Escaping Chinese New Year

Kanazawa (3 – 5 February 2016)

I had been inexcusably lazy the past year. 2016 had in fact been quite an exciting year for me when it came to travelling but I was just not too excited about writing about my adventures. A small part of me was afraid that I might not be able to capture  accurately in words and pictures all that I had felt and thought about. This is however ironic now since I know that I have forgotten some of what I had felt and thought about.

Perhaps my resolution for 2017 ought to be (besides taking more exciting trips) that I will be more diligent with this blog. My first trip of 2016 was taken because of Chinese New Year and my need to escape it. 2017 has come and again I will be running away from Chinese New Year with yet another trip. I woke up one day finally convinced that I really must stop being lazy and start my long overdue work of writing about my 2016 trips!

So the first trip of 2016 was taken because of Chinese New Year. This is such a great festival. This festival marks the beginning of the year based on the ancient Chinese  lunar calendar. This is also probably the most painful time of the year for many Chinese young people. This is the time when the most inappropriately prying questions get asked by nosy seniors.

Most Chinese seniors are just overly concerned about their juniors’ marital/family status. I cannot for the life of me think of any good reason why they should be this concerned nowadays. It is really none of their business. But they still do. It is almost like some grand ancient tradition that if not kept may cause mass destruction to the world.

If the senior is unsure about the junior’s actual status, or if the junior is known to be single (because sad junior had revealed that he was single the previous year), the first question asked will be whether he had a girlfriend. If the junior is still single then the senior will strongly advise him to buck up because he is not getting any younger. If the junior does have a girlfriend the senior will demand to know when the junior intends to get married.

If the junior is finally married, but childless, the senior will ask when he intends to have kids. Maybe the junior wants to wait a year or two because of his career plans. The senior will then advise him not to wait too long.

If the junior already has a kid, the senior will ask when he intends to have another one.

I once had an older cousin asking me if I had a girlfriend. When she found out that I was still single she advised me that I should not wait too long since my parents were not getting any younger. Said cousin happened to be over 50 and never married.

After having sufficiently shaken up the junior with questions about his marital/family status, the senior is likely to touch on the junior’s professional life. Sometimes the senior wants to see if the junior is more successful than the senior’s own children. Sometimes the senior wants to see if he could wheedle some freebie from the junior, like some free professional advice or free services.

Chinese New Year has always been a torture for me since firstly I live with some rather old people (my grandmother before she passed on and my parents) and they can always expect visits from all sorts of people and secondly hardly anything opens during Chinese New Year in Singapore so there is nowhere I could run away to for amusement. For many years I had taken to hiding in my room and keeping very quiet whenever someone came to the house.

2016 however was the year that I was determined to do things differently. This year I ran away from the country entirely!

My escape started at just before 1 am on 3 February when I boarded my flight to Osaka. Singapore Airlines is expensive but whenever possible I always try to fly with them. Never mind what the rankings say every year, Singapore Airlines will always be the best for me and that is that.

I was trying to get to my seat on the plane but a Japanese lady was in the way adjusting her bag in the overhead compartment. I have definitely encountered other people taking even longer to do weird stuff in the aisle and block everyone’s way. The Japanese lady however took only a reasonable amount of time to adjust her bag, then noticed me behind her, got a little shock and started apologising for having blocked the way. Trust the Japanese to always be so polite.

Kanazawa is about two and a half hours by shinkansen from Osaka. I had chosen to base there for 3 nights in order to explore some villages with gassho-zukuri-styled houses in the area because it just seemed like the most obvious choice for a base to me. It was easy to get to by shinkansen from the airport and the best bus line to reach those villages in my opinion starts a short train ride away.

I have to say that the shinkansen is truly efficient and reliable although hardly cheap. I got myself a voucher for a 7-day JR Rail Pass in Singapore (since this pass was only available to foreigners outside Japan) which I could exchange for the actual pass at the JR station at Kansai Airport. The pass is effective for 7 consecutive days on almost all JR lines throughout the country and cost ¥29,110. This translated to more than S$300 for me but still cost less than all the shinkansen rides I took on the trip.

The ride to Kanazawa was unfortunately not very comfortable for me. The trains were catered more to passengers with small bags. I had to take a rather large bag with me on this trip and this had to be placed in the space between my legs and the seat in front of me. I could hardly move my legs throughout the 2.5 hour journey and I was thankful that I did not die from DVT.

There were some local girls seated near me on the train and throughout almost the entire journey I could hear them chatting away. How is it possible for any human being to chat non-stop for more than 2 hours? The Japanese has this thing about not talking on the phone, or at least not excessively, when in the train cars. But seriously I think the bigger problem really is the incessant chatting of their teenage girls!

Tsuzumimon outside Kanazawa Station

Tsuzumimon outside Kanazawa Station

I needed to walk and get my blood flowing again after the train ride and decided to walk to the local castle.

Some of the old Kanazawa Castle still stands. It was built in the 16th century and burnt down and reconstructed many times after that. The castle was last burnt down in 1881 after which it was not immediately rebuilt. In 2001 the authorities started partially rebuilding the castle.

Moat around Kanazawa Castle

Moat around Kanazawa Castle

One of the stylish gates of Kanazawa Castle

One of the stylish gates of Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Adjacent to the castle is the Kenrokuen, considered to be one of the three great gardens of Japan. It was originally built as the outer garden of the Kanazawa Castle and is today a public garden.

Kenrokuen

Kenrokuen

Kenrokuen

Kenrokuen

The yukitsuri, ropes attached to trees to provide support and protect them from the snow, were everywhere in the garden. It was a pity however that there was hardly any snow when I visited.

Oldest fountain in Japan in Kenrokuen

Oldest fountain in Japan in Kenrokuen

Kenrokuen

Kenrokuen

Despite the cold weather, both the castle and garden were somewhat crowded. However, I much preferred the garden. At least it looked like a real garden, and quite a nice one at that. The partially restored castle unfortunately looked a little too barren structurally and not very authentic. Maybe when the authorities are done restoring the castle it will become a much more worthwhile visit.

View of the city from Kenrokuen

View of the city from Kenrokuen

Kanazawa is touted in tourist brochures as a castle town with a samurai past. Unfortunately not a lot remains today to show this aspect of its history. I did manage to find the Nagamachi area which is touted as a samurai area. However the area is really quite modern. Apparently many samurai families found themselves losing their traditional income after the Meiji Restoration and had to sell their properties. Many of their traditional homes were torn down subsequently and other things built in their place.

Traditional alley in Nagamachi

Traditional alley in Nagamachi

Nevertheless some old samurai family houses have been preserved in varying degrees of conservation. The Nomura family house looked pretty complete and is open to the public as a museum.

Former house of the samurai Nomura family

Former house of the samurai Nomura family

A rather zen room in Nomura House

A rather zen room in Nomura House

Door art in Nomura House

Door art in Nomura House

Prayer room in Nomura House

Prayer room in Nomura House

Probably what was worn by one of the Nomura samurais

Probably what was worn by one of the Nomura samurais

Samurai swords

Samurai swords

I think the nicest thing that I saw in Nagamachi was the little garden in the Nomura House. It was intimate and exquisite with a little stream flowing through it under a little stone bridge past pretty greenery and ornaments. I would have liked a garden like this if I had similar space to build one.

Garden of Nomura House

Garden of Nomura House

Row-house in samurai Takada family home consisting of rooms for the lowly servants and the nagaya-mon or house gate in the middle

Row-house in samurai Takada family home consisting of rooms for the lowly servants and the nagaya-mon or house gate in the middle

Kanazawa also has a rather peculiar looking Shinto shrine. Well, at least the gate anyway.

The Oyama Shrine has a somewhat European looking gate tower. This was peculiar to me because I had always thought that shinto shrines were some of the most traditional places in Japan. But there it was, right in the city.

Gate of Oyama Shrine

Gate of Oyama Shrine

The late 19th century gate tower is said to have been used as a lighthouse. Since the shrine is a few kilometres inland I am not sure how effective its tower was as a lighthouse, unless the coastline was not as far away back then. The tower, including the really long lightning rod, is 25 metres in height.

Oyama Shrine

Oyama Shrine

In total I gave myself a little less than a day to see the city. It would not have featured high on my list of places to see in Japan. But the fact that it was a decent sized city with all the amenities and without being too crowded made it quite a nice base to explore the surrounding areas from for me.

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