Japan Trip–Day 5


Breakfast was offered both Japanese and western-style and we fueled up for walking in the cold wet weather  we hadn’t anticipated while packing in sunny California.  Jan wore my cashmere sweater as one layer and I borrowed her cherry blossom scarf.  I hadn’t even brought a hat and shivered in my windbreaker.  Fortunately the hotel supplied umbrellas.

Maya introduced a yellow-raincoated lady, one of the city guides who would accompany her providing additional local information.  We crossed the street, ascended steps flanked by 16th century walls made of immense rocks stamped with samurai family logos and entered a vast parade ground.


Across the field rose the “Diamond Turret,” a gracefully tapering tower, perched on another wall rising above field and framed by tall and carefully pruned pines.


Equipment and workers were finishing up restoration work on a heavy gate.


Across another parade ground on the north side of the castle, we saw behind the turret a  200 yard extension serving as a storehouse and armory.


Passing through the ponderous north gate, we crossed a wide footbridge over a boulevard and entered Kokuen Gardens, originally built as the private pleasure ground of a local feudal lord, and now known as one of three grandest gardens in all of Japan.


As we mounted to the top of the entrance hill it was evident why.  Even in the cold and rain, every step presented new prospects in all directions, each composed like a painting and prompting an urge to take a picture.


Maya brought out one of her charts and declared that this garden emobodied all six features of a beautiful landscape: spaciousness and seclusion (i.e. long prospects and intimate enclosures), artifice and antiquity (i.e. ingeniousness and naturalness), openness and watercourses (i.e. views of the surrounding area and internal water features).


These, she explained, were paired as typical opposites”Jan said yin and yang. Suddenly those features popped out everywhere: in broad vistas of islands and shores juxtaposed with mossy grottos, in the look of natural subalpine landscapes imitated by gnarled trees and rock outcrops juxtaposed with the ornamentation of stone lanterns and arched bridges, in the strategic panorama of the surrounding city juxtaposed with omnipresent water in ponds, springs, rivulets, waterfalls and fountains.



That water, she told us, was transported here from the snow-covered mountains on the horizon, where the lord of the garden had originally made his home. It was carried by aqueducts that sometimes pulled the water uphill through action of siphons.  Centuries ago, the original gardeners had designed the huge trees that  were shaped by pruning, tilting, twisting and tieing as they grew.


The walk in the park ended too soon.  We next were bussed to the preserved residence built in 1770 by a middle class samurai named Oyo.  He distinguished himself as a fighter, an artist, an economist and an advisor to the Government, which eventually exiled him to a remote island because of his outspoken criticism.  Kanazawa was not bombed during World War II and this house has remained intact.  The hostess there was his direct descendant as revealed in her appearance and demeanor.


Next we drove to the workshop and showroom of one of the city’s traditional gold leaf producers. Three people were at work on their knees trimming sheets of the metal .0001 millimeter thick with a bamboo cutter, lifting them with chopsticks,  smoothing them on leaves of paper and lightly blowing away the residue, which drifted slowly in the air.


In the store one could buy large screens with scenes painted on the gold background, gilt Miss Kitty do-dads and the paper which had been used to press the gold for facial wipes that absorbed grease.  We were served tea in gilt cups with flakes of gold floating on the surface.

Next we wandered around a charming old teahouse-geisha neighborhood and then toured a preserved samurai district surrounded by canals, now occupied by wealthy residents and an antique pottery studio.


Then came lunch at an upscale French bistro, where the chicken entrée was less appealing than a delicate dessert custard made from buckwheat flour.

Last stop of the day was a saki brewery housed in a plant built in the seventeenth century by the same family that still owned it.  The entryway towered three stories, and led to a dark labyrinth of presses and vats.  The proprietor, a slight amiable gentleman in a dark suit whose few remaining teeth seemed unusually long, showed us his prized doll collection, featuring the Emperor and Empress and their court.  As we gratefully sampled, he told us about the several grades of saki, the annual process of harvesting, brewing and bottling, and the methods of turning it into plum wine and liqueur.


After a short rest in the hotel we headed back to the department stores downtown to find me a hat.  The prices seemed too high so we decided to look for an inexpensive place for dinner, but without success.  We met two fellow tour members who guided us to a food court near the department store, where we found a bowl of Udon noodles for eight dollars, a good deal. Then again to the department store, where the cheapest hat was on sale for twenty dollars.  Homing in to the hotel room, we got an email from the relatives in Osaka saying cancel your hotel reservations and stay with us.  We celebrated by opening the saki we’d planned to bring them and staying up late, downloading and editing our day’s pictures.

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