Kanazawa’s main attractions are the Kenroku-en Garden, the Kanazawa Castle, and gold leaf works. We tackle the gardens and the castle first; the town isn’t too big, and we walk everywhere, but by the end we are quite footsore.
The Gardens are spectacular, paths meandering through ancient trees, past streams and ponds, with a small grove of plum trees that are in flower. Everywhere we look we see young women in kimonos; it would seem that school or college is over, and they are dressing up to celebrate graduation, complete with elaborate flower-adorned hair styles and pinked cheeks.
We stop for a snack and choose from the photo-menu: three white round balls on skewers covered in something for me, and three green ones covered with something brown for him. When it arrives, it’s three skewers of three balls, and I realise I made a mistake with my first bite. The round white things are tasteless blobs of something like a cross between a doughnut and plasticine, covered with my waving fish slivers. The combination is not edifying, and I try one of his green ones, hoping it might be more edible. Alas, the balls are the same, and the only palatable bit is the black bean paste on the top. We both dispose of 2/3rds of the ‘meal’ and make do with the much more delectable coffee.
Just across the bridge is the Castle complex.
Most of the buildings have been reconstructed at huge cost: the original burned down long ago and there are only two parts of it left. The reconstruction has faithfully followed the original technology and is a marvel in wood. I am surprised there’s any forest left at all in Japan, since so many of their buildings are made from wood. The beams here are entire trees, locked together to form the impossibly long hall. The engineering is breath-taking, and more so considering the original was built in 1583.
Once we’re done with castling, we walk down the ramparts and find the Oyama Shrine, set in an equally beautiful garden, complete with more Koi in ponds. It’s hard to photograph them without a polariser, but I can’t resist anyway.
Our feet are on their last legs (ha ha) so we save the Museum of 21st Century Art for tomorrow and repair to the guest house to rest up before the party.
How do you know you’ve come to the right place for a party in Japan? By the number of shoes in the entry way. We meet a mix of young and old, foreign and Japanese, and with the gratitude reserved for the English-speaking population of the planet, I realise that most people can speak and understand me reasonably well – certainly a LOT better than I understand their language. I feel guilty that the only thing I can really say is thank you, but at least it’s said well, so I’m told.
I end up in a conversation with a young engineering student from Tokyo University; he expresses an interest in photography, so I while away a pleasant hour helping him understand good photography as opposed to just snapping mindlessly. I help him see how to improve one of his own pictures from the Kenruko-en Gardens by cropping out some distractions and lightening the exposure. Simple stuff really, but he’s entranced. Of course, then they want to see my photos and my cameras and before long I am into the light triangle (ISO, Aperture, Shutter): his eyes have glazed over by now (alcohol or numbness?) and I call it quits – his brain probably hurts by now, but he’s happy
Our hosts Shungo and Kana turn out to have five such properties. Their aim is to save the old original houses in Kanazawa from the bulldozers and renovate them to be offices or guest houses. He earnestly states that it’s not about the money, but rather his passion for retaining the cultural values of the city for people like us to enjoy.
Another of Shungo and Kana’s friends is a vivacious talker, she has spent two years in Australia, and speaks extremely good English, even tipsy, as she claims to be. She’s 30 and is not happy to be a singleton in Japan: she is not reassured by hearing I was 50 when I first met my husband. She would ideally like to meet an Australian, preferring life there over hers here. We tease her about ugly Aussies finding Asian brides, but she doesn’t want an ugly husband – even the suggestion that she can divorce after two years and find a handsome one doesn’t appeal. My next suggestion is to go on “The Farmer wants a Wife” which seems to have appeal, though not until I’ve reassured her that they are handsome young men. She grew up on a farm, though I don’t go into detail about Aussie “farms” – stations the size of a small country with one head of cattle per hundred hectares.
All in all, we’ve had a pleasant night, ending up with our host’s mum’s home made plum wine – delicious. I try to see if I can buy some, and he names some exorbitant price, so I have to tease him about his professing cultural altruism earlier. We laugh and I fall into bed, leaving the die-hards drinking around the table to eventually fall into their own tatami dreams around 3 am.