We had our last included breakfast at the hotel and gave omiyage (little gifts) to the front desk to thank all of them for their wonderful help. We grabbed a taxi to the station area and made a stop at Kurasu Coffee, which I’d been thinking about since I’d been there yesterday. The same barista was there and she was so friendly and happy to see me again. I got a pour over with Ethiopian beans, which was quite good but light, and then another cold brew for good measure—I don’t know if I’ll find another until I’m back in the States. Kurasu is the first coffee shop I’ve ever explicitly seen use the Hario cold brew maker that I use and love, and it was both familiar and new. So great. I bought some more stickers and wanted to buy other things, like a gorgeous Hario V60 kettle in matte black that I think was a limited edition finish, and Kurasu branded dish towels in blue and white with nice designs. I held back, and was ultimately fine with my decision. I’ll see more. The barista asked me if she’d see me soon and I told her hopefully sometime. “Next time,” she corrected.
Then we walked into Kyoto Station and took a lap. The station is enormous, with a massive modern atrium and a 10-story shopping mall attached. It was also very crowded, much more than when we passed through earlier in the week. We wound up in a totally empty part of the station overlooking the main atrium, which felt like something out of a video game level set in an abandoned futuristic train station. I’ve really been seeing video game levels everywhere.
We walked down to the basement food court, which was filled with an overwhelming assortment of options. I chose a few things (a few too many, maybe) and ran upstairs, where we bought 2 waffles each from Manneken waffles, which are extremely popular, and then to platform 0 (I found that funny), where we boarded the Thunderbird to Kanazawa. What a great name. The green car was awesome, 2+1 seats and wide, with almost full height windows. The trains are pretty tall, unlike most everything else in Japan, but the windows on the superexpress shinkansens are just normal. Some of the limited express trains have actually had nicer green cars (2+1) and windows, and the Thunderbird was possibly the nicest yet.
We rode through Kyoto suburbs and quickly saw snow capped mountains in the distance. We glided along the western edge of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. Then we rode along the coast, although not on the water (Sea of Japan), through towns with mountains on either side with just the slightest sprinkling of snow. We got to Kanazawa after 2 and walked through the downtown to the ryokan, utilizing a couple of handy underground passages to bypass busy intersections (a popular, easy and brilliant design choice). Ryokan Yamamuro is run by a mother and her son, who speaks pretty good English. Both were very friendly and helpful. Our room was much smaller than the one in Tsuwano (which was actually two rooms), but totally fine.
We walked a couple of minutes (the ryokan was thankfully centrally located) to the Kanazawa castle grounds, which are really just a big park with paths leading up to the remains of the castle. Kanazawa was an important city during the Edo period and the shogunates (it might still be, but certainly not as much as it was hundreds of years ago), and it was a center of samurai activity. The castle, set at a natural highpoint between two rivers, burned down a number of times, and only some walls and a few towers and gates remain, but it’s still pretty wonderful, and thankfully the grounds were expansive and pretty quiet.
We strolled over a bridge to Kenruko-en garden, which is one of the three “most beautiful gardens” in Japan. It was built over a couple of centuries beginning in the 1600s, and it’s the biggest tourist attraction in Kanazawa. I really liked seeing the oldest fountain in Japan, and the garden probably lived up to the hype. It’s especially notable for its use of ropes called yukitsuri that support trees and branches during heavy snows in the winter, and indeed, the ropes are laid out beautifully.
We took our time walking the length of the garden and checking out all the different areas. The sun was setting, and despite the clouds the light was soft and pretty. When it started to get dark we walked out of the garden and around the corner to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, a stark contrast to the traditional arrangement of the garden and castle. The Museum opened in 2004, and it has a few permanent installations in addition to rotating exhibits.
I really enjoyed the James Turrell “Blue Planet Sky” installation, with its signature skylight. We watched the end of the sunset and the sky turn from dark blue to almost black. We were alone when we first entered the room, but were soon joined by some Japanese tourists who sat either texting or snapping photos with the camera sound on. It was a bit disruptive, and I eventually couldn’t take it and moved on. Often, it’s possible to ignore annoying actions around you, but sometimes you either have to give in or give up, and this time, I folded.
We checked out some of the temporary exhibits, which were interesting (one about suicides occurring on a bridge in China was thought-provoking) but mostly too experimental for me. I think I generally prefer purely visual work over multimedia, although not exclusively. I enjoyed the multicolor Olafur Eliasson sculpture in the garden, and the Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich, which looks from above in the courtyard as if visitors are standing submerged in a swimming pool, but are really just walking in a chamber underneath some glass. I found it pretty claustrophobic and full of people when I briefly entered. The museum shop was pretty good, and I bought a couple of small things I liked.
Then we were really hungry, so we tried to go to a popular izakaya nearby, Itaru Honten, but when I entered to ask for a table or a wait I was instantly (and rudely) hurried out by the waiter. As I put my hands up in defeat and walked out I saw a big line of unhappy people standing to the side, clearly waiting for a table that might never open. We walked around the central shopping area (where we unluckily were—I’ve really disliked the shopping and downtown districts in most of the cities I’ve visited) and tried to find another place but had no luck with the next couple we tried.
Jake was really hungry and I hadn’t realized how much, so he needed to just find food and he found a ramen place, so we went even though I really didn’t want ramen. I wanted seafood, as we’re on the coast, but I can get some tomorrow. The ramen place was fine, if quiet. I realized that my problem with having ramen for dinner is that it’s antisocial. As opposed to an izakaya or pretty much any other type of food, you sit and focus on slurping your noodles in silence, and there’s no social aspect. I love ramen and it makes a great lunch or quick meal, but it’s the opposite of ideal for a fun, relaxed dinner.
The ramen was perfectly fine, although the broth had very little flavor or depth, but it was so much food, and I felt not great after. They didn’t have many drink options either so I didn’t get to try a local sake, which is what I really wanted to do, although I found one from Tonami, a nearby city, at the convenience store, which was a pretty decent fallback.
We returned to the ryokan and tried to do laundry. The hotel itself doesn’t have laundry, but there’s a little room in a parking garage a few doors down that has two coin washers and two dryers. I put my money in and the machine started gushing water, and it looked a little dirty to begin with, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to trust it with my clothes. Jake put his load through, though, and it seemed fine, so I put mine in and asked the merino wool gods for a little help. Luckily, my clothes seemed fine, if not the cleanest ever, and I hang dried them in the room. The drier was maybe the weakest I’d ever seen, and Jake had to put his clothes through three full cycles before they approached dryness. At least we wouldn’t have to worry about laundry again.