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.
We arrived at the door of Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) right at 7am when it opened.
Fugu (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.
The Japanese à la carte menu is displayed on the side wall.
For most tourists, a chirashi (assorted local sashimi on sushi rice) don is the most popular option.
Everything we needed for a tasty sashimi meal were available on the two tiered counter.
Behind the stack of dishes stood the sushi chef busy preparing the dishes and don bowls for each customer around the counter.
Thank you and appreciation notes from customers were displayed allover the restaurant.
The chirashi don was a tasty sashimi collection of local catches.
Below the dish of sashimi was a bowl of sushi rice with seaweed and pickled vegetables.
The chirashi don also came with a bowl of fish miso soup.
Apart from chirashi don, we also ordered sushi and sashimi from the à la carte menu.
Out of the snow crab season, other crabs from the Ishikawa Prefecture also worth trying.
After 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.
The roasting machine and coffee aroma from Higashide Coffee made us impossible to resist.
Higashide Coffee offers professional filtered coffee with beans from all over the world. Their delicious cheese cake is also a must try.
The decor of Higashide Coffee was warm and homey, with touches of Western influences and colourful stained glasses.
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 (1/6): MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県), Japan, 2018.05.30
Before leaving Takayama we made a brief visit to the Miyagawa Morning Market. Everyday from 6:30am to noon, market stalls selling farm produces, local crafts, snacks, and souvenirs will be set up at the Jinya-mae Market in front of Takayama Jinya and Miyagawa Market along the Miyagawa River. These two morning markets have become popular tourist attractions. We arrived at Miyagawa River at around 6:15am, while a number of vendors were setting up their stalls. We took our time strolling along the river, and were delighted to see a few rows of koinobori (鯉のぼり), the colourful carp windsocks, over the water to celebrate the Children’s Day (子供の日) on 5th of May. They were meant to bring good health and bright future for children. As more vendors got their stalls ready, we turned to the delicious snacks for breakfast. Steady rain began soon after we had our first snacks. We hastily finished them and got ourselves a few local products (miso, dried mushrooms, spices, etc). After returning to our guesthouse to pick up our backpacks, we made it just in time to catch the 8:25am bus for Shirakawa-go, our destination of the day before moving on to stay the night at Ainokura of Gokayama.
The sky was grey and Miyagawa River (宮川) was calm as always. We thought the market stalls wouldn’t be up and running right at 6am so we took our time to stroll along the river.
It was delightful to start the day with a close encounter with a wooden Daikokuten or the God of Luck near the Kaji Bashi Bridge.
Colourful koinobori (鯉のぼり) or carp windsocks were set up (probably for a few weeks around the Children’s Day on 5th of May) over the Miyagawa River (宮川).
Originally the windsocks were used by samurai warriors during battles. In modern times, koinobori or the carp windsocks are meant to bring strength, good health and courage to children.
It was a pleasant scene to have a few rows of colourful koinobori over the calm water of Miyagawa River (宮川).
Some signs said the market opened at 6am and some said 6:30am. Even at 6:30am, not all stalls were set up and visitors were scarce. The grey weather and rainy forecast just made things worse.
Time was still quite early and there weren’t that many visitors around.
We would have to imagine if it was a little later in the day and with finer weather, the market would be much busier.
We would love to get some local produces but we just couldn’t bring them along with us for the rest of the trip.
An old man let us try the samples of the dried shiitake mushrooms. The sample tasted gorgeous and led us to buy a bag of the dried shiitake mushrooms. This bag of dried shiitake turned out to become the best dried shiitake we had ever had at home.
Seven-favored spices is a famous local product. We got a mini bag of spices from the old lady.
After 7am, more stalls were opened as well as the souvenir shops along the opposite side of the pedestrian walkway.
A few stalls were selling beautiful flowers and plants. We would soon found out that flowers were inseparable with village homes in the Japanese Alps area.
An old lady was selling all kinds of miso (味噌). We picked up a pack of Hoba Miso, a regional sweet miso wrapped in a dried hoba leaf (magnolia). Traditionally, the leaf was meant for wrapping the miso and cooking it over the fire.
Local honey vendor was about to open his stall.
Our first snack at the market was the takoyaki or octopus dumplings.
Watching how the takoyaki was made by the vendor was an interesting event in itself.
After takoyaki, we moved to the next stall for fish-shaped mini cakes with various sweet paste.
The takoyaki vendor recommended us to try the award-winning custard pudding at NOIX de COCO (ノアドココ). It was a fabulous suggestion. The vendor was friendly, the pudding delicious, and we got a chance to take a photo of the cute pikachu wearing a pudding hat!
Steady light rain continued and more visitors arrived at the market, but it was time for us to take the bus and move on to our next destination: the traditional gassho-zukuri village ares of Shirakawa-go (白川郷) and Gokayama (五箇山).
With a population of less than 250,000, peaceful Matsumoto (松本市) is renowned for its beautiful mountain views, in particular the Hida Mountains to the west. Coming from Tokyo, we could immediately sense the relaxing air of the mountain city as we stepped out the train station. We spent 5 hours in Matsumoto, visiting the castle, art museum, and performing arts centre. All three sites were within walking distance from the train station, and we were able to cover everything on foot. Near the castle, we passed by small weekend markets where vendors were selling snacks, handicrafts, straw hats, accessories, local produces, artworks, etc. Our brief stay in Matsumoto provided us a moment of transition between busy Tokyo and tranquil Kamikochi (上高地) in the Japanese Alps.
At 09:40 we arrived at Matsumoto Station (松本駅) by JR East’s Super Azusa.
It was Saturday morning. Most shops near the station had yet open their doors except this sake store. Sake, the popular Japanese rice wine, is in fact quite famous in Nagano Prefecture, where clean water, good sake rice and cool weather can be found.
With red polka dots all over, the Town Sneaker bus is undoubtedly designed by Yayoi Kusama (草間彌生), the world renowned artist from Matsumoto. This inner city loop service is a convenient way for tourists to get around the city.
In front of the newly opened Shinmai Media Garden, a lively street market captured our attention. Designed by Toyo Ito, Shinmai Media Garden is a shopping centre with an interesting trade mix, including a local beer restaurant, cultural workshops, rooftop cafe, restaurants, apple cider shop, lifestyle store, small exhibition spaces, etc.
At the street market, we could find different local products from handicrafts to snacks.
Even doughnuts were made with local ingredients.
Straw broom (houki) of Matsumoto (松本箒) is a famous traditional handicraft of the city since the late Edo Period 150 years ago.
This minimalist building right by the Metoba River is a small retail complex with a barber shop, restaurants, and fashion boutiques.
Behind the retail complex stands the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum, which hosts a collection of timepieces donated by Chikazo Honda and other local citizens.
Nawate Dori, also called Kaeru Machi or “Frog Street”, is a small street near the castle famous for its traditional shops. Frog sculptures can be found along Nawate Dori. Made by students of Tokyo University for Arts, this sculpture of frog samurai is one the most impressive.
Some say the abundance of frog sculptures at Nawate Dori is a result from the typhoon incident in 1959, which flooded the area and forced the original Kajika frogs of the Metoba River leaving for higher ground and never returned. The frog sculptures have since become replacements to retain the original spirit of the place.
The streets of Matsumoto were full of surprises.
The abundance of nice boutiques and delightful cafes at downtown Matsumoto reveals the youthful energy and desire for a cozy lifestyle.
Matsumoto has a decent student population with its universities, junior colleges, secondary and elementary schools.
At 14:45, we hopped on the Alpico Kotsu’s Kamikochi Line at platform No. 7 at the station. The 14.4km train ride took us as far as Shin Shimashima (新島々駅) in half an hour, from where we switched to the Kamikochi bound bus for the final leg of the journey.
At Matsumoto Station, we picked up two bento boxes from a convenient store. They were tasty and decent looking, perfect for a relaxing train ride.
As soon as we stepped out of Shin Shimashima Station (新島々駅), we could see the bus parked outside. It was a smooth transfer as we boarded the direct bus for Kamikochi.
On the way to Kamikochi, we often passed by picturesque rice paddies.
The bus ride took about 60 minutes through mountain valleys and small villages. All we could hope for was pleasant weather in Kamikochi, where we would make day hikes to explore the mountains.
Due to the fact that this world-largest fish market is running out of space for future development, and that the site of the existing Inner Wholesale Market is sitting on prime real estate land, the Tsukiji Inner Market or Jonai Shijo (築地中央卸売市場) is scheduled to be relocated to Toyosu (豊洲) in this October. Handling over 2000 tons of seafood per day and employed over 60,000 staff, relocating the Tsukiji Inner Market is no small feat. Not catered for public visitors and tourists, the wholesale area is not an ideal place to wander around. No tourists are allowed before 11am according to the rules, and there is a limited number of quota for watching the famous tuna auction before dawn. Outside of the wholesale area, a few small lanes of restaurants are extremely popular with tourists. There are about two dozens of small sushi restaurants serving fresh fish just a stone throw away from the wholesale area. No wonder the most popular restaurants such as Sushi Dai (寿司大) and Daiwa Sushi (大和寿司) are infamously known for the long queues, with some bloggers mentioning in the range of one to three hours of wait.
This time, we didn’t enter the wholesale area of the Inner Market. We didn’t want to stand in the way of the busy staff.
We walked to the lanes of eateries and sushi bars to hunt for a place for breakfast.
Japanese grilled omelette or tamagoyaki (玉子焼き) could also be found in the Inner Market area.
In 2014, we came to the Inner Market in early morning and had a bowl of chirashi for breakfast.
Other than chirashi and sushi, there were also other options such as curry and tempura.
The line for Sushi Dai went all the way to the other side of the building out onto the adjacent lane. It seemed like a two hour wait at least.
This time, we picked Daiwa Sushi (大和寿司). Daiwa Sushi occupies two stores so we thought the queue wouldn’t be too long. We wouldn’t mind queuing for a while to have a chance to taste the fresh nigirizushi or hand pressed sushi (握り寿司) from Tsukiji Market.
At the door of Daiwa Sushi, a staff was responsible to monitor the queue and direct the entering customers when seats became available in the restaurant.
Through the window, we could see a senior itamae (chef) and his apprentices busy preparing nigirizushi for customers.
We ended up queuing for a little over an hour before finding ourselves sitting at the bar seats of Daiwa Sushi.
The interior was down to earth. We sat by the corner right by a photo depicting the catch of a huge tuna.
There was only one nigirizushi (握り寿司) set option to order. Nothing fancy about the sushi, but the freshness of the fish and the vibrant market atmosphere made all the wait worthwhile.
After the sushi breakfast, we hopped to Aiyo Cafe next door for a cup of coffee.
The interior of Aiyo revealed a strong vintage atmosphere.
The entire shop seemed frozen in time since mid 20th century.
The staff were very friendly and spoke some English.
We had a good time exchange a few words with them while taking a short coffee break. After all, we were a little sleepy after the red-eye flight.
At another lane there were restaurants that offered Western cuisine. We thought of trying but were too full after the sushi breakfast.
We walked by an interesting sliding door panel leaning against a low wall outside the row of restaurants that offered Western food. Was the move to Toyosu already underway for some restaurant owners we did not know.
Judging from the mini figure that actually moved continuously as if devouring a bowl of delicious noodles, the door might belong to a ramen restaurant. After the sushi and coffee, we decided to move on to Roppongi for a dose of design culture.
Walking out of Tsukiji Metro Station, our attention immediately fell to the monumental Tsukiji Honganji Temple (築地本願寺) across the street. Design in mixed styles including Indian Buddhist, Islamic and Hindu, as well as Western Neoclassical influences, architect and Tokyo University professor Chuta Ito intended to steer away from the traditional East Asian timber architectural traditions. Instead, he traveled to India numerous times to visit temples, and brought home design touches from the birthplace of Buddhism. The 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake destroyed the temple’s predecessor. The current Honganji Temple was built in the 1930s, and soon became a prominent Jodo Shinshu (浄土真宗) temple in Tokyo. We climbed the main stair and entered the main hall through an elegant doorway with beautiful stain-glass transom windows overhead. We were surprised to see a full house of audience in the cathedral-like main hall (even with an organ). Apparently there was a concert going on. A female vocalist was performing some kind of Western opera inside the temple.
The unique facade of Tsukiji Honganji Temple hardly revealed its true identity of to us.
The elegant stain glass transom over the doorway depict the Buddhist icon of lotus flowers.
There was a concert inside the main hall of Tsukiji Honganji Temple.
The architecture of Tsukiji Honganji Temple presents the trend of cultural fusion back in early 20th century.
Across the street adjacent to the Tsukiji Honganji Temple, we picked a small lane leading into Tsukiji Jogai Shijo (築地場外市場) or the Outer Market. Encompassing a few blocks adjacent to the Tsukiji Jonai Shijo or the Inner Market, the Outer Market is a popular tourism attraction. Catered for the public, small shops selling all kinds of culinary-related goods from dried seafood to kitchen knives and food stalls offering a wide range of snacks such as sushi and grilled egg, the pedestrianized lanes of the Outer Market is truly a foodie’s paradise. On this piece of reclaimed land (Tsukiji literally means reclaimed land), the eateries and shops of the Outer Market had long been providing a diverse range of food to the people of Tokyo since the Showa Era (1926-1989). The entire Tsukiji Market was in fact a consequence of the Great Kanto Earthquake, which devastated Central Tokyo in 1923 including the Nihonbashi Fish Market. The fish market was relocated to Tsukiji and began to operate in 1935 as one of the three major markets in the city. Already the largest wholesale seafood market in the world, the Tsukiji Market is running out of space for further development. Work of relocating the market has been undergoing for sometime. After several delays, it seems that the market is really moving to its new home in Toyosu (豊洲) this October. But that didn’t affect the bustling Outer Market as these few blocks of shops and eateries (and the loads of tourists) would likely to stay even after the move.
Street vendors appeared blocks away from the Tsukiji Market just outside the Metro Station.
A large fish painted on the building facade probably reminds tourists the direction of the market.
A relatively new market called “Tsuki Waza” will remain at Tsukiji even after the relocation of Tsukiji Inner Market.
The Tsukiji Outer Market is consisted of a few pedestrianized streets of shops and restaurants.
Katsuobushi (鰹節) is the dried, fermented and smoked skipjack tuna or bonito flakes commonly seen in Japanese cuisine.
Akiyama Shouten (秋山商店) specializes in katsuobushi. We couldn’t resist but got ourselves 500g of the flakes.
There are many small shops with all kinds of dried seafood and seaweed.
While it only occupies a few blocks, one can easily get disoriented in Tsukiji Outer Market.
Apart from the small shops, there are also indoor shopping arcades of food stalls.
We ended up get our first snacks from a street BBQ vendor.
Apart from seafood, spices can also be found in the Outer Market.
Tamagoyaki (玉子焼き) or grilled omelette is another popular snacks available at Tsukiji.
We saw about four to five stalls specialized in tamagoyaki. We tried two of them and they both tasted good.
After free tasting of black beans from Kyoto region we ended up get a pack home.
After all, tuna is still the king in Tsukiji. Quite a long queue of people were waiting for fresh tuna sashimi in front of this shop.
New indoor shopping arcades have been established in recent years at the Outer Market, perhaps as a gesture of confidence for the future of Tsukiji after the relocation of the wholesale Inner Market later this year.