Circling Japan - Summer 2014 travel blog

feeling welcome

proud artisans

port welcome

gold leaf

gold leaf lotion

gold leaf soup

decorative packaging

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Movie Clips - Playback Requirements - Problems?

(MOV - 1.26 MB)

the chef makes wagashi

(MOV - 1.53 MB)

port farewell

(MOV - 2.47 MB)

port farewell

(MOV - 1.52 MB)

classical music


Since we left Yokohama, we’re sailed north around the eastern side of Honshu Island past Fukujima the power plant devastated in the 2011 tsunami. Then we rounded the top of the island, turned south and came down the Sea of Japan side of Honshu. Throughout this entire sail we endured cool temperatures and steady rain. When we got to Kanazawa we planned to visit the Japanese Alps and take a photogenic road through the “Great Walls of Snow.” This area gets so much snow every year, the walls of snow can be thirty feet high well into the summer along side the plowed road. But someone pointed out to us that we see more than enough piles of plowed snow at home every winter. And the weather forecast indicated that the weather would improve sometime today, but it wasn’t clear when. We’ve already had one mountain tour into the clouds and didn’t want to risk another. So we signed up for a totally different sort of tour and had a wonderful time using our creativity.

At one time placer gold was discovered in the Kanazawa area and this lead to the development of the the craft of applying gold leaf to decorate objects. Although the gold no longer comes from here, 98% of the leaf used by Japanese artisans is produced here. Since gold is too soft to handle by itself, it is combined with silver and copper into an alloy. It is wound around thread to make the gold strands that are woven into fancy kimonos. Edible gold leaf is put in lotions and creams and served with local dishes. We went to a studio where we were given lacquer plates and taught how to apply our own gold leaf designs, first with tape and then glueing on the gold leaf. It is so thin, you can almost read through it and it was slow going to handle the delicate foil. The shop had three teachers who circulated around saving us from ourselves, while the tour guide translated the lesson. We ended up with plates that we would not be embarrassed to put on the coffee table.

Then we headed to the wagashi lesson. Wagashi is a decorative sweet made of bean paste. The chef gave us colored portions of the paste and demonstrated how to end up with the three wasgashi patterned after flowers that he made in front of us. The paste was fairly easy to handle, but we ended up with flowers, unlike any Japan had ever seen. We’ll take them to dinner tonight to share with our table mates before they spoil, since you are supposed to eat them the same day you make them.

Between the two lessons we had time to wander around town. We saw Kanazawa Castle, which is being rebuilt. Japanese castles do not impress the way the castles of Europe do, but in the sunshine everything looked better.

Just below our balcony the locals gathered to put on a farewell show that rivaled the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. Dance troops like the ones we saw in Sapporo boogied energetically. A band of stringed instruments accompanied shrieking classical singers. Performers drummed and danced, continuing to perform as we pulled away from the dock. We couldn't stop waving good by, because the people onshore waved and waved and waved. What a country!

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