Go to the Japanese West


The west coast port of Kanazawa, the hilltown of Takayama and Nagoya offer a blend of tradition and modernity.

Perched between the Sea of Japan and the Japan Alps, Kanazawa, like Kyoto, avoided the devastation of the Second World War. Buildings bear the patina of time with faded surfaces, smears of rust, and walls bedecked with tangles of wiring.

Kanazawa’s sights are a diverse bunch. The Nagamachi Samurai District is located behind the shops of Korinbo, while across the nearby Saigawa River stands the Myoryuji Temple, famous for its secret passageways. The hilltop sanctuary of Kenruoken, meanwhile, was developed over two centuries from the 1670s. The Higachi district features 19th-century teahouses.

Omicho market is the heart of this gourmet city. Yamasan Sushi (Shimo-Omicho 68) is a 60-year-old institution noted for its buri (yellowtail) and snow crab. Others include Kaisendon-Ya (Jikken-machi 32) and Omicho Shokudo (Aokusa-machi 1). Look for nodoguro (blackthroat sea perch), hotaru-ika (a kind of squid), and shiro-ebi, “white shrimp.”

Takayama’s temples of taste

An older aura infuses Takayama, a couple of hours from Kanazawa. During spring and autumn festivals, ornate floats – displayed in the town’s Float Exhibition Hall – parade its streets as they’ve done since the 16th century. Along its iconic Old Street (Kamisanno machi) are several buzzing sake houses housed in ancient buildings.

Food and drink are as elevated here as in Kanazawa. As well as sansai (mountain vegetables), soba noodles and river fish, the local Hida beef is rated as highly as the acclaimed Wagyu/Kobe.

Above the town, the Hida Folk Village showcases centuries-old Japanese houses. Just down the hillside is the Hida Takayama Museum of Art, a modern shrine to Art Nouveau and Deco glassware and furniture, a gaijin art form. The museum’s café offers an unforgettable view of the surrounding mountain peaks.

Playing games, making cars in Nagoya

Nagoya’s metropolitan buzz provides contrast to Takayama and Kanazawa. Apart from its castle – rebuilt in the 1950s after the original was bombed during the Second World War – Nagoya celebrates modernity, proud of its role as the birthplace of two very different icons of Japan: Toyota and pachinko, an arcade game. While the intricacies of pachinko are likely to remain a mystery to visitors, the history of Toyota proves enlightening at the company’s massive museum.

There is beauty in modernity as well. The glowing neon and hustle of Nagoya’s Sakae shopping district enthrals senses, in a part of Japan whose blend of old and new cries out to be discovered.

Text by Norman Miller

Photo by

Lunch to go in Japan

Japanese lunch boxes, bento, offer an array of choices, from sushi to Chinese food and regional specialties.  Typically meals for train travellers and students, bento are consumed at cherry blossom picnics, receptions and even between acts at kabuki performances. Some are done up to resemble comic book characters.

Another on-the-go meal in Japan is the yatai, literally “cart with roof.” They typically serve oden - pickled eggs and fish cakes– but the classic carts are becoming replaced by modern versions. What they lack in romantic allure, they make up for in selection, serving everything from tacos to waffles. In Tokyo, the yatai are commonly found in front of railway stations at lunchtime.

Japanese festivals are also known for their snack varieties. Attendees sample yakisob a noodles, octopus pancakes, yakitori (“grilled bird”) and tsukune, chicken-burger on a stick. Check here for upcoming festivals.

Text by John Lander

Photo by istockphoto


Published March 30, 2012

Category: Local features