If you haven't noticed, I have developed something of a pattern. Every other weekend I seem to be taking a massive trip, having a good adventure and then resting the next weekend (when is when these posts mainly get written). Well, the weekend before last was one massive trip, and the adventure continued through the week. So, be sure that you don't have any other pressing business before you read this post, as it might take some time.
Well, I need to start by mentioning that Yuri has an identical twin sister named Eri. When you have a twin, it seems, it only makes logical sense to celebrate your birthday together. Since you are two people, it only makes logical sense to have a birthday that is double the intensity of a normal birthday. In other words, a huge trip got planned, and since all of the planning was done in Japanese, I agreed to go without really knowing what was going on or where we were going.
On Saturday morning at 5 am, Yuri, Eri, Waka, Sayaka and I left Takasaki on our way to wherever it was we were going. We drove past Miyogi-san and into Nagano, where we stopped at a rest stop. While everyone went to the bathroom I met "White" who was the friendliest little goat I have ever met. White acted just like a black lab and loved being petted. It made me want a goat.
Well, as it turned out, our destination was Kanazawa, which is north of Nagoya on the Sea of Japan. On the sea means fresh seafood (something almost impossible to find in Gunma). Yum.
We went to a fish market then checked into our Hotel, a cute little bed and breakfast named Petite Ivy. Then we took a walk around Kanazawa. As we walked the streets of the surprisingly intact old town (American bombing during World War 2 leveled all but a few Japanese cities) I remembered that Kanazawa was the one place that I had planned to go to before getting sick with Salmonella back in the summer of 2005. Fantastic! We happened to run into a free tour, and amazingly, the guide spoke very good English. Because I was there he conducted the rest of the tour in English, which both annoyed and amused the rest of the tourists in the group (all Japanese). Then we stopped for macha ice cream in a cute little shop. Here is Eri waiting for her ice cream.
Well, the next stop on the list was the Hyakumangoku Matsuri. "Hyakumangoku" translates to 1 million "koku", a medieval Japanese unit of rice measurement. 1 koku is essentially all the rice that an average person consumes in a year. In other words, in medieval times Hyakumangoku was a very rich area, since it gets its name from what the land was actually worth. Here are some of the tens of thousands of people lined up to see the parade.
This is a Shishi, a lion. My response was "really? Um, Ok."
These are fire fighters from all over Kanazawa. I couldn't figure out why they were carrying hooked poles at first.
Here is a Kabuki actor.
This guy is holding a treasure box on a pole. Oh... how embarrassing.
Lots of Samurai. About 500 actually.
This is what the poles with hooks are for, to hold the ladder for the acrobats.
Wow. 30 firefighters doing acrobatics on ladders in front of a castle. Not something you see everyday.
Here are those samurai in front of the castle.
And some of the thousands of dancers in the street on the way back to the hotel.
Ah, the hotel. If you ever go to Kanazawa, you must stay at Petit Ivy. While materially it is little better than the Best Western, the service is the best I have ever seen. Really. The best service I have ever had, and I have stayed in my fair share of places with good service. Basically, the hotel was what in many other countries you would call a Bed and Breakfast. The guy who worked reception came out to greet us in his cook's outfit carrying a knife, all ready hard at work at the night's dinner. Dinner, by the way, was supposed to be at 8, but we ran very late and ended up arriving at 8:45. Everyone who worked at the hotel (all 3 employees) stayed extra late to serve us our food, which they were still happy to present to us. The dining room had three tables and a bar, and felt like the inside of a beautiful boat. All of the walls were wood paneled and covered with a nautical theme. Very well decorated for a hotel that can't have had a very big budget for decoration. Here is the first course, clam chowder like soup cooked inside an apple. Fantastic.
And the hotel employees even went out and bought Yuri and Eri and birthday cake. A huge one. We decided to share it with the guy at the bar, who was the only other person in the restaurant.
We went to sleep and came down again for breakfast. Had breakfast and talked with the couple next to us. As it turns out, the couple next to us was also from Gunma, but moved away years ago. They had been married for 50 years. It was a fantastic breakfast, despite the lack of natto (which it seems is not as popular outside of the Kanto region).
The view from our room. The pillow can be seen at the bottom of the picture.
On Sunday morning we went to visit a temple which has the nickname "Ninja Dera" or Ninja Temple, for all the traps and countermeasures which it has built into it.
As it turns out, the Lords of Kanazawa were very smart men. They found it was better strategically, to appear weaker than they actually were. As a result, the castle was small in comparison to other castles, but the area surrounding the castle was filled with temples that were designed to hide troops. If an army invaded, the defending army could easily flank them as they attacked the castle. But the smartest thing that the ruling Maeda family seems to have done is not get into a war in the first place. They seem to have gone out on a limb to have good relations with most sides before and during the Edo period, and as a result became second only to the Kanto in terms of wealth for a period of history. And in Japan, wealth was soon followed by places to spend that wealth. Here is tea we had at one of Kanazawa's surviving tea houses.
Returning to the hotel for one parting shot with our host.
And of to Korakuen, one of the most famous gardens in Japan.
A twins moment.
Me having gotten too much sun.
Kanazawa Castle. The black dots are tiles, meant to strengthen the walls against gunfire. But in fact, some of the tiles are fake. They are only one layer thick, so you can stick a musket through and fire. A rather unpleasant surprise, and another example of the cleverness of Kanazawa.
That night, we ate a rather expensive meal at a seafood restaurant. And what do you think this is?
Puffer fish eggs. Yes, that's right. Eggs from the super toxic Fugu. "Now, Trenton", you might say, "Isn't the ovary the toxic part of the puffer fish" The answer is yes. And so is the skin. And the eggs. But, somehow somebody figured out (I don't know how) that if you leave puffer fish eggs fermenting in Miso for 5 years they become 99.9% non-toxic. Go figure. I wouldn't eat this particular dish again, but as a one time food it is not so bad. These squid, on the other hand, were.
But no matter, the Kanazawa trip was great.
Now, fast forward to Tuesday. Jeff, Yuri and I leave Shibukawa at 4:30, park the car in Saitama, get on the train and make it to the Tokyo Dome just in time for a concert.
The concert is great. Tokyo Dome has over 10,000 people on the stadium floor alone and probably another 25,000 in the seats. A 60 foot LED screen shows us the stage.
During the encore, about 5,000 people get out thier lighters.
Amazing. By the way, this is what we saw:
School the next day just never seems to end.
Just an update, for those of you that don't already know, I am comming to California on the 16th of June. Be sure to contact me so that we can hang out! Hopefully see you soon!