9 November 2012

V in Japan - Day 9

Day 9: Kanazawa and the trip to Kyoto

  • Date: October 21
  • Weather: Sunny
  • Mood: Ready to visit a ninja temple! Wuu-ha!

Getting ready for today

We woke up in our little closet-room and cleaned up to check out. Since breakfast wasn't included in our stay, we ate some stuff we bought at the supermarket last evening.

The house mistress mentioned that she arranged a reservation for us at the Myōryū-ji (better known as the Ninja-dera or ninja temple). We were surprised, but it was a good thing considering we didn't know it required a reservation. She also arranged her husband to drive Steven to the station, together with our luggage, to put them in lockers. This way, we didn't have to go back to the guesthouse before going to the station.

For such a small house (and room), the owners sure took the trouble to make our stay there the most pleasant.

After the owner and Steven returned from the station, a guy that looked like a taxi driver appeared at the guesthouse. It was an elder man that wore a typical driver suit (and gloves). But apparently he was the guide that would not only guide us around in the gardens, but would also drive us to the gardens and would arrange a tea ceremony for us (WOW, respect). Together with Colette, we stepped into his car and drove to the gardens.

Believe me, this is the actual width of the guesthouse.

Visiting the Kenroku-en Garden

A while later we parked near the Kenroku-en Garden and got our ticket to get inside with the guide.

The man (whose name I sadly forgot) guided us around in the garden and showed us the most interesting spots and explained them (in very good English), which made this visit more interesting than if we would just randomly visit it without a guide.

At the pond he threw in some bread for the fishes, which greedily ate everything (greedily, as in: the fishes nearly killed each other for it; quite a weird sight).

"Get out of the way, I want that bread!"
"No, you get out of the way, it's mine!"

While passing a souvenir shop, I bought a few souvenirs for back home and Francis bought a Kendama (lol).

After that, the guide took us to a resting place in the gardens to let us experience the traditional tea ceremony. It’s something that’s hard to describe by words or pictures. You can only experience it to realize what it is.

We got tea and a sort of seasonal pastry, all in a ceremonial way. After the tea, we enjoyed the view on the terrace and Francis tried out his freshly-bought kendama. After a few tries, the guide tried it as well and then Colette as well. It’s not as easy as it seems at first sight.

All four of us, with the pastry and the tea.

After that, we said our goodbyes to our guide and Colette (she had to catch her train). But we promised to meet up with Colette in Kyoto for the Fire Festival.

Visiting Kanazawa Castle

After the goodbyes, we went to Kanazawa Castle (the big white castle), which lies just near the Kenrokuen Garden. If I remember correctly, back in the old days the gardens were owned by the lord of Kanazawa Castle.

At the castle site, we bought our entry tickets. The people at the counter realized we're tourists and asked if we were interested in a (free) English guide. Obviously, we WERE interested (cool).

The guide gave us a tour of both the outside and the inside of the castle. She explained that there were renovations going on at the castle site to let the Shinkansen stop in Kanazawa (until then, only local JR trains drive to Kanazawa) and to prepare the site for earthquakes. Even though the region is quake-free, they were preparing in case things got worse (considering what happened in 2011, I can understand their worry).

She also mentioned that the Kanazawa University used to be on this castle site, until it got too small and moved to a bigger location. Kanazawa is apparently a famous university city, like Ghent (the region where we're from).

The castle (and the nearby gardens) are nice places to visit. If you're in Kanazawa, these are places to see.

Lunch and the visit to the Ninja Temple

With an hour and a bit to spare until we had to be at the ninja temple, we ate some lunch in a local restaurant. We quickly ordered and received a hot towel and a glass of water (like in most restaurants). But we had to wait for nearly an hour until we got our meal (we were getting annoyed, as our spare time was slipping away like that). I ate some rice-omelet with tempura, which had a bit too much sauce, but tasted good either way.

After we finished our lunch, we realized we had to take a taxi to the ninja temple (since walking was now out of the option due to the "fast" service).

We arrived in the ninja-temple with only a few minutes to spare (we heard they were quite strict on their schedules). And after five minutes, we could get in with the group.

It’s a good thing we got a reservation, because the tour was guided in Japanese and they had a special English guide book for tourists, so we could at least understand what it was all about.

The Japanese guide took us all around the temple and acted like a robot. She spouted everything she had to say in record-time in an almost monotone voice. No pictures were allowed in the inside of the temple, but it was quite a nice spot to see (go there if you visit Kanazawa).

On a side-note: It’s called ninja temple, because of it many trick floors and traps (23 rooms and 29 stairs in different levels), it was not used by actual ninja’s, but by samurai (so they say, it could be a trick... :-O).

The trip to Kyoto

After the temple, we took the walk back. This time, Steven gave the map to me, since I’m better in map-reading (as long as the city doesn't “simplify” the tourist maps, like in Takayama). And thank god, for once the tourist map was good and clear (and had ALL the roads)!

After a nice walk, we arrived at Kanazawa station. Now that it was daytime, we took a few minutes to look at it, since it's quite an architectural feature. Once inside, we took our stuff from the lockers, reserved a seat on the Thunderbird train and traveled to Kyoto.

Kanazawa Station is quite an architectural achievement. Had to take some pictures of it.

In the evening, we arrived in Kyoto and walked to K’s House. It was quite a distance for our tired feet, but we got there eventually.

After checking in, we got the local area map (like in Tokyo),a key card for our room and a locker key (for our shoes). We immediately noticed that this K’s House is way bigger than the Tokyo one (that one was more homely - not in a bad way though). We also noticed there was a bar next to K's House (the Zen Café), in which you could eat breakfast.

We dropped our stuff off in our room (a 6-person room) and met with one of the other guys in our room. The guy was an Israeli die-hard fan of Slayer, following them around all around the world. Honestly, I thought he was a roadie at first, since he said he could get us prime tickets if we wanted. The other two guys in the room were Australians (we hardly saw them, safe in the morning when we woke up).

After prepping ourselves, we went to a restaurant close to K’s House, called Manzo, where I tried the Tori Karaage set. Good fried chicken with rice and Udon noodles. Also, Sake! And yes I know that's quite a calory-bomb.

In the restaurant we noticed that all three of us were running out of money. So after finishing our meal, we walked back to the station to find an ATM. We remembered that there was a 24/7 ATM in the bank offices next to the station. But when we got there, we noticed that the seemingly 24/7 ATM was closed (the f**k?).

We checked the entire environment of the station (inside and out), but all other ATMS were Japanese-cards only (typical).

Out of pure frustration Francis bought some beer with his last money in the nearby supermarket (which apparently IS open 24/7).

We drank the beer in the lounge room of K’s house (on the 2nd floor). Due to the "interesting" taste, we tried to figure out the percentage of alcohol. After studying the can for a while, we noticed that it was 0,00%… This made Francis even more frustrated, since he unknowingly bought zero-alcohol beer.

We went to bed and hoped the next day we could get some money.

Tips for visiting Japan - ATM's - getting cash!

If you go to Japan, there are a few important things to remember concerning money.

  1. Bank cards and Credit cards sometimes need to be activated to work outside of your continent. Since we are from Europe, I had to specifically activate my card for Japan.
  2. ATM's are easy to find in Japan. They're in banks, post offices, Supermarkets, in Metro stations, etc. But most of them DO NOT ACCEPT FOREIGN CARDS!
  3. ATM's that accept foreign cards are VERY RARE! Ensure you have enough cash when you land in Japan, because you might have to search a long time before you can get some more.
  4. The things you'll spend the most cash on is food (restaurants), drinks (pubs are frigging expensive in Japan), lodging, buses/subways (public transport is very expensive compared to here in Belgium) and obviously souvenirs.
  5. But do not worry about being stolen. Japan is actually a very safe country. Unless you actually go there for the nightlife and/or encounter some Yakuza, the chances of being stolen are very low.

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