Yes it does. And I visited one when I was in Kanazawa. Shirakawa-go happens to be just 2 hours away from Kanazawa. The best way to get there is by the Nohi bus. Unfortunately, the bus ticket cannot be booked online :( And if you book it on the spot, there's no guarantee that you'll get a seat. Basically, you take a chance! We intended to visit Shirakawa-go on the 2nd day on our trip. And since they didn't have any seat left, we ended up going on the day we arrived ... actually 1 hour after we arrived. Since our hotel was a short walk away from the station, we managed to drop our bags and reach the bus station (which was right next to the main railway station) just in time.
The road to Shirakawa-go was long but smooth. Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO world heritage site famous for its Gassho-Zukuri houses. Some of these houses are 250 years old. We visited the Ogi-machi Village. Basically, we spent about 4 hours here, which was actually perfect to visit all the important sites and even enjoy a hearty Japanese lunch.
To begin our tour, we had to cross a suspension bridge to get to the village. It kinda freaked me out because .. you know ... "suspension" isn't exactly my favourite word. But there was no other way out. I did manage to flash a silly smile even though the bridge was moving slightly.
Walking through this village was such a humbling experience. All we could see around us were thatched roof houses. It felt as though we stepped back in time. We stopped by little shops selling souvenirs, food and handicrafts.
The first place we hit was the observation point. Mr.D and I were contemplating whether we should actually do this or not. The walk up was breath-taking ... quite literally it took my breath away! It felt like all the food that we'd eaten so far digested. Those slopes were nasty!. Huffing & puffing we finally made our way to the top, and you could say .. it was all worth it. We could see the entire village.
Some of the Gassho-Zukuri houses in this village have been converted into museums and we decided to visit two of them. "Wada House" is the largest of all the Gassho-Zukuri houses
and "Kanda House" offers a good view of the village. We paid 300 Yen each to enter both the houses.
Before heading back to Kanazawa, we had this tasty Japanese beef curry at a restaurant near the Shirakawa-go bus station. After all that walk, this was food for the soul!
When we think of Japan, the first thing that comes to our mind are big cities like Tokyo or Osaka. Smaller cities like Kanazawa do not usually make it to a tourist's itinerary. However, it was a part of ours. We spend 1.5 days here, the other half was a day trip to a picturesque village called Shirakawago (which will be covered in a separate post).
In Kanazawa, we stayed at Hotel MYSTAYS. Japanese hotels are usually small, and this had to be the biggest among everything we stayed in so far. Moreover, it was just a 5 minute walk from the main train station ... which was very convenient. To get to Kanazawa, we used our Japan Rail Pass.
As compared to other cities, Kanazawa was less crowded. Somehow, everything here was associated with gold. The moment we checked into our hotel, the first thing I saw were gold dusted strawberries. I seriously wondered what was next! Kanazawa happens to be Japan's gold capital and their main gold producer. That explains the gold everywhere.
We bought a 1-day pass for the Kanazawa Loop Bus and used it to get around the city. Here are a 7 places you should consider visiting if you're there for 2 days or so.
1) Kenroku-en - One of the three most beautiful landscaped gardens in Japan. We could have easily spent half a day here if we had more time. Instead we just went around seeing as much as we could. Expect plenty of trees, picturesque ponds, pretty flowers and more. Just before leaving, we had a nice little meal in the garden's cafeteria.
2) 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art - We are no "museum" nor "art" lovers, but this had to be done. Some of the exhibits here are really worth seeing ... like this swimming pool for instance. You wouldn't understand how it works unless you visit.
The museum isn't too big and can be easily completed in a hour.
3) Kanazawa Castle - The Kanazawa Castle grounds were one of the few places where we could saw beautiful cherry blossoms in Kanazawa. From the grounds, we just looked up and had a glimpse of Kanawaza castle.
4) Omicho Market - Because we arrived here past 5pm on Day 1 and everything was closed, we woke up early on Day 2 just so we could have breakfast. And boy! what a feast we had! Gold doughnuts, oysters, scallops, sea urchins were just a few things that made it to our stomachs! Besides food, the market also had clothing, footwear, etc. However, we were there just for the food.
5) Higashi-Chaya District - This happens to be one of Kanazawa's main geisha districts. And we were lucky enough to spot three of them. This well-preserved district is filled with tea shops, restaurants and shops selling edible gold in food.
6) Ninja-dera temple - We heard that this temple was unique so we wanted to visit. It requires a pre-booking by phone. We arrived there right in time for a short briefing (in Japanese) followed by a guided tour. The tour is in Japanese, however, you are given an English booklet for better understanding. You'll find unexpected things at each corner of the temple. That's what makes it different! Its mandatory to go with a guide and you are NOT allowed to take photos inside.
7) Nagamachi District ( A Visit to a Samurai's Home ) - Not much to see here except for a couple of traditional houses. Its a nice walk through the narrow lanes. Nagamachi also happens to be the area where samurais lived ... once upon a time. We visited a Samurai house.
While in Kyoto, we managed to spare a few hours to visit a small city called Nara. Nara is the oldest capital of Japan and a hidden gem that's an hour away from Kyoto. With our Japan Rail Pass, we were able to board any train to Nara. Just like Kyoto, Nara is home to a number of temples. Its upto you to decide how much time you want to spend there and what places you'd like to visit.
We managed to go around Nara by ourselves. We brought a day pass for 500 Yen at the main train station which is basically a hop on-hop off kinda thing. It follows a certain route and thankfully the two places that we intended to visit were along that route. If you plan on visiting many places, this is your best option rather than paying for each stop.
Our first stop was - Horyuji Temple (this wasn't on our agenda by the way!). Its just that the deer outside the temple kinda tempted me to get off. Before heading to the temple we had to pass through a park where 100's of deer were roaming about. After Miyajima, this was the next place to be filled with deer. They were after our bags, maps ... basically anything.
Nara is very memorable to me because I had a "bad experience gone good" here ... which I shall discuss later. The Horyuju Temple grounds have a couple of buildings located within their premises, the prominent one being the five storey pagoda and the House of Visions. Some of the structures here are said to date back to the 6th century. It is also one of Japan's oldest temples and considered a World Heritage Site. Before leaving, I decided to pop into a little temple to have a closer look inside.
Our next stop was Todaiji Temple, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This temple is home to the Great Buddha. Its pretty much a long walk to reach the statue and you would come across more deer on your way. Not to forget little shops that sell amazing food like this strawberry mochi which I so happily devoured!
MY LOST & FOUND BAG STORY !!! :O
As I walked along with my mochi, I noticed that my handbag was missing! My bag will all the cash, credit cards (thankfully Mr. D offered to carry the passports that day). In all the panic, we began retracing our path trying to figure our where my handbag could be. We looked at our recent pictures & noticed that I didn't have the bag with me. Then, it hit me ... I left it the the previous temple. What followed was utter chaos - a marathon to the taxi stand and a big fat taxi fare for barely a 2 minute ride. Once we reached Horyuji Temple, we rushed to that spot where we thought it was and noticed that my bag still wasn't there. Just when we thought that the sky was falling down on us, we looked to the right and saw one of the temple caretakers carefully fold a grey bag and keep it aside. I don't know how many times I thanked the gentleman! Everything in my bag was intact - the 900 Dollars, credit cards ... it was all still there. Yes, genuine people still do exist! With a sigh of relief, we headed back to Todaiji Temple again.
TODAIJI TEMPLE Continued ...
We walked all along until we reached an ancient wooden gate from where we saw this wooden building. Inside the building, was a larger than life size copper-bronze statue of Great Buddha and a couple of other statues beside him. It was beautiful & definitely worth the long walk.
Once again, we hopped onto the bus and made our way to the final attraction in Nara. Kasuga Shrine also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a Shinto Shrine famous for its stone and bronze lanterns. There's a long walkway in the middle of a beautiful forest leading upto the shrine with plenty of photo opportunities. There are also a couple of Torii gates and vermilion structures along the way.
After spending 4 hours in Nara, we were on our way back to Kyoto!
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