Most Americans probably think of Japanese food as sushi, ramen, and chicken teriyaki. But of course, in actual Japan, there is a lot more to it. The small restaurants and street food stands serve various kinds of brothy noodle soups and mysterious pickled vegetables, breaded pork chops and barbecued meat skewers. Sweet and savory stuffed buns and dumplings, and bento boxes full of a dozen things most Americans, including me, probably could not identify.
History matters and the Japanese City of Kanazawa has been lucky that way. The city’s good fortune began before it was a city when a farmer found flecks of gold in Kanazawa’s water as he was digging for potatoes. Things went uphill from there. The powerful Maeda family moved in during the 17th century and, for 300 years, invested in the arts, infrastructure, and education, creating a thriving, beautiful city. Also lucky — in the 20th century, Kanazawa was spared the devastation of WW II.
The result of all that good history is a wealthy, modern city with a focus on the arts, parks, historic neighborhoods and local foods.
I loved my first visit to Kyoto, which was before the city’s famous Nishiki Market replaced artistic displays of incredible foods and high-end craft shops with plastic-wrapped produce and cheesy souvenir stands. It was before convenience stores were on every street corner, even in the city’s most historic neighborhoods. There were not so many tourists that you felt like a dumb tourist. https://kimmie53.com/2015/02/22/less-is-more-and-more-is-more/#more-3387. My first visit wasn’t in 1970. It was four years ago.
The Japanese island of Shikoku is well-traveled — but not by tourists. For more than 1200 years, thousands of pilgrims every year have walked the “Henro,” 800 miles to 88 of the island’s temples. Today, about 200,000 pilgrims visit the temples every year, sometimes walking, sometimes in cars or using public transportation. The Henro and many of the 88 temples are believed to have been founded by a monk named Kukai, who is a hero to the people of Shikoku.
I have always wondered why women spend so much time in the stalls of public bathrooms. What are they doing in there that takes so long? I am a woman and I don’t understand it! No wonder we suffer through long lines in public places! But now, Japan has provided an easy explanation for why women spend so much time in bathrooms. Now, even men’s bathrooms can have long lines.
Sometimes, all the travel planning in the world leads to surprises. For example, when I planned our Japan itinerary, I thought Tokushima on the island of Shokoku was going to be a small town and our accommodation there would in a small wooded village. Wrong.
In the late 20th century, a handful of people initiated an effort to revitalize the communities on the islands of Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, whose populations were shrinking as young people left for jobs and cities. The project — to make the islands centers of modern art — took off and paid off. Today, several of the islands have innovative art museums and year-round art installations that annually draw a million tourists. Every three years, a dozen of them host the Setouchi Triennale, a festival exhibiting the work of artists from all over the world. It’s happening now and continues for most of 2019….
We are spending a few days in the industrial city of Kurashiki to enjoy its non-industrial, historic, perfectly preserved village of Bikan. Bikan has been called “the Venice of Japan” (as if Japan needs Italy as a reference!) and “Japan’s most beautiful village.” It was once a merchant’s quarter in the Edo period, generally the 17th century. Its location on the road between western Japan and Tokyo (then called Edo) made it an essential asset in Japan’s national economy — so the Shogun himself managed it.