It’s really difficult getting the heat right so you’re warm enough during the night but it doesn’t get too warm. The units require constant adjustment. We slept in for a change and around 11:30 we walked to Curio Espresso for coffee and a light bite. Curio is run by an American guy from Seattle (who looks like he’s from Seattle, but maybe 15-20 years ago) who moved here and opened this trendy coffee and design shop that would fit right in in the Pacific Northwest. His wife must be from here, and they moved back a few years ago.
I had a very good and strong Americano, served in a nice little branded mug, and a good chocolate chip cookie. I wanted another drink so I had a long black, too. There have been more places specializing in espresso drinks than I notice at home. While we were sitting and drinking our coffees, these two big American guys with their Japanese girlfriends/wives came in. They clearly were regulars, and Curio must be a popular spot for expats in Kanazawa. I’m sure there are similar places in every Japanese city. It’s really interesting that there are so many American men who find Japanese girlfriends and wives and move here. It’s a stereotype, for sure, but I’ve found it to be pretty accurate, as far as I can tell.
When we were finished, we walked to Omicho Market, a huge covered market with over 200 stalls, shops and restaurants that is essentially its own neighborhood. It was quite busy, although I saw hardly any other Westerners (at least as far as I could tell, but not many signs were in English and Kanazawa feels less filled with Western tourists than most of the places we’ve been). Seafood is plentiful here, and extremely fresh. We put our names down at Mori Mori Sushi Omicho, a popular branch of a conveyer belt sushi restaurant that offers fresh fish from the market. There were about 20 parties ahead of us, so we wandered around the market, taking in the sights.
The market was really cool. I love a market anywhere, and I think it shows a lot of local flair. Here especially, it’s cool to experience a scene that’s a bit more lively and real, but also really local. There are expensive snow crabs (by expensive I mean hundreds of dollars), fresh produce, all kinds of seafood and fish and desserts, local Noto beef, restaurants selling kaisen-don, sashimi over rice, and other specialties, and much more.
We returned to the sushi place in time to sit (I was worried because everything was in Japanese and I thought I might have pressed the wrong button when adding myself to the list, but it turned out fine). We sat at the counter and watched the chefs expertly slice plate after plate. There was a conveyer belt with a constant stream of sushi rotating around, but we almost exclusively ordered from the handy iPad in front of us. I was excited about the 500 yen salmon sashimi plate and the cucumber roll, but I quickly filled up on 10-12 little plates. The sushi had a bit more flavor than a typical conveyer belt place, and was clearly very fresh, even if it was also slightly more expensive (still a bargain). Happy, we made our way through the market again. I stopped and got a small Kagayaki wheat ipa from a craft beer stand, which was a little citrusy and hoppy (60 ibu) and a totally normal IPA. The guy told me it was from Toyama, which is a nearby city.
We walked down through the castle grounds again to the D.T. Suzuki Museum. Suzuki was a renowned and influential 19th century Zen Philosopher, and the museum was a quiet, minimalist building with spaces for contemplation and small exhibits. We sat and read some of his writings and I also read a shel Silverstein book that was sitting among the philosophy tomes. The garden with a pool of water was also quite meditative.
After the Museum we stumbled upon this delightful little garden around a pond right next door, which was perfectly quiet except for the tiniest little waterfall. A little mossy oasis in the middle of the city, empty except for one other soul, the garden was delightful.
We walked back out and down to Tatemachi street, which is lined with shops and is advertised as a cute street lined with boutiques. There are some, but more like the kind selling overpriced Common Projects and Saturdays NYC clothing, not independent local places. Eventually, all you see is chain stores as you get into the heart of the shopping district. It just feels like a giant mall that could be in any city. That’s disappointed me, although maybe I just don’t know where to look to find the little independent local shops. I’m hopeful I’ll find some in Tokyo. I saw lines out the door for shops selling cheese dogs and boba and other silly gimmicky things. All in all, pretty disappointing.
We walked back up through the castle grounds and the park again, which was as nice as ever with the view of the mountains in the distant and the relative quiet, to the ryokan, where we relaxed for a bit before dinner.
We walked a couple minutes across the river on a nice bridge (Jake really loves bridges, I’ve discovered) to Oriental Brewing, the only craft brewery in Kanazawa. I had a nice single-hop session IPA with citra and Jake had a balanced wheat ale. Then I tried the Kaga Roasted Tea Stout, an award-winning, nice and light, but flavorful 5% stout with a subtle after-flavor of roasted green tea. We also had a margherita pizza, which was small but hot and tasty. It was also like real pizza, out of an oven, as opposed to the sad excuse for pizza we had a few days ago.
We walked through a drizzle to a sake bar that doesn’t have an English name but has a big selection of local Ishikawa sake (Ishikawa is the prefecture). The server had limited English but was very friendly and we chatted as best we could. We did a 6-sake tasting, which progressed from very sweet to quite strong and dry. The junmai daijingo was my favorite, as usual. It’s advertised always as the “best” kind of sake, but it really lives up to its reputation, as far as I’ve been able to tell. We also had a small cheese plate, which was boring except for the really creamy cheese that was almost like butter.
The bar filled up and we headed out in search of a bit more food. We looked at an Italian restaurant nearby that sounded good, but it was super expensive (2200 yen for a small pizza) and looked stuffy so we walked around the historic Higashiyama District for a few minutes before returning to Oriental Brewing, where we ordered another pizza, this one with ham, tomato and lettuce. Little did we know, they created an absolute abomination by adding copious amounts of what turned out to be ranch dressing. The pizza was fine, and I was able to finish it, but the more I thought about it, the worse it got. After, my tongue was just coated with a ranch flavor. It was pretty disgusting, so we ran to the nearest 7 Eleven and I got a couple of yakitori skewers and some ice cream to cleanse my palette, which worked pretty well. There are certainly flavors popular in the U.S. that I don’t miss, like ranch! Although, mayo is pretty popular here. But there are also flavors here that are horrible, like natto. Anyway, I’m grateful for the convenience stores.
I had a lot of time to think today so here are some pretty unrelated musings.
Traveling with another person is really hard but I’m also extremely grateful for Jake’s company and really glad we did this together. Even though we might not agree on everything and like to do things differently, it’s still been really great.
I’ve been thinking a lot about rules and norms. There are so many things here that are just done a certain way. I imagine change is slow, but it’s also restrictive. I thought I would really like all the rules and strictness and rigidity to a degree, but I’ve actually found it kind of stifling. I thought I’d like all the structure, but from the baskets you put your stuff in at a restaurant to the utter refusal to jaywalk (even an endless light with no cars in sight), it’s a bit much. Despite everything that’s wrong at home, I miss the freedom I have (as a privileged white man), but I also miss the disregard for rules and norms that in some ways characterizes U.S. culture.
I also won’t miss the inconveniences that come with being 6 foot 5 here. I’ve hit my head more times than I can count, and I’m used to squeezing myself into seats, but it’s a different level in Japan. I definitely will miss a lot, like the public restrooms (and the private ones and the toilets) and the trains and the timeliness and general cleanliness.
Everything really is so toned down, too. I feel like I’m on my phone a ton always, but I really make an effort to look up and observe the world passing by. I really think the young people here are so focused on their phones they have very little idea of what’s happening. I will write more about this before I leave, I think.
One last thought has to do with the driving culture here. I’ve been thinking a lot about differences, and with driving, so many places in the world are chaotic and crazy (even here, to an extent–cars rush past you just a few inches away, bikes ride on the sidewalk and drivers are fairly aggressive and rude), but somehow the U.S. has so many accidents and deaths from driving. I don’t think it’s purely about drunk driving or texting while driving or similarly dangerous actions, either. It’s a weird thing where maybe a lot of places are just used to the chaos and have adapted, while the U.S. hasn’t. Or maybe it’s the more effective public transit systems in other places, while people in the U.S. are forced to depend on their cars. I’m not really sure, but I’d like to hear some suggestions.
Anyway, I finally caught up on my blog, and I’m excited to head into the mountains tomorrow.
Both enjoying the comforts of Japan and excited for certain comforts at home,