A younger, very social, Japanese colleague of mine recently got his driver’s license AND a car. It isn’t cheap or easy to get your license in Japan, especially if you’ve never had a driver’s license. I wrote extensively about it, as has every gaijin with a blog who bothered to get their license. Araki-san invited me and some others to go on a bit of a road trip to visit the 百万石祭り (hyakumangoku festival). The hykumangoku festival commemorates Lord Maeda Toshiie’s move to Kanazawa castle. But it always seems like it is the journey, and not always the destination that is what the trip is about. Indeed, we had a good time on the journey.
We met around Nagoya Station early on a Saturday morning. Well, not that early but 8:00 am felt early after a nomikai the night before. Until this weekend, Japan had special rates on their highway system – you could get on and off for only 1000 yen, and I believe it was twice in one day. It was set up for economic stimulus. We were able to take the tollway the entire trip.
Japan has a number of SAs, or service areas, so you can take a break along the way without getting off the tollroad. We even had a guide to the service areas along the way so we could understand the specialties that each service area would have. We didn’t expect one of the service areas to have special sauce for ice cream like miso. According to one of the signs, “it taste’s like caramel!” Why not just get caramel instead?
Soy sauce and Miso ice cream topping.
We did get off the tollroad for an excursion into the mountains in Fukui prefecture to enjoy some delicious soba. Rice was being planted by hand across the street from the restaurant. The menu was simple.
Outside the rice was getting planted.
Continuing back on the highway, there was another big SA right by the sea of Japan. We could even walk down to the water.
When we got to Kanazawa, we decided to “Park N Ride” because we knew the city center would be crowded. We hustled to the bus stop, and got on the bus the attendant told us to board. Araki-san is from Kanazawa, but about 5 minutes in to the ride I had to say, “Are you sure this bus is going the right direction?” Araki-san replied, “I am starting to wonder …” So leave it to the gaijin would had never been to the city before to figure out we were definitely going the wrong way! But honestly, since I can’t really read anything in cities in Japan (of course I can but it is more dramatic to say I can’t), I probably rely on more intuition than if I was Japanese. We showed a giant act of defiance and refused to pay for the bus. I’m not sure if I am allowed in Kanazawa again, but we were rebels (and grabbed a taxi instead – and with 4 people it cost about the same).
The taxi dropped us off at the edge of the Nagamachi Samurai district, and we wandered through the area until we got to the parade route.
We followed the parade route up to the castle, and spent a little time hanging around the castle grounds and having unhealthy festival food. I had karaage of course and my stomach hurt afterwards, but how can you refuse karaage at a festival?
From the castle, we went to 兼六園 (kenrokuen), one of the three best gardens in Japan. The famous gardens are 後楽園 (kouraken) in Okayama and 偕楽園 (kairakuen) in Mito. I have already been to Kairakuen when I lived in Mito. I’m lucky to have been to two of the three best gardens! Unfortunately, Kairakuen is closed after the Great Eastern Japan.
After the garden, we were able to watch the parade. It had the requisite bands, parade queen, but had a few elements that you do see in parades in the US. For example, firemen performing acrobats on ladders erected in the middle of the street by a team of firemen, or samurai walking down the street. Fun.
We had wanted to visit a gold leaf shop as the area is famous for gold leaf but unfortunately the shop was closed because of the festival. Ooops. We surprised Araki-san’s parents, especially since they didn’t even know he had a car, failed at visiting a sushi restaurant (too long of a wait) and headed home.
It was a really good time and I am thankful that I was able to spend the time with good friends