Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In Kanazawa with Keely

At the beginning of this month I headed up to Kanazawa to see my friend Keely. Keely is awesome and one big reason why I am here in Japan. We met at Georgetown, where she was two years ahead of me. We had the same group of friends, were in the same sorority, and I was very sad to see her graduate but totally jealous when I found out she had moved to Japan to teach English in Tahara.

Yup, that's right, she had my job before I did. Since this sister city ALT program is not very well advertised at the college, she is the only reason I even knew it existed and thought to look into it when I started feeling stagnated at Cintas. After she left Tahara, she went around the world on Peace Boat (the same Peace Boat I want to try and work on) and then came home and married a Mexican guy she met in a hostel near Mt. Fuji. They now live in Kanazawa where she works for the university and studies environmental science while he finishes up his PHD in computer science (he's being recruited by Google at the moment.) Basically, I want to be just like her and if I get on Peace Boat the only thing left will be to snag a Mexican computer science genius for a husband.

She's been to visit me in Tahara twice now but this was my first visit to see her and Kanazawa. Her husband, Jovan, was away in Tokyo so it was a girl's weekend. It also happened to be Hyakumongoku Matsuri, Kanazawa's biggest festival of the year.

Friday night we headed down to the river to watch hundreds of floating lanterns drift by. Each lantern was hand painted and each one was sponsored by a family, local group, or school. They had large ones, small ones, and even one shaped like Doraemon. We climbed down the flood wall and sat on the ledge, watching them go by. We were in the chaya district and the faint strumming of shamisen music floated down to us as we watched the lanterns.



We got a late start Saturday morning after talking late into the night. Our first stop of the day was Kenrokuen Garden, considered one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. It was beautiful. For lunch Keely took me to the art museum, not to see any paintings, but to eat in the cafe, which boasts a world famous pastry chef. We had the most delicious quiche I have ever eaten. It was like a symphony in my mouth. We finished up with cakes and iced coffees.

Kenrokuen Garden

I couldn't resist getting a picture of this woman in her kimono sitting in the teahouse.

Kanazawa Castle. The wall and gate are all that's left. According to the Lonely Planet it burned down so many times that locals finally gave up on rebuilding it.

After lunch we wandered over to the castle and then down through town looking for the parade. We made a quick stop at the Museum of Modern Art to look at some of the free exhibits before finally finding the parade. We weren't interested in the brass bands, so we sat in a Starbucks until the acrobats showed up. They were totally worth the wait. Balancing on the tops of ladders, three men moved between death defying pose one after another.

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At the Museum of Modern Art

A dragon goes by in the parade.

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Tired of the parade, we wandered through the samurai district. Kanazawa was never bombed in WWII so there are still lots of these old neighborhoods around. We walked around, shopped a bit, and finally decided on some kaizen sushi for dinner. The sushi came around on a conveyor belt and we took what we wanted. Each plate is color coded with a price so at the end you call over a waiter and he tallies up how much you owe based on your stack of plates. I was really really hungry and the food was really really good.


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After dinner we headed back to the center of things to see 10,000 people do some Japanese line dancing. I've seen this in Tahara, but believe me it is a much different thing to see thousands and thousands of people dancing in the street versus a few hundred people. In Tahara they were in a single file line. In Kanazawa they were 5 people deep for almost a mile. Then we headed back to Kenrokuen because it was open later and lit especially for the festival. They also had a classical music concert. It was a lovely way to end the day.





After another late night gabfest, Keely and I headed out a little earlier on Sunday to see the chaya district near where we had been on Friday night. Clustered in this area are lots of traditional tea houses, which means of course geisha. We didn't see any dressed up but we did stop to have a bath at the local sento and we're pretty sure we saw one of the okasans of one of the tea houses. She was older and had her hair immaculately coiffed. I had told Keely we could tell people we had bathed with a geisha because she probably was one at some point in her life. Too bad she was on her way out as we came in.



Our private room at lunch. Very traditional

The food was soooo good.

Me and Keely

Lunch was at a small restaurant in an upstairs room. We had the local fish dish recommended by the waiter. And it was sugoi oishii (very delicious!) After walking around and shopping some more, I said goodbye and caught the train (3 actually) back to Tahara. Who knows when and where I'll see Keely next. Maybe this summer in America!

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