Shinkansen to Kanazawa
April 7, 2015
Our train for Kanazawa was at 10:30 this morning, so we got up at 7:30am. This gave us enough time to finish packing before leaving our hotel.
Getting to Tokyo Station
At 9am, Jez joined us at our hotel and we wheeled/carried/dragged our bikes to Ryogoku station. We had to go up a long flight of steps to the platform. There was already a train there, but we decided to move further down the platform and wait for the next train, as it was still quite busy.
We managed to board the next train, before travelling one stop and getting off at Kinshicho, where we changed for Tokyo. As usual, this meant changing platform and going up and down steps. Without luggage, it is easy, but with a bike (wrapped in a travelling bag), two panniers and a top box, it’s more of a challenge!
The train to Tokyo was quite busy, but I managed to get on without hitting anyone with my baggage – sumimasen (excuse me) and gomen nasai (I’m sorry) are useful phrases to know!
Navigating at the station
As expected, Tokyo station was very busy. It was a long walk from our platform to the area where Shinkansen depart. We worked out that we needed platforms 20-24, but couldn’t find where they were. I left Stu and Jez with our bags and asked at the information desk where we needed to go. I managed to understand that our train would depart from platform 21 and also the directions to that platform… What a relief that I was paying attention during the lessons where that information was covered!
We carried our luggage to the platform, but there were only small kiosks selling snacks, so Jez and I left Stu, to go in search of lunch.
The station is enormous, and we were unable to see the sandwich shop that we had passed 10 minutes previously, so we went into a bakery. I selected two bottles of water and then looked at the sandwich selection. Tiny sandwiches seem to be popular here. There was a selection pack with about 8 small sandwiches in it, but I chose a bread roll and a small pack of ham for Stuart. I picked up a salad pot with miscellaneous vegetables for me.
There were also some adorable cakes that looked like frogs. As they were green, I was hoping that they were melon cakes again, although there was also the possibility that they might be green tea flavoured.
Jez and I paid for our purchases and hurried back to our platform, getting a little lost on the way.
Japanese efficiency and politeness
We had a few minutes to work out where we needed to stand. Although Germans may pride themselves on their efficiency, they are no match for the Japanese. There are lines on all Japanese platforms indicating where to stand and wait. These lines match exactly with where the doors of the train will open. The lines are also labelled with the carriage number and seat numbers. (For double-decker trains, there are two queues, with an indication of where the line up for upstairs or downstairs). Everyone waits silently in the queue and boarding is an easy process on the whole.
Our train arrived, but we could not board immediately, as the train needed to be cleaned first. This was a simple process that took a few minutes as people usually take their rubbish with them. I was intrigued to see that all of the seats swivel around so that passengers can always face the direction of travel. The staff who had been working on the train all exited from the door nearest us and lined up outside the train, facing the platform. They then bowed as one and marched off. I simply could not imagine this happening in the UK!
Settling in for the train trip
It was then our turn to get on, however, boarding a train with multiple panniers and three bikes is certainly not easy. Behind the final row of seats, there was a large amount of room for luggage. I put my bike there and Jez slid his in next to mine. On the other side of the carriage, someone had already put some cases, so we picked up Stu’s bike and put it on top of mine. There were also luggage racks above the seats, so we put our panniers there.
I was surprised by how spacious the train was. There were two rows of seats on the left-hand side and three rows on the right. Each seat has a fold-down table and access to a plug socket. The seats all recline and there is a huge amount of leg room.
Tea and chat
After we had departed Tokyo, there was a drinks service. Stuart and Jez ordered coffee and I ordered a cup of tea. I was surprised to be given a bottle, but it seems that they do not serve hot tea. I do not love cold green tea, but it was OK.
Jez then got out his list of Japanese phrases. I thought this would be good revision for me. I was pleased to find that I knew most of the phrases. However, I was puzzled by one phrase that Jez had written down. I asked whether his Japanese friend had given him the phrases. Jez explained that Google had provided them for them. The phrase that Jez had written to say that he is unable to speak Japanese translated as a refusal to speak Japanese, which amused me.
Arrival in Kanazawa
After a 21/2 hour ride, we arrived in Kanazawa. We passed through the Japanese Alps on our way here and saw many snow-capped mountains, so we’re not surprised to find it considerably chillier than Tokyo.
The hotel that Stuart and I are staying in is close to the station, so we wheeled our bikes there and checked in, before setting off with Jez to find his guest house. It didn’t take long to locate it, but it was closed until 4:30pm, so we decided to assemble Jez’s bike, lock it to a nearby lamp-post and then walk back to our hotel with his bags so that we could go out exploring.
After a brief stop for me to add more clothing (cycling jacket, buff and my SOAS beanie – never have I been so grateful for a hat!), we headed off towards a garden that Jez had read about.
Exploring in Kanazawa
We soon found that we were at Kanazawa market. Although it was after 2pm, the market was still quite busy. There were many seafood stalls, and there was also fruit and veg for sale. Strawberries are very popular here, but I’m always impressed by the size of the apples – I’m sure Japanese apples are the largest in the world!
Just after the market, we found that we had arrived at Kanazawa Castle. We stopped and posed for some photographs, before entering the castle grounds. We have arrived at exactly the right time for cherry blossom here. Everything looks stunning.
We crashed the wedding (photos)
After having a wander around the castle building, we headed out through a gateway, where we were met with the most spectacular display of blossoms. There were crowds of people around and we also saw a young couple having their wedding photographs taken.
Food from the market
On the other side of the street was the entrance to Kenroku-en Garden. Usually, there is a fee to enter, but during cherry blossom week, it is free for everyone to enjoy. We passed through some market stalls, and Jez decided to try a local delicacy: toffee cherries – like toffee apples, but cherries. Apples and strawberries were also available.
Strolling around Kenroku-en
We really enjoyed our stroll around the gardens, taking far too many photographs and enjoying the sights. Everyone seems to be in a carefree mood, and there were lots of families out.
By the time we had finished looking at everything, I was feeling cold, so we stopped at the market stalls again. I decided to buy some sweet potato fries – however, what I received was not at all what I was expecting. I thought that the potatoes were being dipped in salt, but it was sugar, and they weren’t sweet potatoes, they were yams. Anyway, they tasted good 🙂
We walked back through the castle grounds and through Kanazawa Market to get back to our hotel, where we agreed to meet Jez an hour later. This gave us enough time to organise our panniers and do a bit of work on our bikes. My bike had a flat tyre, so Stuart fixed it whilst I did some organising.
Finding more food
When Jez returned, we had a look at google maps to see where restaurants were located in Kanazawa. We could see that there were several clustered in one area, so we headed down into the underpass to find them.
We walked around and perused the menus, before deciding on a typically Japanese restaurant (the Italian one that sold paella had an English menu, but I wasn’t convinced).
I ordered grilled tofu and some buttered potatoes; Jez ordered salmon and chicken skewers and Stu ordered chicken and some grilled squid. My food arrived first, so I invited the others to try it. I was surprised that Jez had never had tofu before. I forget that only vegetarians in the UK tend to eat it. When the boys’ food arrived, they eat had large plates. Their side dishes arrived after their main meals and they struggled to eat them.
The restaurant soon started filling with groups of Japanese businessmen. I have noticed that the sexes do not tend to mix here. Groups of school girls or boys are often seen, but I’ve not seen any boys and girls in school uniform talking to each other. Likewise, at our last hotel, there were lots of young women in suits, but there were no men with them. Apart from the waitress, I was the only woman in the restaurant!
It seemed like a sports bar. Baseball was on TV and the food was the kind of thing that might be eaten as tapas. The drinks menu only had two soft drinks: cold tea or alcohol-free beer.
Final preparations for tomorrow’s cycling
After our meal, we decided to go in search of a convenience store to buy some snacks for our cycling tomorrow. We headed to the station and picked up some chocolate. Then we popped into Starbucks for a warm drink and cookie before returning to the hotel.
Everyone has been so helpful so far. I feel terribly guilty that I do not speak Japanese very well. I really think I should have made more effort to get out my textbooks and at least revise what I studied before we came here. Fortunately, words are coming back to me. I’m frustrated when I can’t remember the correct constructions or specific pieces of vocabulary. I’ve also limited myself as I don’t have a dictionary.
Have you been on holiday to somewhere that you couldn’t speak the language? Did it bother you?
To read about this from Jez’s point of view (and see some beautiful photos), visit: Long train to Kanazawa – Shinkansen and Sakura