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Kanazawa at Letters from Japan

Archive for the ‘Kanazawa’ Category

Japan Photo Tour #16: In search of perfect Ramen   no comments

kana_ramen

The owner of Taisho-ken, Kanazawa

If you come to Japan, you will quickly understand that restaurants are quite different here. The typical American restaurant where you can get many kinds of dishes at one place is not the norm here. Many restaurants, in fact, only serve their own specialty. It might also surprise to you that the Japanese do not eat sushi or tempura everyday and that these are not even the most popular foods here.

The most popular food is, without question, ramen. This noodle soup of Chinese origin is everyday food for everyone. You can get it everywhere you go in Japan and it is nothing like the the 40 cent instant noodle you buy in US..

Ramen is so popular in Japan that there is even a Ramen Museum in Yokohama. Here you can sample many ramen shops that are representative of those all over Japan.

On our trip, I took the group to four different ramen restaurants: one in Tokyo, two in Kanazawa and another in Suzu.

img_4845Taisho-ken in Kanazawa is located only a few minutes from the Kanazawa Station. When I arrived in Kanazawa I asked the first taxi driver where to go for ramen in Kanazawa, and this was his recommendation. The store is simple and they only have counter seats. The young ramen chef, who is the third generation in his family’s ramen business, gave us a very warm welcome.

At this shop, there are only two different soup bases: shoyu (soy sauce) and miso. The menu is also simple: you can choose portion size and whether you want extra slow-cooked sliced pork (Cha-shu) on top of your noodles or not.

In the area of Nagasaki, there is another kind of ramen that is quite famous. Champon, which still retains the Chinese pronunciation as it is much closer to the mainland of China, is a rather unique kind of ramen. The soup base is creamy white made from seafood and a variety of vegetables. Champon also has many toppings such as shrimp, squid, fish cake, and vegetables. The soup is quite rich and the noodles are slightly thicker than the usual ramen noodle.

If you come to Japan, ramen is a food you simply cannot miss.

kyushu_ramen

Written by projectbasho on September 29th, 2008

Photography Tour to Japan #12: A Bath as bounding experience   no comments

After a long day of exploring the countryside of Japan, what we look forward to is a trip to the Onsen or hot spring. It is a public bath and the hot spring is rich in minerals.

In every city we traveled through we had opportunities to dip ourselves into hot bath tubs at the end of the day. Wearing Yukata, a Japanese robe, sometimes we walked together to the Onsen. Even though there were those who were not used to the idea and a little hesitant at first, this eventually became a daily routine.

Strange enough, it is almost hard for me to think of this as a part of daily life at this point as I am so used to taking showers. Even though I went out of my way to find a Japanese deep bath tub for my apartment in the US, I rarely use it to be honest. But getting back to this custom was such a great thing.

In Wajima, there is even a hot spring to just dip your feet in. Literally called Ashi Yu, foot bath, this city run facility is located in the middle of town. This is, of course, one of the few tourist attractions in the city, but it is also a place where locals go. It is a locus of the community where people gather and feel very comfortable talking to one another.

One of the participants pointed out that privacy issues at the public baths are interesting and can be a little strange. On one hand, everyone is naked and seems quiet comfortable. At the same time, the sound of the ocean is pumped into the women’s bathroom to overcome the sounds of what women do in the bathroom.

There is a Japanese expression, “Hadaka no Tsukiai.” It can be literally translated to “naked relationship,” and it refers to a trusted relationship among the same sex. I would assume that it came from this tradition of going to a public bath and having conversations about the many affairs in one’s life.

This trip is about bonding with other participants as well as the locals as much as photographing beautiful scenery.

Written by projectbasho on September 13th, 2008

Photography Tour to Japan #11: Highlights in Kanazawa   2 comments

Posted at 1:54 pm in Japan Photo Trip, Kanazawa

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Kenroku-en, Photo by Jeri

I interviewed everyone about the highlights during their stay in Kanazawa.

Everyone liked meeting with Mr. Tomioka, and this seems to be the prevalent topic throughout everyone’s interviews. This is what Lauren had to say:


Cindy also liked the interaction with Mr. Tomioka:


In addtion to the interaction with Mr. Tomioka, Scott talks about his experience of wandering around in Kanazawa:


Jeri adds something else to the interview and talks more about the entire atmosphere of Kanazawa with a little poetic twist:


Tom talked about his experience of getting lost in Kanazawa, and this is what he has to say about it:


To be honest, I was working on a project that was happening in Philadelphia and simply spent many hours talking on the phone while we were in Kanazawa. I was too busy to go out and photograph, and this is what I have to say:

Written by projectbasho on September 12th, 2008

Photography Tour to Japan #9: If you were a cat…   no comments

Posted at 12:49 am in Asakusa, Japan Photo Trip, Kanazawa, Wajima

If you were a cat, Japan would be a pretty good place to be.

We have come across many street cats during the trip. Most of them are very well taken care of and just hanging around where they feel comfortable. If you walk in the neighborhood small streets and alley ways, you will come across at least a few cats every a half hour.

They are friendly and a part of each of the neighborhoods we have visited. The encounters with these little creatures in the back streets certainly make the walks more enjoyable. Here are the some of the cats we have encountered during our trip.

At Omi Market, Kanazawa

Asakusa, Tokyo, Photo by Jeri

Nanso Collection, Wajima

In paddy field, Kami Ozawa, Wajima, Photo by Jeri

Alley, Kanazawa, Photo by Jeri

Written by projectbasho on September 12th, 2008

Photography Tour to Japan #8: People in Kanazawa   no comments

Tomioka and Tsuyoshi, photo by Tom

It has been almost nine months since I visited Kanazawa for the first time. There I met people who have been helping me organize this trip and they have been waiting for our arrival in Kanazawa.

Nagae-san and her assistant, photo by Cindy

The first day, we met Nagae-san who was the key person who connected me to pretty much everyone who helped us organize this trip. She was the hub for everyone involved not only in Kanazawa but also in the entire Noto Peninsula. If I were to single out one person to get credit for this trip, she would be the one without a second thought.

We also met Mr. Tomioka who is a local photographer. I met him at the salon when I was visiting Nagae-san for the first time. Upon hearing that I am interested in photography, she picked up the phone, and asked him to come over to meet me. Only then, I decided to bring some of his work to Philadelphia for an exhibition. These photographs were taken in Wajima and the surrounding area in the late 1950’s.

We were lucky to meet him on the second day of our trip to see his photographs and show our photographs. He looked at everyone’s photographs and gave thoughtful comments after he showed his recent work. It was a sort of cultural exchange through photography. This is the sort of thing that is difficult to arrange if you are traveling only as a tourist. Again, photography is the medium through which we connect people in this trip. It is what brings us together.

What amazes me about Mr. Tomioka is that he actively continues his creative activity at the age of 76. He goes out to photograph and comes back to his darkroom to process his films and make prints. I would assume that at his age, he would have enough images to keep him busy, but that is not his style. He is having a small exhibition at the salon next year, and he is working on another body of work as well. We will see what kind of photographs he will come up with next year when we come back.

Hashiba-san and his friend, photo by Tom

Another person we met at the salon was Hashiba-san, a local flute player. He was the one whom I met at the temple when they were changing the shoji screens. He came to the salon with his friend to play two pieces of music for us. His flute is made out of bamboo, and looks very simple. Everyone tried to see if they could make any sound at all. He played one traditional piece as well as one which he composed on his own. His own piece was titled “Pine and Wind,” and it is set in the late fall looking at a pine tree. This is definitely a somber atmosphere which goes very well with the sound of his flute.

Along with many temples and beautiful gardens to visit, these occasions meeting local people have made our days in Kanazawa fulfilling and quite unique.

Written by projectbasho on September 11th, 2008

Photography Tour to Japan #7: Rainy and soothing Kanazawa   no comments

Posted at 11:34 pm in Japan Photo Trip, Kanazawa

Cindy looking over the garden, Kanazawa, Photo by Jeri

After our rather early arrival at Kanazawa Station, we stopped by the International Exchange Salon run by Nagae-san. There we met her as well as Mr. Tomioka, whose photographs we showed at our gallery in May and June. They prepared a lovely breakfast for us.

After breakfast, we were trying to figure out what to do. It was a rainy day, but there are many indoor activities available in Kanazawa, so I was not too worried that we would run out of options.

However, since everyone was adjusting to the time difference, recovery from the first night’s welcome party, and the night on the train, after much thought, we decided to simply stay at the salon until check in time at our hotel. We leisurely sat on tatami mats looking over the beautiful garden at the salon. Some people laid down and read while others took notes about the trip so far. Everyone took photographs of the exquisite garden. The sound of the rain and the very moist air was all around us, and it was very relaxing and soothing.

It was quite amazing to see how rain in this small but very well kept garden can be the focus of the day as well as the source of some much needed relaxation. It was like a pause in a novel where you digest everything, and contemplate the idea and implications of everything that has happened so far. We simply sat on the tatami mats and looked at what this garden had to offer us.

Written by projectbasho on September 8th, 2008

Photography Tour to Japan #5: Blue train under blue sky   no comments

Posted at 9:39 pm in Japan Photo Trip, Kanazawa

As I woke up in my small room on a sleeper train, the first thing I did was peek out the window. It was still 5 o’clock in the morning, and the sun had just come up. It is cloudy outside, and I see an expansive view of a green paddy field. I think to myself, “we are in the countryside.”

Our train left Ueno Station around 11 pm.  This is my first experience riding this train also known here as the “blue train.” It’s a two-story sleeper train with individual rooms.  I dreamed of riding this train often when I was a kid (yes, I was into trains). The idea of sleeping on a train was such a fascination because it seemed to me that traveling all night must mean traveling a very long distance. I used to wonder where I would end up traveling such lengths.

When I came across this option for traveling for our group trip to Kanazawa, I immediately seized the opportunity. Traveling by  train has a nostalgic feeling and is an experience that people do not get to try that much anymore. In some ways, it’s just about the journey, not the destination.

For this trip, my room was on the lower level which seems to be a little roomier than the upper compartments, but still the ceiling height was just a tad short for me to stand up. The compartment is just big enough for me and the bed which also doubles as a seat.

There are a couple of shower rooms on the train. To use them you need to purchase a card from the conductor early before they sell out. With this card, you have six minutes to take shower. When I thought of just six minutes, it seemed way too short. To my surprise, my entire showering was just over three minutes long. Of course, I wore a shower cap to cover my long hair for the first time in my life and skipped the hair washing step. I looked pretty funny.

The train ride has been rather smooth. After cramming my luggage into this small room, I started writing emails. Soon after, I started to fall sleep. I changed into a robe with the JR logo on it which comes with each room and drifted off to sleep. You feel the movement of the train for sure, but it did not bother me that much.

We are in Toyama now. In an hour and a half, we will be arriving at Kanazawa Station. We will head to the International Exchange Salon where Nagae-san is waiting for us with breakfast.

Written by projectbasho on September 5th, 2008

Photography Tour to Japan #1: It is official!   no comments

Posted at 2:28 pm in Japan Photo Trip, Kanazawa

Wajima

Yes, we are finally 100% sure that this destination trip to Kanazawa and the Noto Peninsula is happening!

This trip was one of the projects that I have dreamed about since I started Project Basho. I was always interested in creating a cultural dialogue between Philadelphia, where I am now, and Japan, where I grew up. I always thought the best way to let people know about another culture is to visit the actual place and let them experience the scenery, culture, and people with someone who can act as a cultural intermediary. So here we are, after 1 year of planning and 6 years of thinking about it, we are finally actualizing this trip.

This is a 13 day trip to explore the countryside of Japan. We are visiting Kanazawa, Wajima, and Suzu in the Noto Peninsula. Kanazawa is a relatively large city while Wajima and Suzu are much smaller fishing towns. During this trip one can see life in a city as well as in the smaller towns where the pace is slower.

Where is Kanazawa and the Noto Peninsula? Why not travel to more known places such as Tokyo and Kyoto? People often ask me these questions and wonder why I chose Kanazawa and the Noto Peninsula as the first destination trip in Japan.

I have always thought that there are beautiful places in the countryside of Japan. Initially, I was planning to take a group to a much more remote area of Japan – Shikoku, where I once backpacked for a week on a small island. When I started to research a possible trip, I quickly realized the problem of accessibility. Plus, it was rather difficult to do detailed research from Philadelphia as the information was rather scarce. I realized that in order to make it work, I had to visit the location and establish key contacts with the locals first.

A friend of mine visited Kanazawa a couple of years ago, and he introduced me to Nagae-san who runs the Ishikawa International Exchange Salon in Kanazawa. When I phoned her last fall as I was getting ready for a visit in December, she was very excited about our trip and enthusiastically became the key contact to organize this trip locally.

Speaking of people from Kanazawa, I met Hashiaba-san, a local flute player, while I was visiting Kanazawa in December. I was simply wandering around the almost-maze like alleys in a section of the city when I arrived at a small temple. A priest and a few volunteers were changing the shoji paper on the screens as part of the end of year cleaning. I was curiously looking at them as I remembered doing this as a yearly routine when I was a kid.

A relatively young priest looked at me and asked me if I wanted to help. I said “Sure, I will,” thinking that I had not done this for at least 11 years. I spent the next two hours changing the shoji paper for all the screens in this little run-down temple. There, I met Hashiba-san who was helping as a volunteer and who also happens to know Nagae-san. I explained my trip plans and they were also excited about it. Hashiba-san suggested that he and his band members would do a musical performance for us when we visit. Later I learned that he is a very well-known flute player who comes to Tokyo frequently to perform. This was one of those serendipitous moments which makes travel more enjoyable.

Aside from the wonderful people like Nagae-san and Hashiba-san, Kanazawa is a beautiful city in its own right with a sense of tradition. The best description about Kanazawa I came across while researching described it as “a little Kyoto.” When I visited Kanazawa last December, I understood what this meant. There are numerous elements of traditional Japanese culture and many clusters of temples and shrines all over the city. These temples and shrines are connected with small winding alleys mapping the city like vines. You will feel a sense of nostalgia as if you were back a couple hundred years ago. In addition, the city is not too large, which makes it a suitable place for photographers who want to explore on foot. Plus you can enjoy all of this without being in tourist-thickened streets, which is what I felt when I was in Kyoto recently. Nagae-san who grew up in Kyoto also agrees on this point.

We are also going to two smaller towns in the Noto Peninsula: Wajima and Suzu. I will talk about them in a little more detail in the next couple of posts.

Additionally, I would like to note that this is just one side of the cultural exchange through photography we are planning. We are slowly working on another project to bring Japanese photographers to Philadelphia. This will be a different format than these destination trips we are organizing this time. However, we hope to make this reciprocal influx of photographers traveling between two destinations happen on a regular basis in the years to come. So stay tuned.

Written by projectbasho on July 25th, 2008