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.
After a path made of large stepping stones, a humble entrance welcomed all visitors at the entrance garden.
Prominently displayed at the foyer was a samurai armour.
The painted screen doors at the tatami drawing room were quite eye-catching.
Japanese cypress wood, rosewood, ebony, paulownia wood, etc were used for different functions inside the house.
The family altar is lavishly decorated with gold paint and leaves. Kanazawa has been a famous place for gold leaf manufacturing for over 400-years.
The Japanese is almost a synonym to fine craftsmanship. All nails in the Nomura House are carefully kept out of sight.
At the back garden, trees and shrubs of different sizes provide a layered backdrop to the stone lantern.
The boundary of garden and architecture almost disappears. Walking or sitting at the wooden veranda would make one forget all the troubles.
Irregular stepping stones, rectangular stone bridges, and the smooth wooden veranda allow spectators to appreciate the beauty of the garden at his/her own pace.
A 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.
At the end of the veranda, we found our way into another small outdoor space and a stair up to the tea house.
The transitional space between the garden and the stair to the tea house is another masterpiece of landscape design.
Before one reaches the stair up to the tea house, a small water feature reminds visitors of the purity and vitality of water.
The outdoor spaces at Nomura Samurai House are full of beautiful surprises.
A large variety of bamboo, timber and stones have been used to create a rich palette of textures.
Just like many tea houses in Japan, the tiny tea house at Nomura Samurai House is an artwork in itself.
From the tea house, the lush-green vegetation of the garden defines the ambience.
Before 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.
The Oyama Shrine is dedicated to Maeda Toshiie, the first lord of the Kaga Domain.
While we were there, local communities were busy setting up art installations in the temple ground.
Some 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.
A glassy pavilion seemed like a brand new addition to the shrine complex. It might well become an information centre soon.
We 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.
During daytime, it is difficult to see the real colours of the stained glass window.
Outside of the gate, a small procession route led us west towards Nagamachi, the neighborhood famous for its samurai residences.
Before 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.
Saint Nicolas offers a wide range of chocolate, ice-cream and patisserie.
We 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).
Finding our way to Nomura Clan Samurai Home (武家屋敷跡 野村家), we wandered around the small lanes of Nagamachi.
Unlike the historical districts in Kyoto, Nagamachi of Kanazawa to us was much more peaceful and saw far less tourists.
For 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.
The 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.
After D. T. Suzuki Museum , we walked north to the Mayumizaka Gate (真弓坂口) of Kenroku-en Garden.
We soon arrived at the Hisago-ike Pond, where the famous Midori-taki Waterfall and Kaisekito Pagoda featured in the scenery.
Right 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.
Design 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.
At Kasumiga-ike Pond, larger manmade islands are planted with pine trees and flowers, providing a focal point for spectators from all around the pond.
Tea 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.
At Kasumiga-ike Pond, the famous Karasaki Pine is often considered as the most unique tree in the entire garden.
Around 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.
Thanks to the manmade reinforcement, the crown of some feature pine trees spread out to great extent.
Neagari-no-Matsu (根上り松) or Raised Root Pine is one of the most handsome feature pines in the garden.
Neagari-no-Matsu (根上り松) or Raised Root Pine.
Near 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.
In late May, there was no sakura or autumn maples, though the irises were still quite eye-catching.
In the Plum-Grove Garden, there are about 200 plum trees with over 20 plum varieties.
After Kenroku-en, we walked over to the Kanazawa Castle Park (金沢城公園).
The original Kanazawa Castle was destroyed by fire in the late 19th century. The elegant Kanazawa Castle that we see today was reconstructed in 2001.
DAY 7 (2/7): A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.05.31
Since the old days in the Edo Period, the Omicho Market (近江町市場) has been the biggest market in Kanazawa (金沢) for over 280 years. With 170 shops, Omicho Market is very popular among both the locals and tourists. Anyone who is interested to get a taste of the fresh seafood from the Sea of Japan will never be disappointed with the market. Depending on the season, Omicho Market is always a seafood paradise: snow crabs, shrimps, oysters, squids, sea urchins, and all kinds of fish from the Sea of Japan near Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), with Noto beef (能登牛) and Kaga vegetables (加賀野菜) from the region as delightful bonus. In fact, the Sea of Japan just off the Ishikawa Prefecture is where the warm Tsushima current and the cold Liman current intersect, resulted in an abundance of nutrients and large concentrations of fishing ground for a diversity of fish and shellfish. Being the largest market in the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture, it is obvious why Omicho Market is one of the best places to sample seafood in Japan. Most tourists will either sample fresh seafood or seafood snacks from the market stall directly, or walk into (often after certain amount of queuing time) one of the small seafood eateries near the market entrances or on the 2nd floor. After dropping off our backpacks at Pacific Hotel, we quickly walked over to the market for a short stroll. It soon turned out such a stroll in the market would happen at least twice per day during our stay in Kanazawa.
Spanning across several covered lanes, Omicho Market is one of the largest markets in Japan.
Noto beef (能登牛) refers to the high qualify strain of Japanese black cattle with their longest and final breeding process held in Ishikawa Prefecture. Every year, there is only about 700 cattle shipped, making this rare wagyu beef almost exclusive to the region.
Many shops in the market specialize in regional fruits, produces or snacks.
Traditional Japanese sweets are also available in a number of shops, including this one that sell traditional sweet rice cakes made with sticky rice and red bean paste.
Thought of course the main draw for visitors to the Omicho is always the seafood.
For seafood, a winter visit would have an advantage with snow crab season.
Oysters from the region are also popular among tourists.
Outside of winter, crabs from the Ishikawa Prefecture are still available.
The crabs are sold in a range of prices depending on size.
Crustaceans remain the most eye-catching items in the market.
Without tasting them, even looking at the crabs was a feast for our eyes.
At last we couldn’t resist but ordered some oysters and a prawn.
Both the local oysters and prawns were super fresh and sweet.
Before taking a bus a few blocks south of Omicho Market where the city’s main tourist attractions could be found, we stopped by Curio Espresso and Vintage Design Cafe for a quick lunch.
With fantastic reviews on the Internet, our coffee didn’t disappoint us.
The hummus, bread and soup were also more than satisfying.
After a good night’s sleep, we woke up to another misty and rainy morning in Ainokura. It was time for us to move on. In order to catch a direct bus to Shin-Takaoka Station (新高岡駅), we had to catch the 7:45 bus from Ainokuraguchi (相倉口) bus stop. Before breakfast, we took a final stroll around the village. Walking around the tranquil rice paddies and fields of drying reed, and breathing in the moist mountain air fixed with the fragrance of the woods and soil gave us a peaceful finale of our sojourn in the Japanese Alps. The breakfast at the minshuku was once again a hearty feast of small dishes in the traditional dining hall. After breakfast, the minshuku owner gave us a ride out to the Ainokuraguchi bus stop, sparing us for braving the elements with our backpacks.
The hour long bus journey north to Shin-Takaoka was as peaceful as our stay at Ainokura. Only four passengers including us were on the bus. The bus took us past the villages and towns in Toyama, including Johana Station (城端駅) where most buses throughout the day would end the journey for tourists to transfer for a local train. Soon our bus went up the expressway over to the city of Takaoka.
From Shin-Takaoka, it was just a 15 minute train ride on the Hokuriku Shinkansen (北陸新幹線) to Kanazawa (金沢), our final stop of this Japan trip before heading back to Tokyo. We felt a bit strange stepping out of the modern Kanazawa Train Station after staying several days in the mountains and countryside. Designed by architect Ryuzo Shirae in 2005, the century old train station of Kanazawa received a modern makeover, including a wooden gate inspired by a traditional Japanese torii. We took one of the many buses leaving the station for Omicho Market (近江町市場) at the city centre. Our hotel was just a block away from the famous market. With a small ground floor cafe, the sleek and modern Pacific Hotel was like a world away from the Gassho-style thatched roof minshuku of Ainokura.
We woke up to another wet day in the mountain village of Ainokura in Gokayama.
Before breakfast, we made a final stroll around the tranquil rice paddies of Ainokura.
Passing by the fields of drying reed reminded us the traditional way of living in Ainokura is still going strong.
Breakfast at Gassho Minshuku Nakaya (合掌民宿なかや) was again a delightful feast for us.
It was very kind for the owner of Gassho Minshuku Nakaya to drive us out to Ainokuraguchi (相倉口) bus stop in the rain.
The bus ride to Shin-Takaoka took a little over an hour.
Opened in 2015, the Shin-Takaoka Station (新高岡駅) in Takaoka (高岡) is a modern interchange station for the Hokuriku Shinkansen high speed railway.
There are Hokuriku Shinkansen high speed trains coming from Tokyo stopping at Shin-Takaoka on the way to Kanazawa.
In less than 15 minutes, we arrived at Kanazawa Station.
The wooden torii gate at Kanazawa welcome every visitors entering the city by train.
The modern and clean Pacific Hotel near Omicho Market offered us a comfortable resting place for our stay in Kanazawa.
A small reception counter of Pacific Hotel also doubles as a coffee bar.
DAY 6 (6/6): CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山), Toyama Prefecture (富山県), Japan, 2018.05.30
The stay in Ainokura proved to be more than worthwhile. We got the chance to take refuge in a 350-year old gassho-zukuri house and dine right by a traditional Irori (囲炉裏) hearth in the atmospheric dining room. The stay also allowed us to experience Ainokura in the evening, when most tourists were gone. After dinner, it stopped raining. We went out to take in the tranquil atmosphere under the silver moonlight and shimmering stars. Wandering on the winding paths, we were totally surrounded by rice fields and the croaking sound of frogs.
The owner of Gassho Minshuku Nakaya used the traditional Irori (囲炉裏) hearth in the dining room to prepare the smoked ayu fish for our dinner.
Seasoned with sea salt, the smoked ayu fish were the star delicacy of our dinner.
Pickle, deep fried, and soy sauce veggies, carp sashimi, local rice, and smoked ayu fish left us more than satisfactory after a long and wet day in the Japanese countryside.
Outside of Gassho Minshuku Nakaya, the village path was lit with dim street lamps.
The mirror-like rice fields reflected the beautiful gassho-zukuri houses.
With clouds and moonlight, it wasn’t the best time for stargazing.
Loud croaking sound of frogs came from rice fields in all directions.
The village paths were pretty much deserted after dark, except a handful of tourists and local villagers.
The sky was getting darker as we wandered around the village.
We could see a bit more stars as the last twilight faded.
In the dark, we walked uphill a little bit to a lookout that we visited earlier in the day. From there, we took a photo of the night sky over Ainokura just before the moon emerged behind the mountains.
Across the rice fields and river valley, the moon was about to emerge beyond the mountains.
The silhouette of mountains and silver moonlight depicted a lovely reflection in the rice fields. We were grateful to enjoy a moment of absolute peace just before moonrise.
DAY 6 (5/6): GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山), Nanto (南砺市), Toyama Prefecture (富山県), Japan, 2018.05.30
The idea of staying a night in a traditional gassho-zukuri house prompted us to come all the way to Ainokura, the remotest of the three UNESCO World Heritage villages in the Japanese Alps. A few centuries-old gassho-zukuri houses in Ainokura have been converted into minshuku (民宿) or Japanese style bed-and-breakfast. A typical minshuku stay offers a Japanese tatami room, as well as dinner and breakfast served in a traditional dining room around an Irori (囲炉裏) hearth. Based on online reviews and guidebook recommendations, we booked our stay at Gassho Minshuku Nakaya, a 350-year old gassho-zukuri located near the end of the village. The interior of the house was as expected full of wooden panels, tatami flooring and timber lattices. The bathroom and toilets were clean and modern, while the dining room and its Irori hearth provided a feature for all visitors.
Outside of the minshuku, gassho-zukuri houses scattered along the few winding paths and surrounded by patches of terracing flower beds and rice paddy fields. Historically, Ainokura was self sustained not by farming, but by making traditional paper and raising silkworm. Since the decline of silkworm raising in the 1950s, some fields of mulberry trees uphill from the village were converted into agricultural fields for vegetables and rice paddy. Today, rice paddy fields dominate the scenery of Ainokura. As the most important staple food in Asia, rice cultivation represents the lifeline for many nations, including Japan. Apart from rice fields, small beds of colourful flowers can be found all over the village. Flowers are planted adjacent to rice terraces, or along winding paths, or in front of village homes, leaving touches of lovely colours among the lush green palette, even in the greyest rainy day.
Gassho Minshuku Nakaya is a well-preserved 350-year-old gassho-zukuri house in the UNESCO World Heritage village.
The thatched roof and timber wall panels of the minshuku look just like other traditional farm houses in the village.
Just like any typical Japanese house, there is a decent entrance vestibule at the Gassho Minshuku Nakaya.
The guest area is limited at the ground floor only, with traditional tatami bedrooms, dining room, and bathroom.
In the dining room above the Irori (囲炉裏) hearth, a jizaikagi (自在鉤) or free hook is attached to the beam structure of the house.
Our room was a Japanese style tatami room with traditional decorations.
Upon arrival, we were given green tea and snacks.
Outside of Gassho Minshuku Nakaya, lovely flowers could be found in many fields and flower beds.
One of the most impressive flower beds we saw was just opposite to the front door of our minshuku.
The small flowers in front of Minshuku Yomoshiro present a subtle beauty.
Colourful flowers along the village paths lighted up the scenery in a rainy day.
We found some of the most impressive flowers at the terracing flower beds in the midst of the lush green rice paddy fields.
And more flowers…
Late May. Rice seedlings had just planted not long ago. Rows of footprints were visible in the rice paddy fields.
It was a pleasure to get so close to the rice paddy.
At the end of Ainokura near Gassho Minshuku Nakaya, we found some larger rice fields with beautiful reflections of the surrounding mountains.
After spending time to photograph the rice fields, it was about time for dinner.