Arriving in Kanazawa I thought it would be smaller and after one day I can only regret that I haven’t got a month. With separate samurai, temple and geisha districts as well as one of Japans three most beautiful gardens Kanazawa is a pleasure to visit. Even in the heat.
Adding to this are Kanazawa’s traditional crafts which are revered around the globe. According to some sources you wont find an area with more varied craftsmanship outside of Kyoto, and unlike in Kyoto where the crafts have been inspired by the imperial court, in Kanazawa the origin stems from its samurai history (Only In Japan).
Apparently, the ruling Maedo clan in Kanazawa encouraged its samurai to focus not on swordsmanship and fighting, but on arts and craftsmanship. This was a defence strategy as it meant that they would not be considered a threat to the clan with the highest power. In this way, Kanazawa actually almost managed to avoid any fighting for 400 years (BBC).
As for the crafts, Kanazawa is particularly revered for its beautiful Kutani porcelain, Kaga Yuzen silk dyeing and the Kanazawa gold leaf.
Our visit to Kanazawa
We arrived around 12 AM, heading for our first ever AirBnb experience. We’ve booked a small Japanese apartment near the Katawachi neighbourhood which allows us great access to most of the city. After having only rice paper as a wall between us and strangers last night it is a pleasure to have an entire place to ourselves for the next two nights.
We decided to start off by heading towards the nearby Teramachi district and its many temples looking in on the Myoryuji ninja temple, but without any ready-made reservations for tours at the temple, it wasn’t a particularly spectacular visit.
We slowly made our way back towards Katamachi planning to find Nagamachi, one of the last remaining samurai districts in Japan. However, we were waylaid as we passed a 100 yen Daiso store which I must admit drew us in. I’ve heard so much about these types of stores and I was eager to see what all the fuss was about. They had M&M varieties I’d never heard off and loads of socks and kitchen gear and trinkets. Heaven for the spontaneous buyer.
Making it out of the Daiso store alive, we realised it had become late, and after our experience in Takayama we knew we soon had to find our way to a restaurant. Once again my boyfriend had been doing his research and we found our way to the restaurant Sushi Ippei. And again we not only managed to find a wonderful place to eat, but were also met with the warm and welcoming atmosphere of a small Japanese restaurant.
I have never had as fresh and wonderful sushi as I did here. The chef placed it directly on the clean black stone of the counter while the hostess showed us pictures from her 2007 trip to Scandinavia.
I am normally not a big fan of the sliced ginger which accompanies sushi, but at Sushi Ippei it was so fresh and tasty that I could eat it like candy. Nothing like the boring stuff we get served back home.
After leaving the wonderful Sushi Ippei, we finally managed to reach Nagamachi and despite that it was getting dark we were able to appreciate the wonderful area with the majestic samurai walls and beautiful houses.
Otaku, otaku, otaku
On our way back to our little flat we ran across an Otaku bar. Otaku is Japanese for geek and represents the diehard fans of the manga culture. The bar was empty but for the two people behind the bar and a single barfly. It was full of figurines and I quickly came to realise that the synthetic cocktails served at the place were named after the characters represented on the desk. Thus, my menu this evening became a long line of animé characters such as Mami and Kyoko from Puella Magi.
I don’t understand why my boyfriend didn’t order any of the colourful drinks, but he seemed to prefer the sake and whisky section of the bar, where there to my dissatisfaction were no manga names represented. The very kind bartender gave us a short introduction to Japanese whisky, which is something I never even knew existed. Colour me blind, I figured whisky came from Scotland…
Fascinated with the fact that Japan produces whisky and is known for it I had to look up the story behind. The production of Japanese whisky can be traced back to the 1870’s, but it seems that its commercialisation is attributed two founding fathers: Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru. In 1923 Shinjiro founded the first distillery in Japan in Yamazaki in the Vale of Yamazaki, when he started the production of Suntory. He was assisted by Taketsuru who had studied distilling in the homeland of whisky – Scotland. Eleven years later in 1934 Taketsuru broke from Suntory and founded the Yoichi distillery on Hokkaido producing the Dainipponkaju brand whisky later known as Nikka.
Japanese whisky is made in the Scottish style and for a long time it was difficult for the Japanese brands to make it outside their home market, because many whisky enthusiasts believed that Scottish whisky which was not produced in Scotland could not measure up. But this seems to have changed in recent years and particularly after Nikka’s 10-year Yoichi single malt won “Best of the Best” at Whisky Magazine’s awards in 2001. Since then Japanese whisky has taken the international community by storm, establishing itself as a favourite amongst many.
While we ordered another round of colourful synthetic cocktails with weird animé names for me, the barfly had entered the conversation and offered us a bag of local biscuits, which he just happen to have on him. He gave the young female bartender a box of chocolate from what to me seemed to be his Santa Claus bag. I don’t understand why in Denmark people can’t more commonly walk around with little treats which they offer strangers, – however getting it down on paper I realise that it soundS rather creepy actually, and I imagine that it is one of those Only in Japan kind of things. Only in Japan is it okay to accept gifts from random strangers at bars.
Before long another regular dropped by and I started to realise that I was the only one ordering the colourful cocktails (I’d had three or four by then). The guys all ordered beer or sake, or whisky. Moreover, it didn’t take me long to figure out that despite their sweet synthetic flavour these cocktails pulled a punch. I don’t know if it was the reason that the new arrival kept staring at me, or if it was because I reminded him of one of his favourite animé characters. Nevertheless I walked out of there with a pretty good buzz going on and a strong desire to join in on my boyfriends fascination with manga and animé.
I really need a good nights sleep after this….