Kanazawa, Tuesday 8-Nov

We spanned the years from the time of the samurai to art from the 21st century. And what some would think is from the far future, Japanese toilets.

So it's time to talk about toilets in Japan. No, not the squat kind (although we've run across those), but the ones that are, let's say, a bit more complex than ones at home. I'll refer to them as washlets, since that's a common term for them, and the washlet function seems to be the baseline.

If you've never tried a washlet, it's not too scary. It's not as if it's going to spray when you're not expecting it since you press a button to activate the water. But before you do press that button, be sure you know where the stop button is. Oh, and know which button is spray and which is bidet.

Those are the basics, pretty simple. Usually, there's a flush lever, but it goes in two directions, one which uses less water. Except for the toilets where you press a big button on the wall to flush. There are automatic flushers, too, like in larger venues at home such as airports, but the sensor is more discreet. I've tried to make sure I know how to flush a toilet before using it.

But it wouldn't be Japanese enough to stop there. Seat warmers are pretty common. Water warmers too. Some have buttons which activate a fan (to filter the air), and some have speakers to make flushing sounds (you can adjust the volume). Of course, there are lids and seats which automatically raise and lower.

So are they life-changing? I can see how they are for some. I've gotten used to them, but the times when the non-washlet toilets around here don't seem strange, either. I can say that one department store we were in had a huge array of them; very popular here.

The reason I bring up washlets now is the one in our room was working yesterday, but not today. It makes all the appropriate sounds but doesn't actually spray. Sad, but as they say (but not here), c'est la vie.

Starting the day

Unlike the previous day, we chose to pick up things for breakfast. Since we didn't have access to a kitchen (thus a toaster or microwave), we got things which could be eaten without heating. After that, we set out to Kanazawa Station to catch the bus.

On the walk over, we ran into the man from the previous night who was looking for the cryogenics conference. He was with his wife, and they too were heading for the bus. He did find the location, but it sounded pretty far away. They're from Tallahassee, Florida, so it's a bit cooler than what they left.

When we got to our bus stop, we were looking at the schedule, and the lone woman sitting there was saying she was waiting for the bus that was to leave in ten minutes, which was the bus that we wanted too. She was going to the gardens we visited the day before, and we started chatting with her. She's from Singapore and was in Kanazawa for a couple days. The next day she was going to go to Universal Studios in Osaka and was excited to see the Harry Potter exhibit (the Universal Studios there doesn't have that attraction). She was asking about the Omicho Market, so we assured her that she should be able to find lunch there. She had been to the museum we were going to a while back and said it was very interesting, so that was good to hear.

Boarding the bus, the driver once again took down extensive notes about our passes, where we were from, and our destination. This time, instead of writing down the information in a small notebook, he had forms on which he circled and wrote things for what seemed to be quite a while. That done, we were on our way to Nagamachi Bukeyashiki, the samurai district.

Samurai district

As we reached the samurai district, it was plain to see that the streets had a very different feel than the geisha district. There were fewer windows and stronger walls. Our destination was the Nomura Samurai House, a restored samurai residence. The Nomura were a high-ranked samurai family, but when the feudal system broke up with the Meiji Restoration, the family went broke.

We thought we had arrived at the house, but there was a construction crane being set up. We saw that we could walk around the crane to the entrance, so we did that and went inside. Not far in we saw the usual tatami rooms, but also a garden which was modest in size but not in design. Almost every feature you could think of in a garden was present: stone lanterns, a waterfall, koi, different kinds of trees, a water basin, bridges, and of course, plants. This garden is supposed to be typical among Kobori Enshu-style gardens (Enshu was a federal lord in the Edo Era, who not only designed gardens, but was known as a calligrapher, a tea master, and a ceramics expert).

As we walked around, we went across some stones and up some stairs to a separate teahouse. There was an external waiting room and a tea room, which had an entrance which was low enough that one needs to crouch to enter.

When we were done touring the house, we exited to see the crane doing work. It was helping to install a huge pole from which ropes were going to hang to help support one of the larger trees in the front courtyard. They were working on other trees too, but those poles could be handled without the crane.

After leaving the house, we saw a store selling fancy yokan, which is like the an inside of manju but solid. There were some that seemed to be mostly clear, and other which were quite fancy with other items in them. I was tempted but decided not to get any.

We also walked by a restored pharmacy, but only peeked in the window instead of going inside. Instead, we set out on foot to our next stop.

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is unique. It's housed in a circular building with rectangular galleries inside. It has a few large pieces on the outside and several areas which are free on the inside. We chose to look at the exhibits you could see without admission but were able to peek at a few that were behind the paywall.

The first place we went into was a room designed by James Turrell (who also designed a room at the Henry Art Gallery at UW). It has a square hole in the roof open to the outside, and the roof is slanted such that it looks like there's just a thin roof separating you from the sky. There are seats all around the room so you can look up. It wasn't raining at the time we were there; I wonder what happens in that case.

A very popular piece was a swimming pool which looks like it's filled with water, but there's just a shallow amount at the top and the bottom of the pool is a room you can wander around. That room is in the area requiring tickets, but you can look from the top for free.

One of the exhibits which required tickets which we didn't see was “The Boundary between Kogei and Design” which compares craft and design. The two are different categories, but both are  monozukuri (the making of things), and thus two sides of the same coin. We were able to look through a set of large windows at a chair and footstool, and looking at them, you could see both the design of the items and the craft in building them.

Finding a place for lunch

It wasn't quite time for lunch, so we decided to walk back to Kanazawa Station to pick something up. The plan was to take it back to the room, have lunch there, hang out a bit, then head out to a café for a while, then get some dinner. We did fine with the picking up lunch part (and we even stopped by a German bakery for dessert and breakfast items), but when we got back to the room, it was in-between stages of being made up. The bed was unmade with fresh, folded sheets on top. We dropped off what we didn't need, grabbed items to use at the café, then headed back to the station to find a place to eat.

There are several benches at the station, but they were all taken up. We started walking back, and we saw someone vacating half of one of the benches. Melody sat down on the seat, and I balance on the side, nodding to the woman on the other half of the bench. We had a sushi set and a roll, both picked up at the 7-11. The roll was like the onigiri we had before, with the nori packaged separately. I wrapped it around the rice (a little off square, but again, the taste didn't seem to be impacted). As we finished, the woman's husband showed up, handing her a drink. We stood, and he probably thought we were offering him the seat, but the couple indicated we should still sit. We got up, offered the seat, and as we walked away, I turned to see the husband taking his place next to his wife.

We headed to the same Starbucks we were at before and settled in for a couple hours.

Dinner and evening

After we were done doing the café thing, we headed back to the room. Looked like housekeeping was finished, so we settled in to relax a bit. Rumor has it I took a nap, too.

We considered taking advantage of the onsen at the hotel, but they didn't open until 5pm. We did peek inside, and while somewhat small (especially for the number of lockers available), but pleasant. They were in a separate building, so it's not like you would want to wander over in just a yukata and sandals.

We had scoped out a ramen restaurant, so we went back for an early dinner. One thing that was different with this restaurant than the other two in the same food court was the other two had buttons at the table which you pressed when you were ready to order. The first time we saw one, the person who seated us pointed at the table and rattled off a bunch of Japanese then left. My guess was that it was a button, even though the look was very subtle. When we were ready to order, Melody pressed it, and within seconds our order was being taken.

This evening felt much more conventional. In a way, more comfortable too, since we didn't have the feeling that we were hailing someone to take our order. Of course, another way to look at it is the customer doesn't get bothered until they're ready to speak with a waiter.

The ramen we ordered was supposed to have salt broth, and indeed, it was pretty salty. We ordered one regular bowl of ramen and one set which included a half order of gyoza (three dumplings) and a half order of a rice dish (we chose a crab omelet over rice). The omelet was also salty, but not overly so. Our ramen also came with soft boiled egg, which was a tasty addition. Also, the pork, rather than being just roasted, was also grilled, which gave it a nice flavor.

On the way out, we noticed displays of various kinds of salt, so obviously salt is one of the signatures of the restaurant's chef. We then walked out to a set of windows overlooking the main entrance to Kanazawa Station, seeing that it had begun to rain.

Back at the room, we drank ample water, donned our yukatas, and settled in for the evening, thinking we were already too settled in to go over to the onsen. Even though we've been getting up pretty early, we would need to be sure to do so in the morning so we could catch our bus out of Kanazawa, on our way to Ainokura, near Nanto.