Kanazawa. Living like a local in a traditional ryokan, and much more.
In collaboration with Airbnb
We arrive in Kanazawa from Kyoto at night.
We’re here to celebrate Emma Louise’s birthday, a lovely french-japanese one year old, with a pic nic along the river. Akemi, her mom, invited us days ago. We never met before but the idea of celebrating such a joyful event in real japanese style was too good. We do not hesitate: we adjust our plans and we bring Teo and Lia to meet Emma Louise. There’s no need to mention how much fun they had: Teo was all sweaty from all the running and playing, and Lia with a belly full of fruit jellies (typical japanese snack) and a purple calculator toy, a present from her new friend. We’re so happy we came.
After two hours on a train sitting down on the floor (we decide to buy the tickets without seat reservation and of course the train was super full) we arrive in Kanazawa. It’s almost desert here, no tourists around. Kanazawa keeps the traditional vibe and it’s definitely worth the visit or, howe we say in french, it’s a destination valent le détour. Especially since 2015, when the shinkansen Hokuriku line was open, allowing a direct connection to Tokyo.
We try to avoid costs that are not necessary and we decide to take the bus instead of a taxi to reach our Airbnb apartment. The next bus is in 30 minutes and the wait is all about finding a balance between our patience and our hunger. In the meantime Daddy J keeps the kids busy with Lia’s new purple calculator that suddenly becomes a mobile phone: “Allo, Maurice? Allo, Jean-Philippe? Allo, le singe?”. Big laughs and the time goes by. In the bus we’re the only one, the four of us, a stroller and our two suitcases sliding here and there at every stop. It’s past 10PM when we finally arrive.
Our host picks us up at the bus stop. We are in Kanazawa periphery, a tranquil and respectful resident area. Japan loves silence so much. Families would rather use an electric car, and the internal walls of their homes are so thin that they are used to reduce every noise after 8PM. In Tokyo you won’t notice this so much, of course, but as you move outside of big cities you can’t help but realize it.
We opted for a real experience. Connecting to humans is what we really care about and we’re open to sleep in local people’s houses. We tried to mention this several times on our social media, even if we are aware that an italian family with two young kids might not be that appealing, especially in quiet Japan. Of course we’re also very much into local food, the culture and the nature, but discovering all of this with the locals has no price.
Our Airbnb is very special.
Teki and Nii, his wife, are two artists. Their 28 year old daughter lives in the UK and they spend their time completely into arts. Teki is a sculptor and Nii a painter. Their home is a real Japanese ryokan, their operas are shown everywhere and everything is built and furnished on the basis of respect, peace and tranquillity. They let their guests stay on the ground floor with a view on the zen garden, the kitchen is shared and they live on the first floor.
We will stay in two washitsu, traditional Japanese rooms. One is our bedroom, the other the living room. We will sleep on the ground on three super white and clean futon. The rice and straw woven mats on the floor are the main reason why in Japan the shoes are left at the hall, in a space called genkan.
The atmosphere is so peaceful here, both the owners and their home irradiate this calm. We arrive late in the evening, with an empty stomach. Theys hospitality is so great that they go with Julien to the nearby supermarket to buy some dinner. It’s the first time we sleep at someone’s place. Even if we travel with two young kids we truly respect with dedication the environment around us and our hosts, adapting to their rules and rhythms. With Teki and Nii is really like living together.
During the first three days in Kanazawa it rains. It’s impossible to get out of home. Teo and Lia like to play and run a lot and, of course, be loud. At first we think it’s not going to be easy to be stuck at home with them. However, probably influenced by the peaceful surrounding of the ryokan, they will surprisingly adapt. The house is full of beautiful sculptures and paintings, and there’s also a shintoist altar kamidana (particularly interesting for Lia) and they will respect all of this without breaking or ruining anything, without running, without screaming, without drawing on the walls. Daddy J and I consider this a huge achievement. We were a bit concerned at the beginning, especially considering those paper thin walls and doors: but nope, opposite to our believe, the kids will not use them as drawing paper. ;) (not like that time in Europe when we left them in the room for not more than 5 minutes and they managed to find colors and paint the whole Sistine Chapel on the walls).
Nii suggests us a sushi restaurant nearby, not only for the quality of the fish and the very cheap prices but also for the extremely japanese atmosphere inside. We are charmed. In this case it’s not about the traditional side of Japan but the technological, digital, hypnotizing and “neon” like.
We’re somewhere outside Kanazawa and we’re the only westerners. The menu is not available in english and the orders are made through a digital screen on the table. You can both order from the menu or take one of the tiny white and blue dishes from the conveyor belt. Every dish is 100 Yen, not even one euro. When you’re done with your dish you can put it into a slot next to the table that allows you to play a game called Bikkurapon on the digital screen. You can play inserting 5 dishes and you can win a ball. Like a slot machine (Japan is the heaven of slot machines). Japanese like it so much, we will also play. In a week we will only win once, but the whole restaurant will know ;) Not that we go crazy about the prize, but the victory is sweet! During this week the restaurant is celebrating the Italian taste and on the menu we will find carbonara noodles (not that bad actually) and gelato (well, Japanese make an amazing ice cream!) and also, drum roll, meatballs: for Teo’s joy! He must have his own chef guardian angel delivering meatballs everywhere, we still can’t believe he always finds them!
Kanazawa is the capital of Izikawa’s prefecture on Honshu, the central Island of Japan. It’s well known for the artisanal products, the arts museums and especially for the neighbors in Edo age style, perfectly intact, and Kenrokuen garden, its pearl. One of the most beautiful gardens in Japan.
The sun comes out again and we’re going to explore Higashi Chaya district. Chaya means “tea house”, typical restaurants of the Edo age. In the past, you could find here real geishas entertaining guests with dances and live performances. There are three Chaya neighborhoods that are perfectly intact, all outside the center. Among these, Higashi Chaya is the most interesting: two tea houses are still open to the public. For us, it’s like swimming in ancient Japan. So incredibly charming. We quickly understand why it’s one of the most photographed places of Kanazawa.While the kids sleep, we have a short break in a café.
(Just a thought, it’s so so difficult to find a good wifi connection in Japan. We work online so it was very tough for us at times. Just give us a table and a good wifi connection and we’re aux anges. When there’s also a good coffee and a good pizza we will officially be your best friends. Cheers).
We’re great walkers so we’ll stroll around for a couple of km before getting to the neighbor. On our way we find Omicho market and we couldn’t be happier, considering how much we love markets.
The real pearl of Kanazawa, however, is the garden. Right next to the castle you can find this immense garden built from the Maeda family at least a couple of centuries ago, it’s been open to the public since 1871.
Japan has a special relationship with nature. Just think of the hanami period, the cherry blossoms and the admiration, lived more as a tradition than as a natural phenomenon. Japanese garden are well kept and Kenrokuen Garden is the demonstration of this dedication. Infinite trees, a lake, fountains and bridges from where to admire incredibles scenarios. The best times to visit it are of course the spring and the autumn, during the season of foliage.
As travelers, we love to visit parks. We’ve always lived by a park, Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris and Giardino di Boboli in Florence. We believe that visiting the green areas of a city allows you to understand the city’s identity even better. Just think of New York’s Central Park (New York is Daddy J’s favourite city in the world) or Hyde Park in London.
The Kenrokuen Garden gives us one an additional picture of this Japanese album we’re creating.
The last weekend is spent in laundries and cleaning, rearranging the luggages and clearing space for new adventures. We don’t talk much about this but it takes a lot of our time and dedication. We are really committed to be super clean in this amazing apartment and we filled a whole suitcase of dirty laundry. We spend the Saturday at the laundry shop nearby. Teo and Lia do their first laundry. Teo is really dedicated but Lia couldn’t care less and her attention is fully towards the machine’s oblos. After a whole day spent in there, they probably threw a party when we left.
We leave the ryokan, we pack our suitcases once again. We say goodbye to Teki and Nii. Our train leaves soon and at 8.30AM we’re at the station already. Tokyo, we’re coming!
With a Lot of Love - #miljiansgotojapan
Our wonderful ryokan rent with Airbnb. Link here.