It’s all very organized, as I come to expect in Tokyo. I get my ticket reservation then wait a while before I walk to the correct platform. Once there, there are lines painted on the floor that designate your correct waiting place for your correct car on the Shinkansen. No confusion. The train arrives in a fluid motion reminiscent of some type of space vehicle. In moments, the riders are off, the cleaners wearing their matching pink smocks are on, and the train is transformed for us. I board, find my seat, and settle in. The moment the clock strikes departure time, I feel the train move.
I’m off to Kanazawa, though one might say it feels as though you’re doing some kind of space travel. These trains are FAST. I catch an unobstructed view of Mt. Fuji as we head northwest. There are little signs on the seat backs that remind me I’m not in the United States– messages reminding you of the importance of thinking about how your behavior (i.e. loud keyboard clacking, smelly foods) may affect a person near or to promptly go in between cars if you need to answer a phone call. The rules are followed by everyone except Americans I see on the train to Kyoto days later.
I arrive in Kanazawa and am completely taken with it. It’s a small city, manageable and walkable. I check in with the visitor center before hopping on the bus farther into town. I wander, get lost, wander again until I ask passersby how to get to my destination: Omicho Market. Once there I never want to leave. In fact, I spend hours here and have to spend the rest of the day rushing to see what I can and not miss the train.
The market is packed with people, almost all Japanese. I visit right around lunchtime which explains the bustle I suppose. The alleyways are lined with prepared food stalls, fresh fruit, vegetables, and of course seafood. As far north as I am, much of the seafood comes from Hokkaido and the Sea of Japan. I soak it in, the hectic nature of it all, the hawkers I can’t understand but am nevertheless taken by. Even today I enjoy watching little clips of them hollering out to passersby. I stop at a crowded stall selling urchin and order one. A group of young men next to me laugh over my enjoyment.
The blue skies that grace the day encourage me to wander, so I do. I walk through the Castle Park on my way to Higashiyama, the iconic ‘old town’ of Kanazawa with its wooden homes across the river. While preserved for tourists it seems, it is, nevertheless, beautiful. I pull off on side streets to enjoy it without so much chaos.
I run out of time and curse my early train reservation (and the fact that the early morning train was sold out). I’d wanted to visit the Zen museum but get lost trying to get there. It will have to wait for another visit. To me, Kanazawa seems unspoiled by much of what international tourism can bring. The city’s success is centered around its residents with visitors granted the privilege of being there. I love that English is sparse, that I am forced to point and gesture and do my best in broken Japanese. Next time, I’ll spend a few days here. Even still, these are the glory days of solo travel… the wandering with no agenda really.
I arrive back in Tokyo. Ueno Park is so alive, the cherry blossoms lit up by the glow of the park lights. I drag myself back to Sawanoya, my feet aching for the sento. Big travel rule: Never bring just one pair of shoes unless you are certain they will stand up to challenge.