You will be arriving at the gate of this city, Kanazawa station, which has been listed as one of the “World’s Most Beautiful Train Stations” by American travel magazine Travel + Leisure.
Introduction of Kanazawa – Why you should include Kanazawa to your Japan tour?
You might be thinking of traveling to Japan, or you have already decided, then you might be considering which city to visit in Japan. If you seek for a historical and cultural place, you cannot miss Kanazawa. You will find the real Japanese culture is well preserved and still alive here. Compared to Kyoto, Kanazawa is tranquil and less touristic.
Hearing the name of this city, many Japanese people imagine its historical and beautiful atmosphere and great cuisine. And that’s true. Why? Let’s go on!
- Introduction of Kanazawa
- What to see and where to visit in Kanazawa?
- Where to reach/go on from Kanazawa?
- Access from/to Tokyo and Kyoto
Introduction of Kanazawa
History and Culture
When talking about culture of Kanazawa, we cannot skip the history of Kanazawa, particularly Edo period (1603-1868). Kanazawa, the capital city of Ishikawa prefecture was previously the capital of Kaga clan, which was the biggest and richest clan through Edo period.
Tokugawa Shogunate had been carefully watching whether Kaga clan would resist and defeat them. They could have blame and crush Kaga clan for any reason anytime. Therefore, the feudal lords of generations encouraged and invested traditional crafts, arts, and culture such as Noh, tea ceremony, instead of military, in order to show that Kaga clan have no political ambition to compete Tokugawa Shogunate.
Ishikawa Gate of Kanazawa Castle, reconstructed in 1788, (C) Kanazawa city
You might have seen a photo of shining Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto. 99% of domestic gold leaf is produced in Kanazawa. Good lacquer wares are made in Wajima and Yamanaka in Ishikawa prefecture. Kaga Yuzen kimono and Kutani pottery ware of Ishikawa are also national traditional crafts. In Ishikawa, you can find many kinds of traditional crafts at shops, restaurants, and museums.
1. Kutani pottery ware
2. Lacquer ware decorated with gold leaf
3. Kaga Yuzen Kimono
1.(C)Ishikawa Prefectural Tourism League
Kanazawa’s great cuisine attracts people from all over Japan, especially fresh fish. If you like sushi or sashimi, Kanazawa is the great place to experience top quality of fish in Japan. Ishikawa prefecture has both sea and mountain only 30-minute drive away, so the fresh ingredients are always available. Local people appreciate great dishes and admire good chefs.
(C) Ishikawa Prefectural Tourism League
City and Nature
Central area of Kanazawa is located between two rivers, and only 3 kilometers square. Just beside the downtown, you will see the great view of Saigawa River and mountains. The heart of the city has a large green area of Kanazawa Castle Park, Kenrokuen Garden and others.
Fortunately, Kanazawa has not experienced any big natural disaster nor war in history, so the same shape of town has been kept as an old map hundreds of years ago.
In Kanazawa, you will find the great harmony of “city and nature” and “tradition and modernity”.
Bird’s eye view of Kanazawa drawn by YOSHIDA Hatsusaburo in 1932
What to see and where to visit in Kanazawa?
As the central area is compact, you can walk around on foot or take a loop bus or bike. Let’s go through the highlights.
Kenrokuen Garden and Kanazawa Castle Park
Kenrokuen Garden, known as top 3 Japanese garden, was the private garden of the federal lords of Kaga clan. The large garden is beautifully maintained and shows seasonal scenery: cherry blossoms in spring, fresh green in summer, colored leaves in autumn, and white snow and artistic triangle shape of ropes in winter.
Kenrokuen Garden in November, (C) Kanazawa city
Kenrokuen Garden Official site
The most part of Kanazawa Castle itself was burned down by fire in 1759, but Ishikawa Gate, reformed in 1788 keeps its shapes as of today. You can visit the large castle park and several restored buildings.
Restored Nezumitamon Gate and Bridge of Kanazawa Castle, (C) Kanazawa city
Kanazawa Castle Park Official site
Kanazawa citizens are proud of good museums and culture. Here, I will pick up three top museums that offer unique experience.
21st Century Museum could be the main reason to visit Kanazawa for some travelers. Its unique modern architecture and contemporary art exhibitions collected 2.58 million visitors in 2018.
National Craft Museum was moved from Tokyo and newly opened in Kanazawa in October 2020. You will find beautiful Japanese and world crafts in the reformed historical building.
D.T. Suzuki Museum is a peaceful place surrounded by nature to experience Zen philosophy.
Please check the below article about recommended museums in Kanazawa.
There are three preserved geisha districts. Higashi-chaya gai, the biggest town, and Kazue-machi are spread out along Asanogawa River. You can enjoy strolling on the beautiful old streets, and visiting cafes and galleries. I would recommend to visit the old geisha house, Shima, a national important cultural property in Higashi-chaya gai.
Across Saigawa River is the other small geisha district, Nishi-chaya gai. Ninja Temple nearby is an also popular place to visit.
You might hear the sound of shamisen (Japanese guitar) practice by geisha or see them walking in the evening. If you are interested, there are chances to see their performance at traditional geisha house or at musical hall.
Higashi-cyaya gai, (C)Kanazawa city
Kanazawa castle town was developed systematically in Edo period, and 80% of the area was samurai districts and temple districts to protect the castle.
In the preserved samurai district, Nagamachi, you will walk on stone-paved streets while seeing walls of samurai houses. Among them, my recommendation is Nomura House, which features traditional Japanese architecture and so beautiful garden with pond.
If you will walk this area in the evening, you would feel as if you were walking in the silent samurai district 300 years ago.
This lively market features fresh fish and seafood, but of course you will see other vegetables and fruits. Open from morning to midafternoon, and there are also restaurants on the 2nd floor and the basement floor. You can enjoy local food or also bring back fresh ingredients to cook at our guest kitchen.
Snow crab is winter specialty.
(C)Ishikawa Prefectural Tourism League
Where to reach/go on from Kanazawa?
Shirakawa-go and Takayama
Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, registered as World Heritage, are rural villages that feature old farmers’ houses in deep mountain covered by snow in winter. You can get to Shirakawa-go by frequent highway buses in 75 minutes. It takes another 50 minutes to reach Takayama city, which has beautiful old town.
K’s House has two sister branch hostels in Takayama.
Shirakawa-go (C) K’s House
Old town of Takayama city,
(C)Hida Takayama Tourist Information
If you travel by rental car especially in autumn, I would recommend driving from Kanazawa through Hakusan Shirakawago White Road to reach Shirakawa-go and then Takayama. On the way, you can enjoy gorgeous colored autumn leaves of Hakusan National Park.
Hakusan Shirakawago White Road
(C)Ishikawa Prefectural Tourism League
Hakusan Shirakawago White Road
Yamanaka Onsen Town
Ishikawa prefecture is also known for the two famous hot springs: Wakura Onsen and Kaga Onsen. I would recommend Yamanaka Onsen town in Kaga Onsen, where you can enjoy not only hot spring but also onsen town streets and beautiful promenade along river in the mountain. Yamanaka Onsen is one-hour drive away, and you can make a one-day trip by direct bus or JR train plus local bus.
Promenade by Kakusenkei Gorge (C) K’s House
Yamanaka Onsen Official site
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route (from mid-April to November)
It is spectacular mountain sightseeing route within National Park from Toyama prefecture to Nagano prefecture. You will enjoy the great seasonal mountain views through 37km route (maximum height difference 1,975m) by transferring different transportation such as buses, cable car and ropeway.
20 meters-high of Snow Wall is amazing scenery only between middle of April to middle of June. Mt.Tateyama, one of the three holy mountains in Japan, is on the route. You can reach by public transportations up to 2,450m, and it takes 2 hours climbing to the Oyama peak (3,003m).
the below 3 photos (C)Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Murodo, at 2450m, where you start to climb Mt.Tateyama
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route Official site
Access from/to Tokyo and Kyoto
It is easy to get to Kanazawa from the major cities. From Tokyo, it takes 2.5 hours by Shinkansen and from Kyoto it takes less than 2.5 hours by limited express, which are both covered by JR Pass. Highway buses are also available for budgetary traveler.
Hopefully, you are now interested in Kanazawa. Please come and discover the historical and cultural gem in Japan. We look forward to welcoming you at K’s House Kanazawa someday in the future!