese garden.  The six attributes include spaciousness, tranquility, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water, and broad views.  Next to the ground of Kanazawa Castle, the 11.4 hectare Kenroku-en was built by the Maeda Family (前田氏) in the 17th century.  The garden was established in 1652 when a water system was constructed to divert river water to feed the artificial streams and ponds within the site.  Garden features such as tea houses, fountains, stone lanterns, statues, flower beds, planters, and tree groves dot around the larger Kasumigaike Pond and the smaller Hisagoike Pond.  These artificial ponds could be seen as allegories of the sea, with miniature islands symbolizing mythical isles inhabited by divine deities.  Greenery were planted to offer scenery of distinct seasons: plum and cherry blossoms in spring, irises and azaleas in summer, and red maple foliage in autumn.  Out of the roughly 8750 trees, there are dozens of feature pine trees.  These feature trees, such as the Karasaki Pine, have received years of attentive care in order to maintain their unique visual characteristics.

Kenroku-en Garden was quite crowded during our visit.  It was a day before the city-wide celebrations of Hyakumangoku Festival (百万石まつり).  On the second day of the festival, tea service would be provided in Kenroku-en.  Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for a few more days to fully experience this popular annual event.  We entered the garden via the Mayumizaka Gate (真弓坂口) across from the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.  We wandered aimlessly on the winding paths, hopping from one area to another to check out the picturesque ponds and unique pine trees in the garden.  After strolling around the Hisagoike Pond and Kasumigaike Pond, we decided to leave the busy garden and walked over to the Kanazawa Castle Park (金沢城公園).  On the lawn in front of the reconstructed castle, staff were busy setting up temporary booths for the upcoming event of the Hyakumangoku Festival.  Unlike Matsumoto Castle that we saw a few days earlier, the original Kanazawa Castle (金沢城) was long destroyed by fire in late 19th century.  A reconstructed complex was erected in 2001 at the original site based on the castle’s appearance in 1850s.  The white and grey colour combination of the castle looked smart and delightful, but somehow the reconstructed complex did look a little too clean and new.  We crossed the castle park and walked towards Oyama Shrine (尾山神社), an interesting building that we wanted to check out before leaving the historical heart of Kanazawa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter D. T. Suzuki Museum , we walked north to the Mayumizaka Gate (真弓坂口) of Kenroku-en Garden.

2We soon arrived at the Hisago-ike Pond, where the famous Midori-taki Waterfall and Kaisekito Pagoda featured in the scenery.

4Right by the Hisago-ike Pond, the chouzubachi (手水鉢 or hand wash basin) in front of the Yugao-tei Tea House was made from the trunk of a fossilized palm tree.

3Design features in Japanese and Chinese gardens often represent miniatures of natural landscape: ponds as sea or rocks as islands.  A small rock cluster in the Hisago-ike Pond symbolizes an mythical island in the Eastern Sea.

6At Kasumiga-ike Pond, larger manmade islands are planted with pine trees and flowers, providing a focal point for spectators from all around the pond.

5Tea houses are common structures in Japanese gardens.  Uchihashi-tei Tea House sits beautifully by the waterfront, overlooking the magnificent scenery of the Kasumiga-ike Pond.

8At Kasumiga-ike Pond, the famous Karasaki Pine is often considered as the most unique tree in the entire garden.

9Around Kasumiga-ike Pond, there are a number of feature pine trees that are painstakingly reinforced with bamboo and wooden posts in order to maintain their unique postures.

10Thanks to the manmade reinforcement, the crown of some feature pine trees spread out to great extent.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANeagari-no-Matsu (根上り松) or Raised Root Pine is one of the most handsome feature pines in the garden.

12Neagari-no-Matsu (根上り松) or Raised Root Pine.

7Near the Kasumiga-ike Pond, the Gankou Bashi or Flying Goose Bridge offers a sense of interest to the garden scenery.  There are eleven tomuro stones arranged in the gesture of flying geese.

13In late May, there was no sakura or autumn maples, though the irises were still quite eye-catching.

14In the Plum-Grove Garden, there are about 200 plum trees with over 20 plum varieties.

15After Kenroku-en, we walked over to the Kanazawa Castle Park (金沢城公園).

16The original Kanazawa Castle was destroyed by fire in the late 19th century.  The elegant Kanazawa Castle that we see today was reconstructed in 2001.