Hello fellow travellers, I hope all is well with you, and that you have been to some wonderful places. This post is about my adventures in Kanazawa, the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture, located in central Honshu region between the Sea of Japan and the Northern Japanese Alps. I have to admit that before deciding to visit in February, I had never heard of this city, which apparently is becoming more and more popular, thanks to the Shinkansen (bullet train) you can now take from some of the major cities in Japan. Kanazawa is well known for Kenroku-en, an old private garden which is one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. The garden is a real gem, and although I didn’t go during the cherry blossom season, it looked beautiful covered in snow.
I travelled to Kanazawa from Osaka, and I used the Japan Rail Pass which also included my trip from Tokyo to Osaka. The Thunderbird Limited Express departs frequently every day from Osaka Station, and also stops at Shin-Osaka Station on the way. The ride takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes; the train is really comfortable, and you get to enjoy beautiful scenery during your trip. For more info on the Japan Rail Pass, see my previous post about Osaka under the “Useful Tips” section. Once you arrive, make sure you take a picture of the Tsuzumi Gate, an eye-catching arch you will find right in front of the station. I prefer it at night, but it looks nice during the day as well. We stayed at the Kanazawa Hakuchoro Hotel Sanraku, a really nice 4-star hotel about 10-15 minutes’ drive from the train station, and close to most of the attractions. The hotel staff were nice and helpful, and our room was really nice and big. We literally never used the public transportation, as everything was at walking distance, apart from one time when we took a taxi to the restaurant because it had started to rain.
According to a Chinese landscape theory, a garden is classified as perfect if characterized by six essential attributes: spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views. Having all of the six attributes, Kenroku-en is justifiably classified as one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. The grounds used to be part of the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle, and were constructed by the Maeda family. Kenroku-en is simply beautiful, I really enjoyed strolling around and seeing its cute bridges, a waterfall, tea houses, ponds, a plum grove and beautiful trees all covered in snow. I particularly fell in love with Hisago-ike, one of the two main ponds, which has a small waterfall, the Midori-taki, and a cute tea house, the Yugao-tei, built in 1774. I think we spent quite some time taking in the gorgeous view, and we also came back before leaving the garden. Kasumiga-ike, the other pond, is also really nice, and it’s where you can see the Kotoji-toro Lantern, which is over two metres tall. Not far from there is the Meiji Monument, a large bronze statue of Prince Yamato Takeru No Mikoto. If you want to relax while viewing the garden from above, there are two small hills you can climb. We went up Yamazaki yama, just a few minutes’ walk away from Kasumiga-ike. There is a little shelter and a bench, so we sat there for a bit and rested while enjoying the view of the garden. If you plan on visiting Kenroku-en, bear in mind that you will need to spend at least a couple of hours there if you don’t want to rush it. It must be gorgeous during the spring and in autumn, when all the leaves turn red and orange, but you can really visit it at any time of the year, as each season has its beauty. We walked to the garden from Kanazawa Castle Park, but there is also an entrance across the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.
Address: 1-1 Marunouchi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa.
How to get there: You can take the Kanazawa Loop Bus (Stops: LL9 and RL8), or the Kenroku-en Shuttle Bus (Stop: S8). The Hokutetsu buses from Kanazawa Station (East exit bus stop number 3) take around 15 to 18 minutes to get to the garden and the ride will cost you 200 Yen each way. The closest bus stop is Kenroku-en-shita, which is a few minutes’ walk from the garden. There are also JR buses from Kanazawa station, which are covered by the Japan Rail Pass, but are less frequent, or, alternatively, you can get a taxi.
Regular Opening Hours: 7am-6pm March 1-October 15; 8am-5pm October 16-end of February (Open all year round).
Admission fee: 310 Yen (about 2.50 Euros).
For the official website click here
For general info on the cultural sites around Kenroku-en click here
After spending almost three hours at Kenroku-en, we made our way towards Kanazawa Castle, which is just a few minutes’ walk away from the garden. The castle used to be the seat of the Maeda clan, lords of Kaga, from 1583 to the end of the Edo period, and was surrounded by moats at the time. It was also used as a base of the Japanese army, and later, as a campus for Kanazawa University. It burnt down and was reconstructed several times over the centuries. The first buildings to be reconstructed were the turrets Hishi and Tsuzuki Yagura, and Gojukken Nagaya, the storehouse that connects the two turrets. Kanazawa Castle’s grounds can be accessed free of charge, as well as the upper floor of the castle’s former main entrance gate, the Kahoku-mon Gate, which contains some displays about the gate’s history and construction. While strolling around Kanazawa Castle Park, check out the Hashizume-mon Gate and the Gyokusen-inmaru, a pretty garden which features a central pond and a circular walking path.
Address: Marunouchi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa.
How to get there: The easiest way to access the castle grounds is through the Ishikawa-mon Gate, which is a few metres away from the main entrance of Kenroku-en. You can take the Kanazawa Loop Bus (Stops: LL9 and RL8), or the Kenroku-en Shuttle Bus (Stop: S8). The Hokutetsu buses from Kanazawa Station (East exit bus stop number 3) take around 15 to 18 minutes to get to the garden and the ride will cost you 200 Yen each way. The closest bus stop is Kenroku-en-shita, which is a few minutes’ walk from the garden. There are also JR buses from Kanazawa station, which are covered by the Japan Rail Pass, but are less frequent, or, alternatively, you can get a taxi.
Opening hours and admission fee:
Castle Park: 7:00 to 18:00 (March 1 to October 15); 8:00 to 17:00 (October 16 through February). Open all year round; admission is free.
Gojukken Nagaya Storehouse and Turrets: 9:00 to 16:30 (entry until 16:00). Open all year round; admission is 310 Yen (about 2.50 Euros).
For the official website click here
Since I have always been fascinated by samurai, there was no doubt Nagamachi would be my favourite district in Kanazawa. Nagamachi is where top and middle-class samurai and their families used to live, and the beautifully preserved historic area still holds the magical atmosphere of its long and rich history, thanks to the remaining samurai residences, its narrow lanes, canals and beautiful entrance gates. If you visit the area, make sure you don’t miss Nomura-ke, where the Nomura clan used to live at the end of the 16th century, before it was bought by a rich industrialist when the feudal system collapsed at the end of the 19th century, and samurai privileges were also abolished. The house is magnificent, elegant, and it is a really good example of the lifestyle of samurai during the Edo period. My favourite part of the house is the gorgeous garden, which is apparently ranked as one of the most beautiful sites in Japan. It is not so big, but it is so peaceful and relaxing that we ended up spending longer than we thought there, just because we wanted to sit down and enjoy the beautiful view of the garden, which features a waterfall, a small pond with carps, a bridge and lanterns. On the upper floor, there is a tearoom where you can experience the tea ceremony. Once in the area, I recommend you also pay a visit to Murakami, a really nice Japanese sweets (wagashi) shop where you can also buy the delicious fukusa mochi, which is a crêpe filled with red bean paste and pound rice.
Addresses and opening hours:
Nomura-ke: 1-3-32 Nagamachi – Open from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm (until 4:30 from October to March).
Murakami: 2-3-32 Nagamachi – Open from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.
Closest bus station: Korinbo (5 minutes’ walk away) – the bus from Kanazawa station takes about 10 minutes (East exit bust stops 7 to 11). You can also take JR buses 1-3 (from stop number 4, covered by the Japan Rail Pass).
Admission fee: Adults – 550 Yen (just over 4 Euros).
For the official website (in Japanese only) click here
Over the bridge from Katamachi, the Nishi Chaya-Gai is one of the three geisha districts, located to the West of Kanazawa Castle. Although it’s smaller than the Higashi-Chaya-Gai (located to the East of the castle), here you will still find shops, cafes and restaurants. The area is really quiet, so you can relax and enjoy the beautiful two-story geisha houses while walking along the main street. Once a red-light district, it is now considered a residential area, where the geisha tradition still continues thanks to the geisha spread over four of the district’s tea houses. While there, you can visit the Kanazawa Nishi Chaya Shiryokan Museum, which is a building reproducing a chaya house, admission is free.
Address: Nomachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa.
Closest bus stop: Hirokoji (Kanazawa Loop Line), which is a short walk from the district.
About 15 minutes’ walk from the Nagamachi district and Kanazawa Station is the Omicho Market, which has been Kanazawa’s biggest fresh food market since the Edo period. The colourful covered streets are lined by around 200 shops and stalls. Here they sell not only excellent local seafood, but also flowers, fruit, vegetables, clothing, kitchen tools and other traditional Japanese items. Truth is, if you are not hungry when you get there, you will be after walking through the stalls, which all have delicious-looking food on display.
Address: 88 Aokusamachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa.
Closest bus stop: Musashigatsuji.
Opening hours: Hours and closing days vary by shop, but most shops and stalls are open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, and closed on Sundays, Wednesdays, National Holidays and during the New Year holidays.
I cannot lie, on the second day we went back to Kenroku-en first thing in the morning; the garden is just too beautiful and we wanted to have another walk around to make sure we hadn’t missed anything on the first visit. After Kenroku-en, we walked about 18 minutes to get to Higashi Chaya-Gai, a beautiful well-preserved geisha district.
Higashi Chaya-Gai literally means “Eastern tea house district”, and it’s one of three well-preserved geisha districts in Kanazawa, where rich merchants and nobles used to be entertained by geisha with traditional music, dance, poetry and drinking games. The area is really nice, bigger than the Nishi Chaya-Gai, with many traditional buildings, cafes, shops and two tea houses which are open to the public, Kaikaro and Shima. After doing some research, we decided to visit Shima, as it looked more interesting. The house is a historical geisha residence, where you can get an idea of how geisha lived and worked during the Edo period, and you can also enjoy Matcha and Japanese sweets at the tearoom on the ground floor. The house was built in 1820 and has two levels, although it is not that big. On the first floor, you can also see tea ceremony utensils, accessories once worn by geisha, and musical instruments they used to play to entertain the customers. While in the district, do not miss the chance to eat some delicious Japanese food or drink a cup of Matcha latte accompanied by red bean soup with mochi, I assure you, you won’t regret it! If you feel refreshed after your coffee/tea break, and you are up for another 5 minutes’ walk, you can check out Kannon-in, a Buddhist temple, unless you have time to go to Utatsuyama instead, one of the temple districts in Kanazawa, crowded with more than 50 temples and shrines. It is within a short walking distance from the Higashi Chaya district to the foot of the mountain, where a long and winding alley and slope continues, and you will see old shrines and temples one after another along the alley. Unfortunately, we had to skip Utatsuyama this time, but I will definitely go if I visit Kanazawa again.
Address: 1-13-21 Higashiyama, Kanazawa.
How to get there: Take the Right Loop of the Kanazawa Loop Bus from Kanazawa station (10 minutes’ ride) and get off at Hashiba-cho (Koban-mae) – bus stop number RL5; then walk for 5 minutes until you reach the district.
Opening hours: 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Shima admission fee: 500 Yen (around 4 Euros).
Only 5 minutes’ walk from Higashi Chaya-Gai, Kazue-machi Chaya-Gai is a pretty old geisha district located along the Asano river, which features traditional tea houses all along the main street. I read that the area is particularly beautiful during the cherry blossom season, as the main road is lined with cherry trees all along the river. The district is very peaceful, and not so touristy, so it’s easier to take nice pictures without millions of people in them. Apart from the main street, I really enjoyed walking along the adjacent narrow alleys, which are only 1 metre wide. If you have time I recommend you take a walk around the area, it won’t take you long, as it’s quite small, and you will definitely enjoy it.
How to get there: You can take the Kanazawa Loop Bus from Kanazawa station (left loop) and get off at Hashiba-cho (LL10). Walk straight and cross the traffic light. Kazue-machi is on the left-hand side of Asano river.
Gyokusen Inmaru Garden
Before heading back to our hotel, we went to check out the pretty Gyokusen Inmaru Garden, as we knew that on Friday and Saturday evenings both the garden and tea house are illuminated between sunset and 9:00 pm. Adjacent to Kanazawa Castle, the garden was first constructed in 1634, and features a pond, a small waterfall, and bridges. You can enjoy Matcha and Japanese sweets at the Gyokusen’an Rest House, or simply sit down and take in the beautiful view of the illuminated garden.
Address: 1-1 Marunouchi.
Closest bus stop: Kenroku-en-shita.
Opening hours: 7:00 am to 6:00 pm (Fri and Sat open until 9:00 pm) – Admission is free.
Sturgis Rock Bar
In case you feel like having a drink and singing along to some rock tunes, the Sturgis Rock Bar is the place to go. Small, cosy and full of rock related stuff hanging on the walls, the place is not touristy, and the owner is great! Ask him to play whatever you want and he will play it for you.
Address: 4F Kinrin BLDG, 1-7-15 Katamachi
Opening hours: Open from 8:00 pm to 3:00 am.
Where to eat
Jenome Sushi Honten
Eating sushi in Japan is certainly like eating pizza in Naples, you can never go wrong whichever restaurant you choose. However, if you don’t want to waste time looking for a place to eat, I recommend you go to Jenome Sushi Honten. The place is not too big, it’s cosy, and you can literally ask the chef to prepare whatever kind of sushi you have in mind, of course with the ingredients available on the day, and I can assure you, everything is fresh and delicious! Lunch specials start at 1000 Yen (around 8 Euros).
Address: 1-1-12 Korinbo.
Opening hours: 11:00 to 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm.
One of my all time-time favourite restaurants, Gochisosha Shibuichi is not only beautiful, but serves delicious food and offers impeccable service. I literally never wanted the food to finish on my plate; everything was fresh, tasty and beautifully presented. A definite must go, I would give it 10 stars if I had the option when rating it!
Address: 2 Chome-12-15 Honmachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa
I hope my post will make you want to include Kanazawa in your next trip to Japan, as it’s definitely worth visiting. Next time I will probably tell you about my adventures in beautiful Kyoto. In the meantime, I wish you all an exciting rest of the month. Jaa, mata!!!