Kanazawa was our home base for three months during my last sabbatical. Coming there again has some strong sense of deja vu.
Riding a bus to the university and hearing the names of the stops that I thought I had forgotten, walking past the building called “Rifare” near the train station where my wife went for Japanese lessons, wondering around Kenrokuen in the the summer heat and stopping to have green tea with sweets in a teahouse by the pond, sliding in my socks on the wide wooden floor planks of the castle and wondering how many samurai died while climbing those insanely steep stairs – everything seems familiar and nostalgic.
But things has changed a lot in Kanazawa since the last time I was there, and the reason is the new shinkansen line that now makes the city easily accessible to tourists. While seven years ago there were hardly any English signs at the bus stops (many stops had no written signs at all), now there are tourist information points and signage in both Japanese and English everywhere.
Most strikingly, there are many foreigners on the streets, while it seems that seven years ago my wife and I were the only ones. I still remember one time when I turned a corner in the Nomura bukeyashiki district and came face-to-face with a schoolboy of about 10 years of age. When he saw me, he stopped right in his tracks, turned around and ran back to his friends yelling: “Gaijin san! Gaijin san!” Now, it seems, there are as many foreigners as there are Japanese tourists around main attractions like the castle, the Kenrokuen and the Higashi Ochaya district.
The Higashi Ochaya deserves a special mention. I went there on my last day of this visit, and the place was swarming with tourists. Just like in Higashiyama in Kyoto, people were strolling around in rental kimonos, taking selfies. I remember that during our last trip, my wife and I were enormously happy that by shear luck we were able to capture a photograph of a group of people in yukatas walking along the street. The whole place was largely empty then. This time, there were literally crowds of yukaja-wearing people, and my main photographic challenge was to isolate just one group in the frame.
And of course, the teahouses themselves have multiplied. Where before there were only a couple of cafes serving sweets and tea n the whole district, now I had a choice of at least five or six on a single street. I went to the same place where my wife and I went before. This time, there was a book by the door, where I had to sign in my name and wait in line until it was called. And the menu has expanded too since the last time. I had a hot matcha latte and a “matcha parfe” – a culinary masterpiece made of vanilla and green tea ice-cream, whipped cream and soft sweets made of mochi and red beans.
The shinkansen has definitely opened Kanazawa to the world, and the change has been sweet!