Saturday, September 17, 2016

Kanazawa City : Marsh of Gold

Before moving to Japan I can’t pretend I knew that much about it. I may have known more than a typical American, but aside from a few cities and customs, I was a novice. When I was given my placement in the prefecture of Ishikawa I had a difficult time explaining its location to anyone. Then, when I was given my more specific city placement of Kanazawa, the capitol of the prefecture of , I didn’t have much more of a picture painted of my future location. Though, quickly I began to learn more and more about the location that would be my home.  Allow me to share a bit about my city for you. 

I quickly became pleased with my assigned location because I was to be situated in the central part of Japan’s main island of Honshu. I have been told I would be experiencing somewhat of a mild climate, with four distinct seasons and never to experience too much of an extreme in one way or the other. Though I have already experienced near 90 degree temperatures with high humidity and a few rainy days, the weather has not presented too much of an issue. Alas, I write this post only a few weeks into my stay in Kanazawa so I have much to learn and experience. I am told I can expect near freezing temperatures, but never below, in the wintertime. I may witness heavy, wet snow on occasion. The degree of heat and humidity I have felt in the tail end of summer is mild compared to what it can be in the middle summer months. I will just take the climate as it comes at me and work with it, knowing there is nothing I can do to change it. 

Before moving to Japan, I began getting somewhat nervous about earthquakes. Japan, located in the so-called “Pacific Ring of Fire” is on the edge of several continental and oceanic tectonic plates.  The same plates are responsible for causing earthquakes in New Zealand and along the west coasts of North and South America. Japan’s specific location causes frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity resulting in hot springs that people enjoy. All that being said, I am told my location is one that is quite safe from earthquakes. Japan, also being an island nation, is easily susceptible to other natural disasters such as tsunamis. The location of my city, though technically on the Sea of Japan, is far enough inland to be protected from this. I was having a discussion with a colleague, telling her that I enjoyed an upbringing in a state that was quite safe from natural disasters. Her description of Kanazawa, when it came to natural disaster possibility, made it sound like a safe place to be. Structures in Japan are built to resist quakes, and though not everything can always be saved I have large reason to believe I am safe where I am. 

Kanazawa has a rough population of 460,000 people, which makes it a close comparison to Colorado Springs, Colorado. Having spent time in Colorado Springs, I also feel that the city resembles it in many ways. In Kanazawa there are hills and valleys that at times, give you wide views of the city as a whole. Growing up in flat Jackson, Michigan, I always felt like I could never see much more of the town than where I was standing at any given time. I also think it has a similar feel to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Walking around I see several expensive hair salons, French bakeries, specialty sweet shops, and restaurants with international cuisine. I read that Kanazawa has more restaurants per capita than Washington D.C. Many people here in Kanazawa describe this as a small city. I can’t say I agree with their perspective because having been raised in a city of about 35,000, this is my idea of big city living! This being the case I am treated to big city amenities such as high fashion, a variety of cuisines, modern and cultural amenities. Though I won’t always make use of such amenities, it’s nice to know they are here. 

There are many universities here, as well as many elementary, middle, and high schools. Crime is low in general in Japan and thus far I’ve observed Kanazawa to be no different. Petty theft is low and gun violence is almost not existent. I have received ZERO unwanted attention from anyone. I can take all the leisurely walks I want without being stared at or called out to. At any given time I see numerous of people out jogging, walking, or enjoying other outdoor exercises. There are many gyms, tracks, and public swimming pools in town. Drivers seem quite careful and drive well maintained cars. They respect the right of way of pedestrians and cyclists. Though there are not many bike lanes, there are many cyclists attempting to share the road and sidewalk.  City buses and taxis are plentiful, through there is no subway system. The majority of residents get around by car because the city is so large. Though it is large, I can get by just fine without having to own a car, which makes me happy. It’s nice not to add the additional difficulty of navigating streets on the other side of the road and passing signs I cannot read. Not to mention having to take on the additional expense of a used car and insurance. I am able to get by because my workplace is only a 10 minute walk and all other necessities (grocery, convenience store, home goods store) are within walking distance. 
 So far, I haven’t gone more than three miles from home on bike, but it doesn’t seem too difficult to travel around by bike. Kanazawa has a few large main roads, which I have become familiar with, and many small, short, winding side streets branching off. I am having a large amount of difficulty orientating myself in my surroundings. I consider myself decent at reading maps, but using Google maps on my phone is proving hard to translate a digital image to the real life road in front of me. I usually navigate well by remembering street names and landmarks. Problem is, I can’t read anything and most streets don’t even have names. As far as landmarks, I can’t remember words associated with them because I can’t read the names of establishments. Instead, I remember landmarks based on colors, shapes, or pictures. 
This city is quickly becoming a foreign and domestic tourist destination. It is Japan’s second largest city, next to Kyoto, to have been spared destruction during World War II. Much of its historical gems have been preserved. It has not only historical landmarks but modern hot spots, such as the famous 21st Century Art Museum. It is home to Kenrouken Garden, one of the three most famous gardens in Japan. In 2015, the Hokuriku Bullet Train line was created to provide service to Kanazawa for the first time. Though pricey, it makes Kanazawa easily accessible from Tokyo in 2.5 hours. 

I find this city to be a wonderful blend of modern and traditional culture and architecture. I can easily walk around seeing 21st century style buildings alongside traditional Japanese structures. Nature is weaved in between the man-made buildings  that run the city. Being one that needs green space and natural life, I haven’t felt a longing for these things because native trees and small parks are peppered around in almost any direction you look. The image I hope to evoke is one that shows that this city feels very much like a typical American mid-sized city.I feel like I am in the United States, but I can’t read or understand anything, leading me to feel at times like I’ve been transported to an alternate universe. Twilight Zone anyone?