Kanazawa Train Travels – Part 2

We’re now on the second to last day of our trip—we’ll be riding the long local trains back to Tokyo tomorrow morning. The scene outside our current train is the thick blue haze of dusk, with dampness sinking into the fields and onto the black thatched roofs of the little Japanese houses scattered around, or else hovering around the great mountain backdrop and choking it into obscurity. We left our transfer stop of Fukui around 20 minutes ago, after a 45 minute layover, just enough time to grab some bento boxes for dinner on our last long train ride of the day.

We arrived in Kanazawa the day before yesterday around 1pm and immediately checked into our bright, clean hostel with its bright and friendly staff. The young guy checking us into our room, with just a touch of charming awkwardness, offered to upgrade us to a private tatami room over the dorm beds we booked, since it was the week before cherry blossom season in Kanazawa and the hostel wasn’t crowded yet. On our train ride into Kanazawa that morning we staked out our game plan for our 2 days in the city. We decided that we could finish the majority of Kanazawa’s city attractions during the afternoon of the first day (the famous landscape garden next to the castle ruins, the tea house district where geisha used to perform, maybe a museum or two), leaving the whole of the second day for random bike exploration of the coast next to Kanazawa. The city of Kanazawa was actually incredibly entertaining and surprisingly diverse—with a cool late-night area with tons of bars along one main street, and cute promenade off-shoots, a huge park surrounding the enormous but somehow elusive castle, as well as a whole area of tiny Edo-period alleyways. We probably could’ve spent the second day continuing our exploration of the city happily enough, but we both really liked the idea of taking off on our bikes and riding the coast.

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Kenrokuen Landscape Garden – Kanazawa

So we rose somewhat early the following morning, toasted our convenience store pastries and made some instant coffee for breakfast, while chatting in the pretty hostel dining area with some other fellow travellers. Then we grabbed our bikes that we had rented from the hostel the day before (kind of crappy, very standard bikes with the body a little bit awkwardly small and no gears) stopped off quickly at a convenience store around the corner for some waters and snacks, and took off in the direction of the coast. Our destination for the day was a town to the north and just into the Noto Penninsula called Hakui, about 45km from Kanazawa. We naively estimated that it would take something like 2 hours to cover this on our bikes, putting us in Hakui around noon. But in fact it must have taken us over 4 hours in total.

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View from the road

There wasn’t a particular bike path or road that we were following, so, keeping the coast on our left, we just trailed northwards, snaking over narrow rivers and massive bridges, through little residential neighborhoods, with kids playing Nintendo DS’s in front of shrines, little old women hunched over their front gardens hoeing, and awkward teenage girls walking home solo in their school uniforms. At one point, after sailing down a hill towards the coastline, and then cutting up along a dirt path, we came across a tiny row of abandoned apartments. We stopped and peeked in through the windows, and you could see a completely uncluttered tatami room, almost clean except for a thin layer of dust, but bare of any furniture or belongings and with each door locked. Just across from this bizarre row of 5 or 6 apartments was a smaller building in the exact same style that seemed to be an abandoned dojo. It was also locked and, by the dust gathered inside clearly abandoned for several years, and yet there were umbrellas and slippers visible at the entrance, which gave its uninhabitedness a further eeriness.

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Finally, with our bodies aching almost beyond endurance, we reached Hakui and joyfully stashed our bikes at the free bike parking next to Hakui station in search of some food. After strolling around the main town for a few minutes we came across a tiny family-run restaurant that had a delicious selection of grilled dishes—grilled octopus (takoyaki), grilled noodles (yakisoba), grilled rice (yakimeshi), and a dish called okonomiyaki (literally “grill of your preference/liking”), which is a mix of vegetables, fish, egg, and soy sauce, often grilled in front of you at your table. We opted for okonomiyaki and a mixed grilled noodle and rice dish, along with a couple of grilled fish-shaped pastries called taiyaki that the owner somehow mistakenly thought we ordered—but it was 110yen each and delicious so we didn’t complain. Happily refreshed after our big meal, we reclaimed our bikes and slowly rode towards the coast about 1km from the town center for a well-deserved yasumi (short rest) on the beach.

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Hakui beach

Oddly, the ride back to Kanazawa was significantly less painful (well except maybe for the very end) and much faster. After a couple hours it started getting darker and darker until the light was a beautiful grayish blue, and I could hardly peel my eyes away from the rolls of bluish green fields, cut up with little rivers and dirt roads. When it was thoroughly dark we stopped in at a roadside restaurant for a deliciously satisfying meal of tempura, miso soup, rice, and beer, before tackling the last 16 km. When we got back into Kanazawa, our legs practically screaming in pain, we didn’t return to the hostel directly, but instead biked straight to an enormous, somewhat gaudy, onsen (hot springs) resort. After 90km of biking (on our gear-less ill-fitting bikes), when I sunk my aching body into the hot bath I almost cried with happiness. Even now, my body hasn’t completely recovered and is decidedly sore and upset with me. But it was a great, if somewhat too ambitious, day. And after an amazingly contented night sleep, we spent our last half a day in Kanazawa exploring the cool modern art museum, chilling in cafes, and doing absolutely zero biking.

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