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Top Things to Do in Kanazawa

Kanazawa, known to the locals as “little Kyoto”, is a relatively compact city with a fine group of places of interest. Although Kanazawa offers breathtaking sights with its beautifully preserved traditional neighborhoods, it is one of the overlooked jewels of Japanese tourism which you wouldn’t want to miss.

Due to its anonymity to the public’s ear, it can be hard to determine what things to do while visiting the city. In this article, we will introduce to you the top things to do in Kanazawa.

Highlights

  • If you are interested in art, you can check out the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.
  • If you want to relax and enjoy natural scenery, it is recommended to visit the Kenroku-en Garden.
  • If you want to enjoy a live traditional Japanese performance, you can head out to the Higashi Chaya District.
  • If you are a seafood addict, Omicho Market is the perfect place.
  • If you want to experience making traditional Japanese crafts, head out to Kaga Yuzen Kaikan.

Enjoy the View of a Traditional Japanese Garden

The ancient Kenroku-en Garden is classified as one of Japan's "three most beautiful landscape gardens". With an area of 11.4 hectares, located on the heights of the central part of Kanazawa, this is the main attraction to be visited by tourists.

This place is beautiful in every season. In the garden, you can see many trees like plum, cherry, and pine trees. You can also feel the fresh air as you wander round the ponds, fountains, and waterfalls in the garden and you can enjoy the traditional craftsmanship of beautiful stone bridges and stone lanterns.

Visit the Historic Kanazawa Castle Park

Originally, the seat of the powerful Maeda Clan was used as a base by the Japanese army, then as a university campus, now the Kanazawa Castle serves as a public tourist attraction. The castle was destroyed by fire several times and restored every time.

Although nothing remains of the original castle and the few buildings standing, are much more recent reconstructions, this park is well worth a visit since the place is an important cultural asset of Japan. Apart from that, the greenery and the views in all directions are very enjoyable.

Enjoy Live Traditional Japanese Performances

The Higashi Chaya District is where you can find a lot of old Chaya houses. These are houses where visitors enjoy feasts and Japanese traditional live performances of Japanese dance, or of Japanese instruments like the koto or the shamisen. Many have now been converted into restaurants or teahouses.

In this cultural district, you can also shop and enjoy a unique cafe-hopping experience along the central street. Also, discover the intriguing teahouse heritage at the Shima Teahouse which has been converted into a museum.

Learn About the History of Geisha Houses

In the Higashi Chaya District, there is a house called Shima. It is a Chaya that is open to the public and has been designated as a national important cultural asset. It now serves as a museum, and is maintained in the way it would have looked in the Edo period (1603-1868).

Since everything has been left the same as it was in the Edo period, you can truly feel the atmosphere of the early 19th century. You can also relax in the reception room, with tatami mats embroidered with gold and shamisen players stringing away on their lute-like instruments.

Make Your Own Gold Leaf Decoration

Kanazawa gold leaf is a traditional craft that should never be forgotten in Kanazawa. It dates back 400 years and today is one of the city’s many flourishing traditional crafts, with gold leaf decorated goods featuring heavily in the souvenir stores. One of the most popular specialty gold leaf stores is Gold Leaf Sakuda.

At their main store you can buy a variety of decorated ornaments, accessories, ceramics and lacquerware. You are able to enjoy a cup of tea with flecks of gold in it too. It is possible for you to decorate some simple objects with gold yourself, such as chopsticks, dishes, or jewelry boxes in their hands-on workshops.

Visit the Samurai District

Nagamachi was a samurai district located at the foot of the former Kanazawa Castle, where samurai and their families used to reside. This area displays a fine collection of preserved samurai houses, located along two canals that run through the area. You can enter some of the houses too.

The main attractions include the Nomura-ke, a restored samurai residence, displaying the lifestyle and artifacts of the era, and the Shinise Kinenkan Museum, a restored pharmacy that prospered following the decline of the samurai.

Experience Dyeing Kimonos

Yuzen, short for yuzen-zome or dyeing, is a dyeing technique, characterized by beautiful designs featuring subjects such as kacho or flowers and birds, and human figures. Yuzen designs are almost like paintings, and it is completed without applying decorations such as leaves or embroidery, in order to maintain a realistic quality.

If you want to have this experience, Kaga Yuzen is the place for you to have it. This hall is characterized by its distinctive use of color and vivid patterns for kimonos. It introduces the manufacturing process of yuzen and sells finished products as well. Coloring demonstrations are also performed.

Have a Taste of Great Seafood

Since its opening in 1721, the Omicho Market has been “Kanazawa's kitchen” for over 290 years. Not only food but also daily goods are available at this Sunday market. It has been Kanazawa's largest fresh food market since the Edo period. You can find about 200 shops and stalls lining the streets of the market.

Locally caught seafood, as well as a good selection of fruit and vegetables and other Japanese foodstuffs, is sold at the stalls. In some fish stores, they offer a special sushi in which you can taste fresh fish caught in the Sea of Japan. You may also find unique kaga vegetables grown in the Hokuriku area.

Take a Trip to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

This museum is one of the most popular art museums in Japan, exhibiting works of notable contemporary artists in the country and all over the world. It is composed of three areas which are architecture, contemporary art, and crafts. Because of the uniqueness of its shape, which is round and made of glass walls, this is one of the must-see places for visitors to Kanazawa.

Various artworks that can be enjoyed with all five senses in the outside world, can be found in this museum. The most popular artwork is “The Swimming Pool” by Leandro Erlich.

Full-Day Kanazawa Highlights Tour

The main attraction to visit in Kanazawa is the Kenroku-en Garden. Being one of the top three in Japan, its breathtaking beauty will amaze you. You will then visit the Kanazawa Castle which is located next to the garden. Kaga Yuzen Kaikan is next in the tour. It offers demonstrations of the centuries-old yuzen silk painting technique.

You will then visit the Nagamachi Samurai District, where you can enter the Nomura Samurai House, a traditional Japanese home with tea-ceremony room, an interior courtyard garden, and artifacts from the Edo period.

The Higashi Chaya District is the next destination; it is the largest and by far the most interesting of Kanazawa’s Geisha Districts. Many of the buildings along the central street now house cafes and shops.

One of the shops there, Hakuza, sells gold leaf products which are a specialty of Kanazawa. It also displays a kura warehouse style room which is completely covered in gold leaf.

Finally, visit the Shima Teahouse. It is still an operating tea house, but opens its doors to the public. You can enjoy a cup of green tea there to finish the day.

Half-Day Kanazawa Traditional Crafts Experience

Today you will experience making two of the crafts that made Kanazawa famous.

First, Kanagawa is particularly famous for its gold leaf. Have a go at decorating a small lacquer plate or a pair of chopsticks with this thin, sparkling, precious product.

Next, you will experience kaga yuzen, a form of kimono cloth dyeing that is an exquisite Kanazawa specialty. You will decorate a handkerchief using this traditional technique.

You get to keep your creations as souvenirs of this memorable day.

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