Walk into one of Kanazawa’s beautifully preserved Edo-period teahouses in the present day, and you’re likely to emerge gently invigorated after sipping a soothing bowl of freshly whisked matcha and gazing serenely at an immaculately maintained courtyard garden. But walk into the very same place two centuries ago, and you’ll probably stumble out tipsy from downing endless pourings of sake and enjoying the refined company of richly attired geisha.
Dawn roused the city of Kanazawa to the sight of clear blue skies and bright summer sunshine – almost an attraction in itself for this wet, cloudy corner of Japan.
After breakfast, I made my way over to the city’s iconic railway station…
…where I boarded a bus bound for the historic Higashi Chaya District (ひがし茶屋街, Higashi Chaya-gai).
One of Kanazawa’s former Edo Period entertainment zones, this scenic area’s stone-paved streets are lined with beautifully preserved chaya (or ochaya), a couple of which are open to the public. Whilst literally meaning “teahouse”, these high-end establishments were more akin to exclusive restaurants than cafés, where guests were served beverages (mainly of the alcoholic sort) and entertained by geisha.
One particular chaya that’s worth stopping by is Shima (志摩). About 200 years old, the former teahouse was converted into a museum and is a registered Important Cultural Property.
The entrance is pretty nondescript, as chaya entrances tend to be…
…but the interiors are as lovely as one might imagine: the perfect setting for the skilled musical performances, refined dances, and measured conversations that geisha are known for.
Although more of a preserved cultural artefact than a functioning establishment, Shima does have a nice tea room in the back where visitors can enjoy hot matcha and traditional sweets.
The dessert I enjoyed that morning was delicately handcrafted to an appropriate seasonal design, mimicking an ajisai blossom speckled with glistening drops of rain.
Even after I’d consumed the sweet, the moist imprint left upon the paper – combined with the bamboo skewer and decorative leaf garnish – almost seemed like a work of art.
The frothy green tea was served in a lovely piece of traditional pottery, one that wouldn’t have looked far out of place in a gallery or museum.
But perhaps not at the museum I visited next, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (金沢21世紀美術館, Kanazawa Nijūichi-seiki Bijutsukan)…
…which featured a wide range of modern art installations housed in – and around – a circular building with plate-glass walls.
Now regular readers are probably aware that Diego doesn’t like contemporary art (to put it very politely), so what on earth is he doing here?
Well, it was a prominent local landmark and I had time on my hands, so I figured it was worth a quick walk-through. As expected, most of the exhibits were just okay at best and horrendous at worst, but I did have a bit of fun with some of the interactive and quirky specimens on display…
…especially this one. The Swimming Pool (2004), by Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich.
The installation consists of a small, deep swimming pool that appears to be completely filled with water. In reality, what one sees from above is a transparent roof with a few centimetres of water on top, suspended over a perfectly dry basement room (made up to look like the inside of a pool, drain and ladder and all).
A pamphlet that you can borrow whilst viewing the exhibit states that Erlich’s works force viewers “to re-examine the very nature of [their] existence and reconsider how [they] perceive the world and position [themselves] in accord with it”.
Oooohkayyy. Whatever you say, mate. I had fun, that’s all – and I’d count that as a more positive, more life-enriching experience than deconstructing existentialistic paradigms in a post-modern social milieu under the seminal influence of bangers and mash or whatever else these artsy types love to do on their weekends.
As for myself, I’d seen enough modern art to last me a lifetime in this brief visit, so I called a halt to the proceedings and drew a curtain across my stay in Kanazawa. Farewell … until next time, of course.
After collecting my luggage, I sped off to the railway station for a bit of lunch whilst waiting for the Kagayaki 528 Hokuriku Shinkansen service bound for Tōkyō, scheduled to depart at 14:51.
Today’s ride: a JR East E7 series shinkansen train, one of the newest models currently running on the Japanese high-speed network (together with the virtually identical JR West W7 series that operates on the same line). This particular set, F15, had been delivered to JR East less than five months before I stepped onboard.
My assigned place was in the train’s premium Green Car cabin, where the comfortable seats offered a relaxing environment for the more than 2.5-hour trip to the Japanese capital.
And where the journey went from there…
…is something we’ll talk about in a future post.