Saturday, October 27, 2012

Kanazawa Field Trip Days 1-2

In the IES Tokyo program, they offer two field trips. One is 4 days long and the other is a 2 day trip. This past week we went on the 4 day, 3 night trip to Kanazawa, where we visited a number of beautiful and interesting places which are conveniently described below!

Day 1

We took the shinkansen, which is the bullet train, from Tokyo to Kanazawa on Wednesday morning. We arrived around 2:30pm (we left at 10am) and went straight on the bus to our first destination, Higashi Chaya Machi. This was an old traditional place of entertainment, where geisha have been performing since the Edo period. The streets were lined with old, two-story tea houses filled with souvenier shops and restaurants. Unfortunately, it was pouring, so there weren't many people in the streets. We had free time to walk around and explore and it was temple after temple on the road. I'm not sure I've ever seen so many temples in one concentrated area. It was a very beautiful area, but I was happy to get back to dry land on the bus.

Our second stop was the Noh Museum in Kanazawa. Noh is a classical Japanese musical drama that's been around since the 14th century (it sounds like I'm writing a history paper, ew). The performers are all male and they wear the funniest masks I've ever seen while moving at an extremely slow pace. It's quite the boring traditional art form, if I do say so myself. The museums we visit are usually quite small, though, so it wasn't brutal by any means. 

After the Noh Museum, we went back to our ryokan, which is a traditional Japanese hotel. Here they served us dinner and breakfast, which consisted of about 10 small plates of some pretty questionable food items. It's really common to not know what we're eating here, though, so everyone pretty much stopped asking what was in the food and either ate it or didn't. It's always an adventure. Our rooms were literally just square rooms with a tv. When we got there, there was a small table on the floor and some tea cups and tea. After dinner, they had come in a laid out our beds, which were futons o the floor. They weren't that uncomfortable, but it just felt like a big sleepover. We also were given yukata, which look somewhat like kimono. It was quite hilarious matching everyone else in the program in traditional Japanese garb. Mental picture saved forever. 
Another pretty cool aspect of the ryokan was the onsen. The famous onsen in Japan are the actual natural hot springs, but we just got to enjoy an indoor public bath instead. What happens is you shower outside the bath, then soak in the really hot water for a while, then get out. But you get to do it with other people! It's a little bit of a foreign concept for Americans, but I was a pretty big fan of it. I'm looking forward to going to a natural hot spring to have the same experience outside. 

Day 2

The second day started with a visit to the Myoryu-ji Temple, also known as the Ninja Temple. It has 23 rooms and 29 staircases. We got a tour showing us all the trap doors/hidden rooms and stairs. In the Edo Period, buildings weren't allowed to be taller than 3 stories, but this temple was a 4 story building that looks from the outside to be 2 stories. What I started noticing on these tours was that the rooms in these temples are just empty. This room was for drinking tea. This room was for one person to pray in. This room was for nothing (or so it seems). It was very peculiar to me, but an interesting tour. 

From the Ninja Temple, we went the Omi Cho Market. Kanazawa is near the Eastern Sea in Japan, so this market was a giant fish market filled with some pretty interesting/disgusting things. We walked around a little, then got some sushi at a kaiten sushi restaurant. Everything was really delicious and fresh, as I hope you can see from the pictures below.

The next stop we made on the second day was to Kenrokuen, which is one of the 3 most famous parks in all of Japan. This was the first place I've actually felt like I was in Japan. We had enough time to basically explore the whole place and I loved every second of it. Here, we also had the opportunity to "participate" in a traditional tea ceremony. I say "participate" because we actually just sat in a circle while a woman prepared us tea, then afterwards they served it to us and we drank it. The actual tea was extremely bitter, but they do that so it balances well with the sweets they give you with it. Tea ceremony in Japan is something that people study for years and years. There is a proper way to do everything and it takes a lot of time to master that. It's so typically Japanese to take something so simple to the western world and make it into a process that one has to study to master. 

Our last stop of the day was to a gold leaf studio in Kanazawa. Kanazawa produces 99% of all the gold leaf products in Japan. Do you believe that? That's what they were telling us, but I think it's a pretty impossible statistic to believe. Here, we made our own gold leaf chopsticks! It was a funny experience because obviously we all wanted to make chopsticks, but we were so tired from walking around all day that all we did was complain about how hard it was to actually sit there and do it. You had to cut the tape into little tiny strips depending on the pattern you wanted. It was frustrating. But, alas, after about an hour, we all finished and our chopsticks look halfway decent. Isn't that always comforting? 

All in all, the 2 days were busy but we saw a lot of things that we don't usually get to see in Tokyo. I was thankful to see the mountains because it felt just a little bit like home. It was great for just a few days to not see skyscrapers when you looked up. Like I said before, it was the first time I've really felt like I was in Japan since I've been here. It usually takes a month and a half for that to happen, right?

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