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Exploring Japan A New Golden Rout Via Hokuriku

(No.5, Vol.8,Oct-Nov Vietnam Heritage Magazine)


Tojinbo Cliffs, Fukui Prefecture







In the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum


A corner in Nagamachi Samurai District, Kanazawa


Kanazawa Tsuzumi-mon
Gate at Kanazawa Station


Nagamachi Samurai District, Kanazawa


Nagamachi Samurai District, Kanazawa


Inside the Nomura Clan Samurai House


The garden inside the Nomura Clan Saimurai House


An exhibition hall at the 21th Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa


The pool at the 21th Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa


The path from the 21th Century Museum
of Comtemporary Artt to the Le Musee de H. Kanazawa


0ver 40 thousand lilies along the waterway and the pine tree planted in the 16th Century at Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa


In the next issue of Vietnam Heritage: World Heritage Ainokura Gasso Style Village, Gokayama Yusuke, Inami Japan Heritage, Doraemon tram in Toyama Prefecture; Digital Art Museum, Odaiba, Edo -Tokyo Museum, and Sensoujy Temple in Tokyo.


It was a treasured opportunity for me to participate in a media excursion to Japan recently, on behalf of Vietnam Heritage Magazine, together with reporters from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Hong Kong to explore the New Golden Route in the northwestern part of Honshu, the main island of Japan. Four days touring from Osaka to Fukui, Ishikawa, Toyama and lastly Tokyo on this new route in the Hokuriku (northwestern region) awoke all my senses and love of life again.
The devastating flood in early September of this year caused major damage to Osaka International Airport, so my flight was changed to Narita Tokyo and a domestic flight transit to Itami, a small airport near Osaka. We then took the express train from Osaka Station to Awaraonsen in Fukui.  
I soaked in a relaxing hot water bath in my room at the Awara Onsen Mimatshu Hotel and then fell asleep to the sounds of dripping water that reminded me of a small stream burbling on the rocks. The first night in Awara City, Fukui Prefecture, reinvigorated me after my long trip.
Awara is famous for its many onsen or hot spring spas. The onsen at Awara date back to 1883 when a farmer who was digging for a well accidentally discovered a source of hot mineral water. There are now over 20 hot springs in the area.
The food we had at the Awara Onsen Mimatshu hotel was delicious and served in beautiful, dainty ceramic bowls and cups, one after another. We prepared the beef ourselves at a table grill. Japanese beef has a juicy and sublime taste!
Our tour guide from Fukui was proud of the area’s crabs. “The Ichizen Gani Crab from Fukui is considered fit for the Imperial Family. But unfortunately it is not the season now. Crab season will be from November through March. You must come back”, she said.
The next morning, after another warm-up in the hotel’s onsen, we headed to Tojinbo Cliffs. A grandiose ocean view with high cliffs stretching along to the coastline beckoned me to the edge of the cliff for a better view, but I could only lie down, holding the camera tightly against the very strong wind to take shots of the mighty crashing waves at the foot of the rock pillars.
Those dramatic cliffs tower 20 meters or up to 30 meter over the rough waves of the Sea of Japan. According to Wikipedia,  the cliffs' rocks were originally formed 12 to 13 million years ago due to various volcanic activities.
The legend of the place is touching. There, was a monk named Tojin who stayed in the temple near this area, and he fell in love with a village girl but was thrown off the cliffs by a warrior who also admired her. 49 days after his death, there was a big storm in the sea. Villagers believed that was the monk’s spirit trying to show his anger and they named the cliffs after him to appease him.
Sadly, we didn’t have time to ride the boat in this beautiful sea. Only in winter the waves are too strong; at other seasons of the year the calm sea allows safe boat service.
Leaving the Tojinbo Cliffs, we had lunch in a small restaurant by the wood. Edo is a stylish place with ancient decorative lamps and brilliant white ambience. Our food tray had more than 40 colorful, appealing ingredients. I thought I never had such pure-tasting water in my life.
Painting is also a Zen activity. Our next stop was the Echizen Lacquer Ware  Urushi -no-sato where we were introduced to a lacquer ware-making process and then taught to make our own drawings on mirrors and wooden trays.
The master at the shop encouraged me while I colored my daisy with white and gold. I desired to linger there and continue painting. As I left the class, I stood still in front of the row of lacquer ware flower frames on the walls and couldn’t utter a word.
The flowers’ colors, shades and layers blended perfectly, with such subtle and purity that they seemed to be alive. When at last I found my voice, I could only exclaim ‘How can it be?’ The master said, “I made them.”  I could only bow deeply to the master.
Moving on, we headed to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum. It is recognized as one of the top dinosaur museums in the world, and is the largest of its kind in Japan. The museum is located in Katsuyama City, Fukui Prefecture, the center of dinosaur research in Japan and home to the country's largest and most prolific excavation site, just a few kilometers from the museum.
The Fukui Dinosaur Museum spans four floors. The main floor's large open space houses the museum's principal Dinosaur World exhibition where more than 40 dinosaur skeletons are on display. They include examples of the local Fukui-raptor and Fukui-saurus, which were found nearby, as well as several life-size animatronic dinosaurs, including an incredibly life-like Tyrannosaurus Rex that greets visitors as they enter the exhibition.
My second day was spent in Kanazawa (City of Ishiwara Prefecture).
When we stepped out of the Kanazawa Station, we entered a brilliant space. The enormous beautiful dome above my head and the red Tsuzumi-mon Gate were beyond imagination. I had seen them in photos but the feeling of being there is 1,000 times different.
I often saw traditional red tori gates at the entrance to Japanese shrines, marking the transition into a sacred space. And there the Tsuzumi-mon Gate stood tall and massive in front of a station with the glass dome of the plaza roof rising behind. A mix of modern style and convenience with the vivid message of the ancient tradition is impressive, as is the immense glass dome with solar panels.
The next morning, we went to Nomura Samurai House, a historic home and garden in Nagamachi, a very well-preserved district. Nagamachi was formerly the area where the samurai of Kanazawa lived with their families. According to the tour guide, today the area looks much the same as it did in the Edo era, with canals and cobbled streets that run between earthen tile-topped walls. Nomura Samurai House is one of the main attractions in this district.
We walked in the clean stone streets, with very little traffic save one or two bike riders, but lots of pine trees and bonsai in each house.
The house we visited belonged to the Nomuras, a wealthy samurai family who served the ruling Maeda family from the 16th century until the end of the Edo period in the mid-19th century. At that time, the old social class system came to an end, and many samurai houses were destroyed. The Nomura family also had to sell a lot of their property and this house began to fall into ruin. A wealthy businessman named Kubo Hikobei bought this property in the early 20th century. Today the house is owned by the city and has been beautifully restored.
Inside there are heirloom antiques and artifacts of the past: a suit of armour, beautifully painted fusuma screen doors, elegantly carved ranma transoms. There is an inner garden adorned with stone lanterns, a small waterfall, and a pond stocked with colorful koi fish. Many of the rooms of the house are arranged so that this garden can be viewed from different angles. The view from the second floor tea room is wonderful.
This Nagamachi Samurai district is a must-visit place in Kanazawa. Some minutes’ walk to the bus station from the village and the bustling city with its high rise buildings comes back again.
Our next stop was the gold leaf shop “Sakuda” where we learnt to decorate our own chopsticks with real gold. “Ishikawa is the biggest manufacturer of gold in Japan”, the shop owner told us when he led us from the ground floor where two elderly workers in the shop skillfully counted the delicate gold paper by breathing on it, to the exhibition hall on the second floor with lots of golden items; paintings and sculptural works in gold, many gold paintings priced at over 1 million yen ($8,800) each, and a bathroom with golden walls.
The lesson to apply gold onto chopsticks took about 30 minutes, and I held my breath carefully as only a little breeze can stir and make the super-thin gold paper fly away. For tourists, a lesson is ¥500.
After the gold leaf-crafting experience, we moved on to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa. The Museum is located in the centre of Kanazawa, near Kenroku-en garden and the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art. The collection at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa is focused on works produced since 1980 that "propose new values".
The ongoing exhibition near the entrance leaves a haunting impression. Through glass window, in a vast white hall, I saw two figures in worn-out brown cloth, one lying on the floor as if dead, and the other standing nearby and people walking around to look at them. The pool is a curious exhibit as well. People gather around to look down into the swimming pool. When I came closer , I saw lots of people standing “in the water”, taking photos of each other, moving around and trying to climb to the surface. What meaning can be gleaned from these works? In another room, which is as dark as night there was one vertical tub with tiny coloured lights changing quickly. The work is called “Zen.”
We rested in a vast open room with a large square hole high above. The tour guide said that it is the place to see the sky and enjoy the rain and the snowfall.
I left the Museum with thoughts about those creative works. All provoked strong and contrasting emotion, curiosity and feeling of the great gift of life which is hard to explain.
We then walked to Le Musée de H, Kanazawa on a charming road with towering trees on both sides. Le Musée de H is a confectionary shop where lots of attractive cakes are on display. A tea-making ceremony was performed in front of us; the lady at the shop gently offering us various type of teas for tasting, including a cup of traditional tea with cream on top which was exquisite. A pleasant-looking small soft cake with a touch of gold leaf on the chocolate made it a perfect tea time.
When we left the Confectionary shop for the Kenrokuen garden, it started to rain. We walked in the rain with umbrellas to see the garden, which was created for the Emperor of Japan
Kenrokuen garden is justifiably classified as one of Japan's "three most beautiful landscape gardens”. The spacious grounds used to be the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle and were constructed by the ruling Maeda family over a period of nearly two centuries. It was opened to the public in 1871.
The name Kenrokuen literally means "Garden of the Six Sublimities", referring to spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views, which according to Chinese landscape theory are the six essential attributes that make up a perfect garden.
It was like a museum of trees, with boards telling the history or origin of each plant. A big cherry tree that was moved from the Nagamachi Samurai district to this garden was remarkable, as twenty houses had to be destroyed to make room for transportation of the tree. A giant bonsai pine tree planted from the 16th century, a mountain where the King enjoy watching the moon, areas of valuable mosses carefully protected from birds, and forty thousand lilies planted alongside the waterway are among many stories shared with us by the tour guide as we admired the place.
If there is a chance, I will come back to Kanazawa again and highly recommend you visit this graceful green city replete with treasures new and old. With the Hokuriku Shinkansen, it takes only more than 2 hours to get to Kanazawa from Tokyo.

The trip was supported by GCP


By Le Thanh Hai
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