Go to travel, went to Kanazawa

Go to travel, went to Kanazawa

History, gardens, autumn leaves and altogether too much edible gold leaf

After the kind-of-emergency earlier in the year, the government has decided that things in Japan are pretty under control at the moment and that people need to go on domestic holidays to restart tourism, like, right now, seriously, please go, why aren’t you going, it’s really quite cheap at the moment, we’ll even pay for half of your trip, just please go on holiday. OK? You’re going now? Gooood.

Essentially, at the moment Japan has a country-wide campaign called Go To Travel which gives you 35% off your hotel and transport costs plus 15% of the value in coupons to spend in restaurants and shops at your destination. With that incentive, many Japanese people are actually taking days off (!) and travelling the country.

My partner and I decided to go to Kanazawa, a city on the west coast famous for its historical buildings and (apparently) production of gold leaf. It also has one of the highest rates of bear sightings in Japan, and is just down the road from a city where a bear spent a day wandering around a shopping mall. Thankfully, we managed to see plenty of historical buildings and no bears.

Kanazawa Castle

Like many towns in Japan, Kanazawa was built around the castle of a powerful daimyo warlord. Much of the castle was destroyed by fire (multiple times) but it’s currently being restored to something like its former glory.

This is the largest surviving/rebuilt part of the castle. It should be a collection of outbuildings by the main building, but the construction site behind my shoulder is where the main building doesn't exist at the moment ...

One surviving piece of history is this traditional garden, made in honour of a widowed daughter of the clan

Next to the garden is a traditional tea house. It's the first time in quite a while I've had tea-ceremony-style matcha tea and traditional sweets like this

The castle grounds are huge, giving you a sense of how important the ruling Maeda (or Kaga) clan were; apparently their holdings were second only to the ruling Tokugawa shogun during Japan’s medieval “warring states” period. It has a fascinating maze-like design common to many Japanese castles, with plenty of routes unexpectedly blocked off by walls and long winding fortified paths leading up to the site of the great hall. Many of the surrounding streets were also designed to protect the castle, with not-quite-straight intersections and odd corners which would subtly lead an attacking army on circuitous routes around the castle instead of through it.

Next to the castle is a huge park called Kenroku-en, which was once the private garden of the Maeda clan.

The tall white things in the distance which look like tree trunks are actually huge ropes on sticks with plastic wrap on them ... we didn't quite understand why

They're so dedicated to preserving history that this tree has a forest of posts supporting its tired old branches!

A sense of the samurai

A few minutes walk from the castle is a small district of traditional samurai houses. It’s a bit hard to take photos because so many houses are behind walls, but the streets were beautiful and very fun to walk around. We realised later that we should have rented kimonos to get the true historical Japanese experience!

Apparently this district is unique because the Kaga soldiers in this region were the only ones in Japan to live in detached houses instead of big apartment-like buildings

There are other old preserved buildings all over the town, including the "East Tea House District". This is quite a different style to the samurai district and feels a little like some old streets in England with the second story of each building leaning out over the road

We were just a little too early for autumn foliage - in another week or two these trees will apparently be a stunning pure red

Gold leaf on everything

Kanazawa is also famous for producing gold leaf, so naturally every shop sells something gold-leaf-themed. I think gold leaf on food is just silly, but my girlfriend Hina enjoyed the novelty and at least it’s fun to take photos of.

These pancakes were something special - huge and incredibly fluffy with chestnut cream on top

A huge number of shops sell gold leaf ice cream. Basically you take an ice cream, add a sheet of tasteless nutritionless shiny stuff, and double the price. Profit!

The campaign lasts until the end of January next year, so hopefully we get a chance to go somewhere fun in winter as well!

Posted on 1 November 2020
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