Hello everyone! Thank you for following our journey through our two week Japan itinerary. Chris and I started our adventure in Tokyo (which you can read about here), then journeyed to Takayama and Shirakawa-go, then north to Kanazawa, followed by Kyoto, Hakone and back to Tokyo (you can also find some really great ideas for Tokyo here.) In this post, I will cover our time in Kanazawa.
I'd read that Kanazawa was a very crafty and artistic city with the beautiful Kenrokuen gardens - so of course I was interested. Chris had suggested eliminating it from our itinerary in the beginning, but I stuck to my guns! I was also interested in Kanazawa from a historical standpoint, as it was the second largest city in Japan to escape destruction by air raids during World War II. We had a short amount of time here, but we spent it well!
Day 6: Wednesday, May 17
We arrived in Kanazawa late afternoon after traversing through Shirakawa-go. It was a really easy bus ride, just one hour away. Upon our arrival, we settled in to our hotel in the middle of the downtown area and relaxed. We decided it was time to have an American meal, and after perusing Tripadvisor, Oriental Pizza Brewery had our taste buds dancing in anticipation of bread, cheese, and fried food. Yep, we were not above pizza. It was happening. We sat at the bar and watched the server greet, make, and serve every dish. He was truly a one man show and we watched in admiration of his efficiencies. We were also happy to just sit back, have a beer and laugh. It was a really nice pause moment that helped us recollect our energy and reflect on the trip.
After dinner, Chris recommended going to a bar he'd read about online where the owner had been to over 70 countries. It was close to our hotel, so we popped in for a beer and it ended up being one of my favorite nights. Working with a small space, we cozied up to the bar and began asking the owner a ton of questions in awe of his journeys. He spoke English and we connected right away. Sitting next to us was a young Japanese girl named Ayano who had books spread out in front of her. She was working on learning English, so Chris and I decided to help her out. She expressed gratitude for our kindness and taught us a few fun things about the Japanese culture. For example, we were introduced to Anpanman and the Snow app, which is very similar to Snapchat. Here's one of our glorious Snow debuts.
We walked back to our hotel through the Higashi Chaya District, which had an old world feeling filled with teahouses and tiny bars, and then quickly collapsed into bed.
Day 7: Thursday, May 18
Rise and Shine! Time to hit up Kanazawa in one day. We awoke early and got the breakfast buffet at our hotel (Chris is obsessed with breakfast buffets) and then headed towards the Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen gardens. In order to avoid crowds, we tried to get there early but we got lost (this is what happens when I navigate) and arrived a little past our ideal time frame. Ah well! It was a beautiful day, perfect for gardens and castles. (If only I could say that every day). We arrived at Kanazawa Castle through a large, open park and lounged for a bit admiring the landscape and bright blue sky.
As we followed the path toward the castle, we began to take in the beauty that is the Kanazawa castle. The architecture and detail is truly mind-blowing.
After our stroll through the castle grounds, the path naturally leads to the gardens. While the gardens were absolutely gorgeous, we were battling tourist crowds on steroids. After our late departure and time spent at the castle, the garden grounds were not the quiet, meditative experience we were hoping for. Regardless, they were a site to see and worth weaving in and out of human clusters.
After departing the gardens we decided to visit the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and get lunch. The museum was beautiful and bright white with pops of color. The first open exhibit was a large pool - I'll leave the rest to your imagination.
At the time of our visit, the featured artist was Ikeda Manibu, a master of pen and ink, whose art truly blew us away. We had the privilege of perusing the galleries dedicated to his work, and sitting in on a documentary interview that was playing in the museum. This mastermind creates everything with a pen. A PEN. My god the talent! *Jealous*
After the museum, we went back to our hotel to regain some energy and then paid a quick visit to the Samarai House which I'd read mixed reviews on but ended up loving. The outdoor space looks out upon a beautiful garden and flowing water – the perfect place for reflection and meditation.
That night, we ended up grabbing a quick Sushi dinner at Sushi Ippei which I had mixed feeings about. Chris really liked it, but I wasn't the biggest fan. I do think it had a lot to do with my neglect to order what I know I like, and instead took the mystery route. I tried to get reservations at Otomezushi a month in advance, which is supposed to blow all other sushi restaurants away, but no dice – so we ended up winging it. We also thought about Fuwari, but chose a simpler dinner instead because we were exhausted and not in the mood for a big production. However, I'd read great things so I do reco based on my research.
And that's a wrap for Kanazawa! One of the things we thought about doing but didn't get to was the Omi-cho market (we were marketed out so we chose to skip it), but otherwise we felt pretty good about how we chose to spend our time.
• Get up early for the gardens. Getting up early for touristy attractions is generally a good idea, but we really wished we'd been able to navigate Kenrokuen gardens without the distraction of fanny packs and selfie sticks.
• Purchase a souvenir. Kanazawa is full of craft stores, it's a great place to pick up an authentic Japanese handicraft. We also haphazardly ran into an adorable furniture store where Chris bonded with the owner over wood working techniques and design ideas.
General Japan Tips:
• Always carry yen. Chris constantly had a pocket full of yen because we'd always encounter a souvenir shop, vending machine or anything else that only accepted yen. If you take a bus, they ask for exact change (even though it isn't necessary) so it's nice to have it on hand.
• Taxi doors close themselves. Do not try to close a taxi door, they are automatic and the driver will be confused if you close them yourself.
• Do not tip! You will only confuse your driver, waiter or whoever else that you believe is tip worthy and you might find someone chasing after you to give you your money back.
• Drinking and eating on the go is not a part of the culture. In Japan, you won't see anyone walking around with a Starbucks coffee and a donut. Everyone takes the time to sit down and consume their meal or drink.
• Chopsticks. Never leave your chopsticks sticking straight up in your rice bowl. We avoided chopsticks sticking straight up in general, in any meal.
• Public transportation > taxi. The trains in Tokyo are your best mode of transportation. They are faster than taxis and cost effective. When choosing a hotel, I'd recommend staying in one near a train station. That way, you can zip around easily. If you will be traveling around Japan and not staying in one location, consider getting a Japan Rail Pass.
• Give and receive with two hands. In Japan, everyone hands things to you with two hands. You should accept what they hand you with two hands, and offer with two hands.
• Choose your shoes wisely. My trusty Fit Bit informed me that I was walking around 20k steps a day, which is around 10 miles. I brought a pair of New Balance and Adidas sneakers, as well as Cole Haan loafers for dressier occasions. In my opinion, heels are a huge waste of luggage space.
• Don't do too much in one day. When you're in Tokyo, you want to do it all. I get it. You've traveled far and you've got a solid itinerary to get through. Spoiler alert: Tokyo is huge and everyone who's ever been there undoubtedly has a list of things they didn't get to do. I urge you to not do too much in one day. It's draining and instead of focusing on a few things, you're just running to get to the next without appreciating the moment. We ran into so many travelers who were just exhausted and you could tell they were in checklist mode. Plan enough so that you have the things you really want to do, but leave room for flexibility and down time so that you are experiencing local life instead of tourist life.
• Get up early for touristy attractions. Crowds are real and if it's hot, the heat is not something you're going to want to face at midday. Early mornings = fewer crowds, pleasant weather, better photo opps, and more time in the day for other things.