Thunderbirds are go. (October 2013)

Trains have interesting names in Japan, like Sonic and Whitewing.

The one we took from Kyoto to Kanazawa was called Thunderbird.

There should be one called Typhoon, if there isn’t already, as they seem to be so common in Japan at this time of the year. We have been on the tail end of three so far and now, we are told, there is another one on the way.

Kanazawa means ‘golden marsh’. An apt name considering the region had three centuries of abundant harvests, starting in the the late 16th Century. The luck continued into the 20th century, with the city being spared attack during WW2.

Our first stop was the Omicho Market, just a short walk from the ultra modern, JR railway station. Seafood is the main produce sold in this busy mall like market area. You can even buy freshly shucked oysters from some of the vendors.

As we entered the market I noticed a box of very plump asparagus and wondered where they were grown, considering it wasn’t asparagus season in Japan. They were Australian, from Koo Wee Rup in Victoria.

Not far from the market, between two of the numerous canals, was the Naga-machi Buke District. This is an area famous for a number of Samurai houses that have been preserved. We visited one that was owned by the Nomura family for 12 generations. Nomura Denbei Nobusada was made wealthy during the three centuries of prosperity in Kanazawa. Because of the breakup of the feudal system, at the time of the Meiji Restoration, most of the house was lost, however the garden remained.

Just over the Saigawa River is the Nishi Chaya or Geisha District an area of traditional wooden houses.

The were no Geishas, but that’s not surprising considering it was only 3:30 in the afternoon.

As we were to discover, temples in this area can be more than just a place of worship.

Myoryuji also known as the Ninja Temple was constructed with more than religion in mind.

There were no actual Ninjas living in the temple but it was ingeniously designed so the Shogun, Lord Toshitsune could worship in peace. He built many temples in the area, primarily to house soldiers in case of an attack. If the Shogun was attacked in Myoryuji Temple there was a labyrinth of stairways, hidden rooms, sliding doors, trap doors and even a reported 3km escape tunnel, to Kanazawa Castle, from inside the well.

Within this seemingly small space was 23 rooms and 29 staircases.

There was even a ritual suicide chamber used for committing hari kari, in case he got trapped.

During the Edo period buildings could be no more that three stories high. From the outside this one appears to only have two levels but inside it has four.

Deception, another ‘Ninja’ trick.

This was one of the strangest guided tours I have ever been on.

Firstly we had to sign a form stating that:

  • We understood the tour would be only given in Japanese.
  • We would not talk or translate what the guide was saying into another language as this might break her train of thought.
  • We would follow the guide, on the red carpet, and not disobey her instructions.
  • We wouldn’t take photos.
  • We were not allowed to bring babies or small children into the temple.
  • We could not be drunk.

Our only full day in Kanazawa was taken up by a visit to Kanazawa Castle Park and the Kenrokuen Gardens. On the way there we discovered Oyama Jinja Shrine with its delightful pond, criss-crossed with stepping stones and stone walkways.

Kanazawa Castle was destroyed by fire in the 1700 and all that remains is the Ishkawamon Gate. A small section of the castle was rebuilt recently and its reconstruction is ongoing.

There was a free tour of the gardens and our guide was full of interesting facts. He showed us a steep stone staircase and pointed out that the steps were all uneven in height. This, he said, was so that attacking forced couldn’t run up the staircase in full stride.

So much of Japanese history is involved with the Shoguns avoiding death.

Kenrokuen Garden is just over the main road, formerly the castle moat, from the castle park and is regarded as one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan.

Kenrokuen means ‘garden with six sublimities’ These are spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, water-courses and panoramas.

I think that there should be a seventh sublimity, abundance, as the garden has a wealth of bridges, lakes, old trees, hidden views and secluded places.

Kenrokuen is the epitome of a Japanese garden.

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