Friday, 8 August 2014

It never rains but it pours

Date: Friday 9th August 2014

Weather: Rain, rain and more rain. I wouldn't have minded but it was still very humid though, the rain did give me an excuse when I met a pretty lady and I was pouring with sweat (hopefully she would think it was rain).

MP3 track of the day: Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain – Jason Donovan

No alarm had been set but I still found myself up at a very respectable time. Due to the shower room being occupied (plus I was in no rush therefore I felt as though I should let people who have buses and trains to catch use the shower first) I went down to the common room and resumed work on yesterdays blog. It is true that my blog does take a lot of time (somewhere in the region of two to three hours per blog) and I am sure there are some of you asking why I keep going with it when my current holidays are so short however, today my blog was a blessing in disguise. Once I had finished my blog I went back to my dorm and got ready. I had just finished cleaning my teeth when I herd the distant roar of thunder followed, very closely, by the sound of a torrent of rain. What followed was a ten minute period of action-packed drama as guests dived back into the hostel whilst the owners ran around the building closing all of the windows and putting on all of the air-conditioning units. I continued to get ready as if the chaos behind me wasn't happening. I decided to stay in a little longer than I had planned to let the worst of the storm pass; I read my guidebook and formed a plan of action, always thankful that I had written my blog this morning or else I would have been in the middle of town without an umbrella.

At around 10am the rain had died down enough to justify leaving. A few other guests thought I was crazy however, with only one day here I had to make the most of it. I flew out of the hostel and into my car. I rummaged around and found my umbrella which I had bought last August in Sendai (I was amazed that it still functioned as an umbrella as it had been thrown around the boot of my car for the last year). I then left my car and headed back to the train station.

As I walked away from my hostel I felt very British. Sure my trainers, shorts and bag were bought in Japan, my T-shirt was from China and my baseball cap was from America however, I was wearing black socks with my shorts and I was 'getting my monies worth' by venturing out on a day where no other nationality would dare. Last nights mystery of why there were not any restaurants near the train station was solved this morning as I viewed a map of Kanazawa city. It would appear that the centre of Kanazawa was no where near the train station at all; in fact, I was looking at a good twenty minute walk before I even hit the edges of the main tourist area. I thought that this was highly bizarre until I realised that my home city of Derby was just the same.

Today I was trying a completely new photographic technique, known in the photography world as 'shooting from a covered way'. If you venture on to my Flickr website, you will see all sorts of excellent buildings shot from the most peculiar angles. Today my photography was certainly dictated by where the cover was but fortunately, there was quite a lot of cover as I walked around town.

Once I had stopped at Mr Donuts for a rather late breakfast I decided to enter the city's castle park. Due to the rain I was going to head straight to the '21st Century Art gallery' (recommended by my guidebook) however, though the rain hadn't fully stopped, it was certainly lighter than it had been at any other point that morning.

Before entering the park I had to go through a Buddhist / Shinto (one or the other) shrine complex. A man was there praying and so I respectively took photos of locations where he wasn't praying. This became a sort-of weird dance as we moved around each other. Finally the man came to me, gave me 5 Yen (3p) and told me to place it in the money box and pray. How was he to know that I didn't like religion. To save a long argument using broken Japanese, 'loud and slow English' with a wide variety of gestures I did what he asked and even gave a small bow. From the back of the complex the man watched me before leaving.

I soon found myself within Kanazawa's castle park. Due to the rain I pretty much had the whole park to myself. I planned a logical walking route which would allow me to see the whole park in the shortest time. Some of the park – and a part of the castle - were under construction and so that limited the area I had to cover. Once again I dotted from cover to cover taking the best shots possible. Considering that the grounds were free I was very impressed; the grounds had different areas consisting of different landscapes which included an open grassy field area, the open grounds in front of the castle, a small water garden and a small humid forest. I went through each area (the forest, rather quickly) ticking them off until I was content that I had seen all that there was to see. Before leaving I checked the Castle Grounds Map once more, content that all had been completed. I left the area and pushed on towards a garden.

This was no ordinary garden. As my guidebook put it:

... Early morning or late afternoon are the best times for catching Kanazawa's star attraction, Kenroku-en at it's most tranquil, otherwise your bound to have your thoughts interrupted at least once by a megaphone totting guide and a party of tourists – such is the price of visiting one of the official top three gardens in Japan. Kenroku-en – developed over the last two centuries - is rightly regarded as the best.

Originally the outer grounds of Kanazawa's castle, and thus the private gardens of the ruling Maeda clan, Kenroku-en was opened to the public in 1871. Its name, which means 'combined six garden', refers to the six horticultural graces that the garden embraces: spaciousness, seclusion, artificially, antiquity, water and panoramic views. It's a lovely place to stroll around, with an ingenious pumping system which keeps the hillside pools full of water and the fountains - including Japan's first – working. There are sweeping views across towards Kanazawa's old geisha district, Higashi Chaya, and many marvellous pine trees, pruned carefully throughout the centuries to achieve a certain shape...”

As I paid the 350 Yen (£3) entrance fee I wondered that, if this was Japan's official top Japanese garden then surely, that meant that this was the best Japanese garden in the world. Due to the rain the tourist groups had stayed away; the park was light with guests and so I found it easy to move in between the parks different areas photographing – when weather or cover allowed – at will. Japanese gardens consist of many small walkways – lined with small bamboo fences – with a main body of water somewhere. Usually there is either a stone, or wooden arched bridge placed over said body of water. This garden did not disappoint and even though it was summer, somehow some of the trees were dressed in their autumn clothes. I meandered this way and that. In between the maze of tiny paths lay small mounds of grass with usually a tree or two on top and a couple of rocks. Around each corner was another centre piece, which was very different from the last. I was so lost in my 'zing and zang' world that I almost didn't notice the skies becoming extremely black. When I did eventually notice, I had pretty much seen the whole garden; I therefore decided to quicken my pace and leave the 'worlds best Japanese garden' and head to the 21st Century art gallery (another must within my guidebook however, I just wanted somewhere to get out of the rain). I had, of course, left it a little too late and heavy rain started to pour down as I left the gardens. I gave the ticket lady a bow and, from her little shed, she gave a sympathetic one back. I raced across the road and into the art gallery.

Japan is not renown for wonderful architecture. I have found most of Japan to consist of practical square-shaped boxes, only broken up by the odd temple here and there. In Kanazawa I found two buildings where beauty was higher on the agenda than practically; one was the eastern-entrance to the train station and the other was this 21st art gallery. The art gallery was circular in shape with glass outer-walls. Inside, the exhibitions were split into three important themes (free exhibitions, standard collection which you had to pay for and a temporary exhibition which you also had to pay for). Due to the layout of the building these all appeared to be jumbled up with one another however, I didn't mind; getting confused and back-tracking was a small price to pay for actually finding a Japanese building which wasn't boring in design. I looked around all of the free exhibitions before heading to the ticket office to decide what I was going to view. The art galleries standard collection was 360Yen (£3) to view whereas a combined ticket to both the art galleries collection and the temporary collections cost 1,000Yen. Being low on cash I decided to leave the art gallery and head to the local post office for more funds. The rain had died down again and it was in this time that I had a think about which ticket I wanted to buy.

Buy the time I had returned to the art galleries ticket desk I had decided to opt for the art galleries standard collection only. The lady tried to give me the 'hard sell' however, she could tell that my mind was made up. I thanked her and proceed to where she had told me to go.

The art galleries collection focused on 'reflections and viewing things through things' (hence why the buildings outer-walls were all made from glass). I could mock this collection as some of it consisted of looking through glass, a big black oval on a giant stone wall and a small 'diver action figure' in a wine glass full of water encased within a glass box (you looked at said action figure through a periscope) however, I did actually quite enjoy it. I can't say that I ever 'got' what the artists were trying to portray within the works presented but, most pieces were very 'hands on'. Within twenty minutes I had seen all that their was to see. I prepared myself to venture back into the watery world outside.

The only real mistake I had made today was with my choice of footwear. Normally, the trainers I had on my feet were very comfortable however, the rain which hit the pavements of Kanazawa had bounced and, over the last four hours, socked my socks. I therefore shuffled my way into a department store which, I had hoped, would have been full of places for lunch. I was wrong. Instead, I entered a word which was unknown to me. Three floors awaited all with small boutiques housing clothes which the shop staff wore (whether this was to entice you or warn you I could not decide). I was just about to leave this nightmare of commercialism when I spotted a 'Vieda France' sandwich shop. It wasn't actually what I was looking for but it 'would do'. I purchased two sandwiches, a cake and a drink for £5 and sat down.

Whilst reading my guidebook, I discovered that there were only two areas of Kanazawa left to explore. The first is where Geisha are trained; this area was a thirty minute walk east and with my feet protesting, I left that for another trip. The final area housed some old samurai era streets. Kanazawa escaped bombing within World War 2, therefore the old stuff here is actually authentic. Luckily this area was where I was currently located. Also the area flowed in the direction of my hostel. After a quick meeting with my feet they agreed to one final push and away we went.

The area of Nagamachi was where the old samurai streets could be found. The area was pretty small therefore, it didn't take me long to wander the cobbled streets peering over the mustard-coloured earthen walls into a private world of small Japanese gardens and beautiful samurai era houses. This area reminded me of Kakunodate, which I visited two years ago. It was beautiful and it was here that I decided that Kanazawa is actually a very nice city. It seems to have something for everyone with flashes modern art and modern architecture, in between pools of old samurai houses and traditional Japanese gardens. If it wasn't for the weather, I would say that this could be a contender for somewhere new for me to live.

All too soon the Samurai era faded into the 1980's box era. I instantly recognised where I was and followed the request of my feet to go back to my hostel. I stopped only once to pick up a cool bottle of coke and, once at my hostel, I sat down with my computer and wrote up as much of today's blog as I could.

Due to the weather, I stayed within my hostel – watching 'Youtube' videos – until about 7:30pm when I went out for dinner. I had agreed with my feet that I wouldn't go far and so I went back to the same restaurant I visited last night except this time, I had a curry.

As I walked back to my hostel I noticed that, for the first time today, the weather was almost perfect. It wasn't hot, humid or raining that hard. A breeze was flowing through the city making it very pleasant indeed.

Once back at my hostel I uploaded this blog and prepared for an early night because I knew an early morning would follow.

So tomorrow I plan to get up early and leave Kanazawa before the morning rush. I will have to make a stop for petrol and breakfast but after, I will head straight to three UNESCO heritage villages before making camp in the mountain city of Takayama ('Taka' means high and 'Yama' means mountain). Once again I have a curfew however, it's 10pm.

Toodle Pip!

P.S. There are a lot of French people here.

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