Into the Garden
We were lucky.
We didn’t have to go into the office today. We could do as we pleased.
We still found ourselves in the morning rush, catching the Yamanote line train to Tokyo station though. It was crowded, very crowded indeed, but we all worked together and no-one messed up the system. Not even us amateurs!
Yes, of course we arrived in oodles of time for our train and could go off in search of the rubber stamp station. As I did a practice version and then the real thing, a small group of Japanese friends noticed what I was doing and thought they too would like a souvenir. Unable to explain to them that the papers to stamp on were available across the way at the ticket counter, my Hero simply went over and brought them a handful. There followed much bowing, many thank yous and arigatos and finally, the gift to us of a pack of “Japanese Candy for you - please take”.
We were heading for Kanazawa today, in broadly the same direction as yesterday but a little further and this journey would be by Shinkansen train - superfast. These trains leave from a different part of the station so we made our way over there and decided to wait on the platform so we could see what’s what.
Wow. Every time we come here the trains become sleeker and more outrageous!
The newspaper stand on the platform was selling plenty of souvenirs any small boy would give his eye teeth for. I was tempted by some Shinkansen pencils until I realised I’d be sharpening the train away and therefore probably wouldn’t use them!
So we stood and watched the little ritual on the next platform as the cleaning staff stood in line and bowed to the departing train, turning as the last carriage passed them by to wave farewell.
Our train was just arriving - sadly not one of those turquoise beasts but a rather more sedate blue and white version instead. Shame!
The cleaners jumped on and polished every surface in five or six minutes before we were allowed to take our very comfortable seats for the two and a half hour journey across the country to Kanazawa.
I had brought my knitting!
We had read that the station in Kanazawa was spectacular, themed on the shape of an umbrella since the west-coast city is one of the wettest places in the country.
We were keen to get straight on one of the loop buses to the Kenrokuen Garden, our destination for the day and so left any looking around for later.
No sooner had we sat down than we were off, leaving me thinking about one mystery. Why was there a brand new shovel in a purpose built holder behind my Hero’s seat?
As we reached the entrance it was just starting to rain. Hmmm. Good job we’d brought jackets and two corner shop umbrellas!
I can’t begin to tell you how magical this place is. It being a wet Wednesday might have helped, for there were few people here at what is regarded as one of the treasures of Japanese gardens. The Spring greens were remarkable and we were happy to potter around - or rather, stroll, as we were intended to do in this, the classic strolling garden.
My hero, the authority on such things - or rather, the one with the guide book - explained that there are the six attributes of the perfect landscaped garden:
spaciousness :: seclusion :: artifice :: antiquity :: watercourses :: panorama
There was no mention of a neatly wrapped and tied stone in the middle of a bridge but we appreciated it all the same.
Actually, we loved the whole place and couldn’t single out any favourite spot.
If, like us, you’d watched Monty Don’s series on Japanese Gardens at Christmastime, then these chaps picking out stray grasses one by one would be familiar to you.
As would this most elderly of old trees, propped up by twenty or more sturdy supports, each artfully tied in Japanese style.
Here was an old tea house - or was it for watching the moon? - which we read later is the oldest building in the garden.
And here, just across the way, was a spring-fed fountain, the first of its kind in Japan, we read.
The rain having stopped, a few more people were arriving, including these two young women, beautifully - if somewhat impractically - dressed for their garden visit.
We enjoyed a break under the canopy of the souvenir stand/vending machine cafe and chatted about returning to the station. Did I have time to ask about a rubber stamp? Of course… As we passed the small information kiosk I retrieved my notebook and pointed to the stamp from the station this morning, The young woman nodded excitedly, “Hai!” (yes!) and fished out a small basket from under her counter.
Domo arigato gozaimasu!! (thank you so very much!)
Time to say goodbye to the garden then - with a hope to return in a different season perhaps - and to catch the loop bus back to the station.
Aaah yes, the spectacular station!
The gateway is amazing - wooden, with “traditional” structure to it, there is a real feeling of weight and solidity. Quite a landmark.
We’d hardly stepped inside when my hero announced that “It’s over there”. (You know what he’s talking about, don’t you?)
Sure enough, a small trolley was there with all the stuff…
A great souvenir; the stamp itself depicted the garden, the sheet had pictures of the station arch, the shinkansen train and - that little character. Who might he be?
The answer was across in the Information office where each clerk had a temari ball and a figure of Hyakuman sitting under an umbrella by their desk. Cute!
Of course, we were on the platform well before our 5.07pm departure, in time to see the driver awaiting the arrival of his train which he greeted with a bow. The service staff were on hand too. These little rituals must go on all day every day in stations throughout the country. Amazing.
Our journey back was swift as the outbound one, with fast wifi to keep us entertained, my knitting of course and the distraction of the passing scenery.
It was a rather more weary pair who made their way to the Yamanote line train this evening then, arriving back at the hotel dishevelled and a bit damp around the edges.
But what a day we had!