DAYS 7-9 KANAZAWA

I made my way up to Kanazawa in the central north of Japan’s main island for the sole purpose of seeing it’s amazing garden, Kenroku-en. The name of this stroll garden was given for the ‘six characteristics’ it is purported to be built with, namely; spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, watercourses and panorama’s. Having spent half the day strolling the stroll garden I admit it comes with each in abundance.

 I’m hesitant to continue on Kenroku-en without firstly mentioning a little about recent food experiences. Very few come to Japan without expectations for quality Japanese cuisine and I had Dickens-like great expectations in abundance. Particularly for the sushi/sashimi and the beef. The past few days have not been a let down in those departments and both Kyoto and Kanazawa have shelled up beautiful fresh examples of sushi (after Hida beef took care of the meat option!).

Sushi

Typical alternatives of fresh Tuna and Salmon have been supplemented with the likes of melt in the mouth sashimi squid; delectable round balls of salmon roe; uniquely flavoured and texturally challenging sea urchin; rich and buttery and slightly overwhelming sashimi scallop; firm and delicious sashimi snapper; crunchy tempura squid and on it goes…. To be honest I have no idea what 50% of the sashimi served up has been (my embarrassing lack of Japanese is another story…) but without question to date I’ve eaten it all and it has been beautifully prepared and presented and very fresh. The higher fatty grade tuna particularly has been a revelation…

For the first time I have lodged in a Ryokan in Kanazawa. A traditional-style accommodation option throughout Japan. Ryokan Sumiyoshiya where I am is fantastic. Warm and gracious hosts, a great little Japanese bath and clean spacious rooms where you can either lay on bamboo mats or more likely get the futon out! They also present a Japanese breakfast that challenges my preference for the typical Western brekkie but once over the first hurdle, such as your first morning mouthful being smoked fish and pickled daikon, is delicious and filling. Plenty to power the legs through Kenroku-en.

Ryokan

Being a stroll garden built for the residing Daimyo’s over 100 years or so in the 17th and 18th century’s on the edge of the Kanazawa Castle, Kenroku-en typically is enjoyed sloooooowly….and eeeeearly. There before 7.30am you will get the garden virtually to oneself, while by 10am it is transformed by the hordes of tourist buses.

The integrity of the landscape design is hard to question for both its layout and the quality of its construction. Almost every way you look and listen you are greeted by an overwhelming sense of harmonized design. Perfectly tended trees from 5yo to 300yo, both the sound and the stillness of water; monuments of ceremony amongst thick layers of moss, narrow bamboo lined paths leading to graceful stone bridges. Everywhere (before the tourists that is), an overwhelming stillness.  The aural and visual elements of the garden create an aura that enhances the feeling that one must slow down. Indeed as I walked, the desire to sit in ‘quiet contemplation’ grew, just as paradoxically the effects of a vibrant city will build the desire to speed up and push our minds into overdrive.

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As with the Zen gardens in Kyoto but by different design and scale, Kenroku-en  gave me insight to the teaching’s of Buddha and the Shinto beliefs simply through itss presence. Though I remain a long damn way from spiritual enlightenment, by virtue of the impression these gardens are leaving on me I am beginning to understand the intention of the true Japanese designer. ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step…’, and so this part of my journey begins.

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