Today we took the shinkansen (bullet train) to way north of Tokyo, to Kanazawa, where our dear friend & first Japanese teacher, Tomoko, lives. We met her 12 years ago when she was studying for her Masters Degree at the UofR. Brendan & I studied with Tomoko for two wonderful years (Brendan was 9 & I was 47 when we began) until she finished her degree & left for Minnesota to study for a PhD. We've stayed friends all these years & 2 years ago Tomoko got a job at the University of Kanazawa, in the counseling center (her degree is in family therapy & counseling).
Last night we slept a little more than the previous night, but our sleep is still disrupted. So we had an early breakfast in our Shinjuku hotel's dining room. I had the traditional Japanese-style breakfast of rice, miso soup, pickles, tofu, & assorted salads & beans. Charlie had an omelet & bacon :)
After breakfast we packed everything up & hauled ourselves to Shinjuku station to ride half an hour on a local train (with our luggage- such fun!) to Omiya, where we caught the shinkansen north to Kanagawa.
Our train was called the "Kagayaki" which means "sparkling".
I love watching the train pull in. It looks so cool!
We found our reserved seats & Charlie wrestled our bags into the minimal space they leave at the back of each car for our bags. Then we settled-in for the 2-hour trip, in comfort!
Charlie showed me a map of our route, which you can probably see in the photo below. On the bottom right, where his finger rests, is Tokyo, & at the upper left, by his other finger, is Kanazawa.
It's uphill most of the way & our ears popped constantly. There were many tunnels. The scenery changed drastically as we headed north, from flat fields & small towns, to amazing mountains. We even saw a volcano covered with snow & a wisp of steam out the top!
As we got closer to Kanazawa, there was ocean to our right & we were on a narrow strip of land between the sea & the mountains. It was really gorgeous.
I managed to have a text conversation with Brendan in between cell outages (due to tunnels). He was eating vegetarian Japanese curry (I'd made about 6 meals worth for him & put them in the freezer) over rice & seemed in very good spirits. I love technology that allows me to chat with my kid halfway around the world almost instantly!!
When we arrived in Kanazawa we found Tomoko waiting for us at our exit gate. It was so good to see her! It's been four years since we last saw her, & we had a lot of catching up to do! She led us to our hotel, a few blocks away, where we stowed our luggage until check-in time, & then we went back to the station to have lunch at a lovely restaurant that specializes in "fu", which is wheat gluten that's served in many different ways. Charlie & I had vegetarian curry (maybe my conversation with Brendan inspired us?) with fu in it as the protein source & Tomoko had a bento-style meal with lots of pretty & tasty ingredients. Its was delicious!
After lunch we decided to take a short bus trip to Kenrokuen Koen, considered to be one of the three most beautiful parks in Japan. It's right next to Kanazawa Castle, & was originally the Maeda family's castle garden, during the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Maeda's were the rulers of the Kanazawa area, which was very wealthy (Kanazawa means "gold swamp") because it is an excellent rice-growing area. Tomoko told us that, in order to convince the Tokugawa Shogun that he wasn't using his wealth to stockpile weapons to challenge Tokugawa as Shogun, Maeda encouraged the arts, planted lavish gardens, & ostentatiously spending his money so that he didn't appear threatening. The Kanazawa region really benefitted from this policy, & this region rivals Kyoto for the still-flourishing arts & crafts produced here. On the way to the gardens, Tomoko & I posed for a photo by the castle gates.
The garden, even in March (it was somewhere between 45-50 degrees F today), really lived up to it's reputation. Beautifully laid-out garden spaces separated by little streams, with beautiful bridges over them, or large rocks to step across on.
There were tsubaki (camellia) trees:
And there was a whole area full of flowering ume (plum) trees. Gorgeous!!
Many of the trees were tied up in bamboo frames that made them look like Christmas trees, which prevent them from being damaged by the heavy snowfalls here in the winter. The oldest trees were liberally supported by long wooden poles, to keep their branches from breaking.
After strolling the gardens for a while, we warmed-up in a small building that displays the local crafts of Yuzen fabric dyeing, lacquer ware, silk reeling, woodworking, and pottery. Then Tomoko proposed we walk a few blocks to a cafe that serves exquisite cakes. We did not need to be convinced :) And the cakes were just as gorgeous & delicious as she'd said:
We ended-up staying at the cake shop until their closing time (6:00 pm) & then walked to the bus stop where we'd catch the bus back to the station & our hotel. Kanazawa University moved out of the town proper about 20 years ago & is now situated in the mountains outside of town, so we left Tomoko to her half-hour trip to her apartment near the university. We'll meet her tomorrow at the bus stops outside the train station at 9:00 am for a bus trip & an overnight adventure deep in the mountains south of Kanazawa.
Charlie & I bought rice balls & ekiben (station bento) to take back to the hotel for dinner. I was so hungry & tired I forgot to take photos of dinner! Charlie & I picked out the clothes that we'll pack in backpacks for tomorrow's overnight stay. I did a small load of laundry, too (free- we just had to pay for the packet of soap!). And now to bed. Can't wait for more adventures tomorrow!!