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Top Attractions in Kanazawa

Kanazawa, one of the overlooked jewels of Japanese tourism, is a city located in the north-western Ishikawa Prefecture in the Hokuriku region of Japan. Nicknamed “Little Kyoto”, it is home to one of Japan’s best gardens, some amazing museums, well preserved traditional neighborhoods, and some incredible restaurants.

Although it is a relatively remote location and less exposed to foreign tourists, it is the best place for travelers who want to see the perhaps best-preserved major Edo-period city in Japan. Now, with the addition of a direct shinkansen connection to Tokyo, it makes the perfect addition to the usual Tokyo-Kyoto journey.

Highlights

  • Kenroku-en Garden is the most famous sight in Kanazawa.
  • Kazuemachi is an area with beautiful geisha houses.
  • Kanazawa Shinise Memorial Hall was Kanazawa's leading Chinese medicine shop in Minami-machi during the 18th century.
  • Tentoku-in was the largest temple in Kanazawa during the Edo period.
  • Kanazawa Castle is a large, partially-restored castle.

Kenroku-en Garden

Japanese gardening has been an important art form that has been refined for more than 1000 years. It brings peace and tranquility both to the artist and to the beholder. Different gardens serve different purposes, including strolling gardens for the recreation of Edo Period lords and dry stone gardens for the religious use by Zen monks.

Having the meaning of “the Garden of Six Attributes”, the Kenroku-en Garden is a spacious garden that forms the green heart of the city and is the most famous sight in Kanazawa. It is considered one of Japan's top three gardens, alongside Mito's Kairaku-en and Okayama's Koraku-en.

This garden features a variety of flowering trees which give it a different look in each season.

Kanazawa Castle

The need for castles in Japan arose in the 15th century, after the authority of the central government had weakened and the country had fallen into the chaotic era of warring states. This was when small castles were built on top of mountains for defense purposes against neighboring states.

Being in the center of Kanazawa, Kanazawa Castle is a large, partially-restored castle. It was the headquarters of the Kaga Domain, ruled by the Maeda clan for 14 generations, from the Sengoku period until the coming of the Meiji Restoration in 1871.

Having burnt down several times over the past couple of centuries, nothing remains of the original castle and the few buildings are much more recent reconstructions. Even so, this park is worth a visit, since you can enjoy the greenery and views in all directions.

Higashi Chaya District

Chaya is a traditional place of feasts and entertainment, where dances have been performed and Japanese traditional musical instruments played by geisha since the Edo period.

Kanazawa has three, well preserved chaya districts, Higashi Chaya-gai, Nishi Chaya-gai and Kazuemachi. The Higashi Chaya District is the largest and by far the most interesting of the three districts. It is an easy walk east of Omicho Market or Kanazawa Castle Park.

It is a lovely neighborhood of beautifully preserved geisha houses, many of which have been converted into restaurants or teahouses. The area can be really crowded with tourists.

Shima Geisha Teahouse

Ochaya Shima is a historical geisha house in the Higashi Chaya-gai district of Kanazawa. The building is now a museum which displays rooms where geisha would perform and the kitchen and the various instruments and items used by the geisha.

Many of the former geisha houses around the area have been converted into guest houses or restaurants. However, this house is dedicated to preserving and exhibiting memories of the past and is now a nationally designated Important Cultural Asset.

Sakuda Gold Leaf Store

Gold leaf production in Kanazawa dates back 400 years and today is one of the city’s many flourishing traditional crafts. Gold leaf is mainly applied on Japanese Buddhist altars and on arts and crafts.

Sakuda is a gold leaf souvenir shop as well as a factory that produces gold leaf. This company has many branches in Kanazawa, but the main store is in the Higashi Chaya-gai District. You can take a tour of the factory, view the production process, and also try some gold leaf decoration yourself.

Nagamachi Samurai District

Nagamachi Samurai District is an area of a few streets where considerable effort has been made in order to recreate the feel of the samurai housing areas. This area is located on the west side of the city, next to the Korinbo District, where samurai and their families used to reside.

Displaying its remaining samurai residences, earthen walls, private entrance gates, narrow lanes and water canals, this area preserves a historic atmosphere. Several of the houses have been restored and you can enter and peer into some of them.

Kaga Yuzen Kaikan

Kaga Yuzen is a traditional craft of dyeing kimono cloth, for which Kanazawa is famous for, and has approximately 500 years of history. It is known for its chic colors and designs of nature, such as flowers or birds, painted with a delicate touch.

Kaga Yuzen Kaikan is a facility built for people to become familiar with Kaga Yuzen. This hall introduces the manufacturing process of Kaga Yuzen and sells finished products as well. You can also experience Yuzen dyeing of a handkerchief, using stencil dyeing, or hand painting where you can create your own design from scratch.

Omicho Market

Omicho Market is Kanazawa's largest fresh food market since the Edo Period. It is less crowded than Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Market and more spacious than Kyoto’s Nishiki Market. The place is packed with stall after stall, selling locally caught seafood as well as a good selection of fruit and vegetables and other Japanese foodstuffs.

There are plenty of restaurants in the market where you can sample some of the food you see on sale. Although the market is most exciting during the morning hours, it can also get quite busy around noon, when tourists and locals arrive to have lunch at the restaurants.

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is a circular and light-filled museum which opened 2004 in downtown Kanazawa, just a few steps from Kenroku-en. It focuses on art produced since 1980 and is heavy on installations, video and mixed-media pieces in which much of it is playful, energetic and thought-provoking.

The museum consists of a circular building, 112.5 meters in diameter, with no facade or main entrance, and holds a variety of display spaces and function rooms. It is spacious enough to absorb the huge crowds that usually fill the place.

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