Kanazawa is one of the largest towns on the coast of the Sea of Japan, and is noted for its beautiful gardens and restored castle. The city has a thriving arts and craft scene, as well as a distinct style of local cuisine. Kanazawa is also home to the only traditional geisha houses outside of Kyoto.
Kanazawa – A quick history
The name Kanazawa means “golden marsh” – legend has that peasants digging for potatoes found flakes of gold instead. It has been a major town on the northern Honshu coast since the 1400s, and at one point formed Japans only independent Buddhist state.
The fertile lands around Kanazawa meant that it became one of the richest provinces of Japan, which resulted in a strong arts and cultural scene. During the Meiji period Kanazawa was not developed in to an industrial centre, so the city came out of World War II relatively unscathed. Kanazawa has several well preserved traditional areas, including the only “old style” geisha training houses left in Japan outside of Kyoto.
The train line to Kanazawa is currently being upgraded, with shinkansen trains due to arrive in 2014. Slower intercity trains currently travel directly from Tokyo (around 6 hours), Kyoto and Osaka (around 2.5 hours) and a direct express from Nagano.[mappress mapid=”10″]
Komatsu airport just south of the city is served by domestic flights and some short haul international flights. An express bus to the city takes just under an hour and cost ¥1100.
Long distance buses are also an option; in particular the journey through the Japanese Alps can be very scenic by bus. The bus station is next door to the train station in the north west of the city centre.
Where to stay
There are several business hotels near the train station, which offer good value although can be a little soulless. Staying in the Korinbo district in the city centre gives you good access to the main attractions in Kanazawa while still being a short taxi ride from the station.
There are several ryoken in the Nagamachi and Higashi Chaya areas. These are still within walking distance of the city centre and are a great way to experience the historic culture of Kanazawa – many will offer cultural tours and experiences as well as bed and breakfast.
Must See Kanazawa
Regarded as the best traditional garden in Japan Kenroku-en can be crowded with tourists, so it’s best to visit early or late in the day to fully experience the tranquility of the garden. The garden was originally designed as part of the outer grounds of Kawazana castle and also houses Seison-kaku, a beautifully preserved villa built as a retirement home for the daimyo’s mother. The garden features views over Kanazawa city, sculpted pine trees and the first ever fountain in Japan. There is also a teahouse where matcha tea and Japanese sweets are served.
Across the road from Kenroku-en is the remains of Kanazawa castle. Some of the castle has been rebuilt using traditional methods and there are scale models and exhibits inside describing the process. The castle also has a modern garden in its grounds, which is less busy than Kenroku-en.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
This purpose built museum has several permanent installations as well as a temporary exhibitions. Highlights include Leandro Elrich’s Swimming Pool where visitors can feel like they are at the bottom of a pool, or James Turrell’s Blue Planet Sky observation window.
Situated in the Nagamachi district, the Nomura house is a former samurai house that is now open to the public. As well as offering an insight in to historic Japan, the house has a lovely garden with a carp pond and lush planting. There is also a small teahouse.
It’s fun to just walk around this atmospheric district, and there are several teahouses that are open to the public. Most charge an entry fee as well as the cost of any tea or sweets that you order. This area also has the only traditional geisha training houses outside of Kyoto – check with the tourist office in the railway station for details of geisha performances.
Kanazawa is famed in Japan for its traditional arts and crafts. Visitors can learn more about silk painting, lacquer-ware, local cuisine (known as Kaga) and paper-making amongst others. The tourist office at the railway station has details of exhibitions and craft lessons, or visit the Craft Tourism website.