- Takeshi Senuma
[Special Edition] 20 Things to Do in the Castle Town of Kanazawa
The ancient city of Kanazawa, which is the main tourist destination in the Hokuriku Region, is a place where Japan's traditional culture still thrives. Here, we introduce 20 things to see and do in Kanazawa, including traditional craft experiences and local foods.
How to Get to Kanazawa
Kanazawa is about 2 hours both from Tokyo on the Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train and from Osaka on the Limited Express Thunderbird. Komatsu Airport is the gateway to get there by air. There are domestic flights from Haneda, Narita, Sapporo, Sendai, Fukuoka and Naha, as well as direct international flights from Taipei, Seoul, and Shanghai (Pudong Airport). It is about 40 minutes by bus from Komatsu Airport to JR Kanazawa Station.
The Best Time to Go
Kanazawa is located in the lowlands of the Kaga Region of Ishikawa Prefecture and has a relatively mild climate, although it does snow in the winter. It has distinct seasons, and the best time to go is winter. The seafood, such as crab and Japanese amberjack caught in the Sea of Japan, are at their best in the winter. In addition, famous sights such as Kenrokuen and Kanazawa Castle are covered in snow, presenting a uniquely Japanese beautiful view with a sense of quiet simplicity.
Things to Do and See
Kanazawa, which flourished as the castle town for the Kaga Domain, is an ancient city that cherishes traditional culture and history. As a result, there are many famous historic sites, including the famous Japanese garden, Kenrokuen, where you can get a sense of Japanese aesthetics. It is also a place that has long been a center of culture, and as such, there are opportunities to experience traditional crafts and appreciate contemporary art.
Appreciate the Beauty of a Kaiyushiki Garden at Kenrokuen
Kenrokuen is one of Japan's most famous kaiyu-shiki (circuit-style) gardens. It is considered to be one of Japan's three great gardens, together with Kairakuen in Mito and Korakuen in Okayama. A kaiyu-shiki garden is a traditional style of Japanese garden where ponds, artificial hills, and tea houses are positioned in a large garden designed as a place to stroll around in and enjoy. Kenrokuen was built over a long period of time by the Maeda Family, who ruled this area for more than 250 years. At Kenrokuen, you can enjoy beautiful scenery that changes by the season, with cherry blossoms in the spring, Japanese iris in the summer, colorful foliage in the fall, and the yukizuri ropes hung on pine trees in the winter to protect them from the snow.
Entrance Fee: 310 JPY/adult, 100 JPY/child (ages 6 - 17)
Take a Photo at Kanazawa Station
Kanazawa Station, which is the gateway to Kanazawa, has a station building that is a tourist spot in itself. There is a Motenashi (welcome) Dome made with about 3,000 sheets of glass at the East Entrance that welcomes travelers with shimmering natural light during the day and bright lights in the evening. In front of the main entrance of the dome is a gate called Tsuzumi-mon, which symbolizes an instrument called tsuzumi (hand drum), which is used in the Noh plays that have long been popular in Kanazawa. Be sure to take a photograph in front of this gate, which is a great example of Japanese structural beauty.
Enjoy the Traps at Ninja Temple
Myouryuji Temple, affectionately referred to as Ninja Temple, is a popular tourist destination in Kanazawa. The building was built more than 300 years ago to be used as a Buddhist temple and also as a fortress in the case of war. As a result, the entire building has a complex, maze-like structure that gave it its nickname of "Ninja Temple." It has a variety of features that cannot be found at other temples, such as trap holes, hidden stairs, and watchtowers. To visit the temple, call in advance to make reservations.
Entrance fee: 1,000 JPY/adult, 700 JPY/elementary school age
Buy Souvenirs in Higashi Chaya District
The Higashi Chaya District is a popular area with traditional Japanese houses lining cobblestone streets. The houses with lattice doors that showcase Japanese aesthetics are designated as a Group of Traditional Buildings. This is a great place to look for uniquely Kanazawa souvenirs. There are stores selling cosmetics made with gold leaf, which Kanazawa is famous for, as well as Kutani ceramics and other miscellaneous Japanese-style items. Take your time to stroll around and enjoy shopping in this historic town.
Visit 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa is popular as an art spot for the current times within a city that cherishes traditional beauty. It is a museum that collects and exhibits contemporary art from the 20th Century to the present, with areas outside the exhibition rooms being designated as free interactive zones. There are various artworks exhibited in the free areas, out of which The Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich is a must-see. The museum also hosts a variety of temporary exhibitions and events.
Walk the Cobblestone Streets of Naga-machi Buke Yashiki District
The area around Naga-machi in central Kanazawa has remains of residences of samurai warriors of the Kaga Domain that once ruled this area. There are Japanese-style houses surrounded by ochre mud walls along the cobblestone paths that evoke a sense of history. When you walk around this area while taking in the sights of gates with tiled roofs and well-maintained gardens, you may feel as if you have traveled back in time. This area also contains Nagamachi Yuzen Kan, where you can see beautiful kimono up close, and Kanazawa City Ashigaru Museum, where you can see how the lower-class samurai lived.
See the Stained Glass Windows of Oyama Shrine
Oyama Shrine is a distinguished Shinto shrine that was built more than 140 years ago. It is dedicated to Maeda Toshiie, who was the founder of the Kaga Domain, and is much venerated by locals. The Shinmon gate beyond the torii gate (Shinto shrine gate) stands out on the grounds. The gate combines Japanese, Chinese, and Western architectural styles, and has a retro-yet-modern form that is considered to be a symbol of Kanazawa, together with Kenrokuen. The third tier of the gate has four panes of stained glass in five colors that gleam beautifully in the sun. The shrine also takes on a mystical glow when lit up after sunset.
Learn about Japanese Culture at Kanazawa Noh Museum
Noh is a traditional form of staged play in Japan in which the actors wear masks. It was protected and promoted by the Kaga Family, who ruled over the Hokuriku Region centering on Kanazawa from the latter half of the 16th century to the 19th century, and thus flourished in this area. Kanazawa Noh Museum is a place where you can learn about the history and tradition of Noh. There are exhibits of valuable Noh masks and costumes that were handed down by the Kaga Family as well as video presentations and models that communicate the appeal of Noh. One experience you won't want to miss here is the opportunity to try on real Noh masks and costumes at no extra charge. Don't forget to take pictures!
Entrance fee: 300 JPY
Take a Break at Kanazawa Umimirai Library
Kanazawa Umimirai Library is quickly becoming a new hot spot in Kanazawa. The building is located on a grassy plaza and has a futuristic design, with approximately 6,000 circular windows positioned to bring the light in. It has attracted the attention of many architecture buffs in Japan and abroad. The building houses a library with a collection of approximately 228,000 books, as well as halls and meeting rooms for events and exhibitions. Why not stop by and enjoy a quiet break from sightseeing?
Have a Zen Experience at D.T. Suzuki Museum
D.T. Suzuki Museum is a place where you can learn about the accomplishments and philosophy of Daisetz Suzuki, a Buddhist philosopher from Kanazawa who was instrumental in introducing Zen Buddhism abroad. It has an Exhibition Space, where writings by Daisetz and various photographs are displayed, and a Contemplative Space, designed as a place for meditation and discussion, which are connected by a corridor. There are also gardens such as the Water Mirror Garden and Vestibule Garden. This is a great place to experience the world of Zen that the Apple founder, Steve Jobs, is said to have practiced.
Entrance fee: 300 JPY
Appreciate the Graceful Design of Seisonkaku
Seisonkaku Villa is a valuable building that represents the samurai culture that flourished in Kanazawa. It is a house that Maeda Nariyasu, the 13th lord of the Kaga Domain, built for his mother. It is characterized by the combination of two contrasting architectural styles: The gorgeous Shoin-zukuri and the simple and refined Sukiya-zukuri. The exquisite design elements, such as the vivid blue of the ceiling in the Gunjo-no-ma room and the delicate sculptures in the transom of the Ekken-no-ma room, give us a glimpse into the aesthetics of the samurai.
Entrance fee: 700 JPY/adult and university student, 300 JPY/junior high and high school student, 250 JPY/elementary school student
Enjoy the Refined House and Garden of the Nomura Samurai Family Residence
The Nomura Samurai Family Residence is an old samurai residence in the Naga-machi Buke Yashiki District. The house and tearoom on the grounds tell of the lifestyle and culture of samurai in Kanazawa that lasted for more than 250 years. Pay particular attention to the open veranda and garden. Water from the Ono-sho irrigation system is diverted into the garden, and the sight of the water flowing near the open veranda, from which the garden is admired, presents a beautiful Japanese-style garden scenery.
Entrance fee: 550 JPY/adult, 400 JPY/high school student, 250 JPY/elementary and junior high school student
Appreciate the Beautiful White Walls of Kanazawa Castle
Kanazawa Castle was the residential castle of the Maeda Family of the Kaga Domain. The area is maintained as Kanazawa Castle Park and it is a place where travelers and locals come to relax and enjoy themselves. The Ishikawa-mon Gate, which greets you when you approach the castle from the direction of Kenrokuen, was built 230 years ago. The sight of the castle, with its white walls and majestic tiled roofs, is considered to be one of the iconic symbols of Kanazawa. The interior of Hishi Yagura, with white walls that contrast beautifully with blue skies, the Gojukken Nagaya, and the Hashizume-mon Gate are all open to visitors.
Entrance fee to Hishi Yagura, Gojukken Nagaya, Hashizume-mon Tsuzuki Yagura, and Hahizume-mon Gate: 310 JPY/adult, 100 JPY/child (ages 6 - 17)
Enjoy the Mystic Illumination of Gyokusen'inmaru Garden
Gyokusen'inmaru Garden, which is in Kanazawa Castle Park, is a Japanese garden that was diligently built by generations of Kaga Domain lords. It is an outstanding example of a Chisen-Kaiyushiki garden (stroll garden with a pond) with a pond with three islands in the middle, and waterfall, trees, and plants skillfully positioned around it. The garden and the stone walls behind it are illuminated from the evening to night on Fridays and Saturdays, adding a mystic glow to the traditional garden beauty. You may lose sight of time when you take a walk around the exquisitely lit up garden at night.
See the Entire City of Kanazawa from Mt. Utatsu
Mt. Utatsu, which is located to the east of Kanazawa Castle, is a small mountain that is about 141m high, and the entire mountain area is maintained as Utatsuyama Park. The park has a Japanese iris garden, verdant walking paths, and stone monuments bearing inscriptions by famous literary figures from Kanazawa. The Bokodai Observatory, from which you can see the entire city of Kanazawa, is particularly popular. Be sure to take a photograph with the city of Kanazawa, the Sea of Japan, and Mt. Hakusan all in the background. The romantic view from Mt. Utatsu at night is also not to be missed!
Experience the Traditional Kanazawa Gold Leaf Crafts at Hakukokan at the Main Hakuichi Store
Crafts, cosmetics, and various other items such as oil blotting paper all made with gold leaf are popular Kanazawa souvenirs. The Hakuichi Main Branch Hakukokan is a hands-on museum where you can experience the appeal of gold leaf from Kanazawa. It has exhibitions showing the history and production process of gold leaf and shows off the the latest project mapping in the Gold-leaf Chamber that is adorned with 10,000 gold leaves. Individual participation in the experiences, such as gold-leafing, is also welcome! There is a wide selection of gold leaf products available to purchase as souvenirs.
Kanazawa, which faces the Japan Sea, is blessed with abundant seafood and has also merged elements of Kyoto and Edo cultures over its long history, creating a rich and diverse food culture. Be sure to enjoy it's fantastic local cuisine, including fresh seafood, such as crab and Japanese amberjack, which are in season in the winter; jibuni, which is a traditional meat dish; and Kanazawa Curry, which has recently become famous around the country.
Have Tea at Mamezarachaya in Kanazawa Castle Park
Mamezarachaya is a Japanese-style cafe in Tsurunomaru Rest House in Kanazawa Castle Park. The cafe is designed using wood from Noto Hiba cypress trees and serves Japanese wagashi sweets, western-style sweets, and sushi on small plates along with teas and coffees. The recommended Tsurunomaru Gozen (1,200 JPY (incl. tax)) includes two plates of sweets, one plate of sushi, and a choice of Kaga Bocha tea or coffee. This is a great place to enjoy a relaxing time with a view of the castle.
Enjoy Kanazawa Curry
Kanazawa Curry has recently become famous as a regional dish of Kanazawa. It is usually served in a stainless steel plate with so much curry that the rice is hidden, a sauced-covered pork cutlet on top, and chopped cabbage. It is a very filling dish that will satisfy even the hungriest person. There are many famous Kanazawa Curry shops in Kanazawa, such as Champion's Curry and Go Go CURRY.
Jibuni is also famous around the country as a regional dish of Kanazawa. It is usually made with duck meat or chicken that is simmered in a dashi stock together with fu, which is a traditional Japanese processed food, shiitake mushrooms, and seri (Japanese parsley). The rich taste with the concentrated umami flavors of meat goes well with rice and sake. It is available at Japanese restaurants and izakaya (Japanese pubs) in Kanazawa.
Enjoy Seafood and Snacks at Omicho Market
Omicho Market is bustling every day as "Kanazawa's kitchen." There are more than 180 shops selling freshly caught fish and processed foods. It is a great place to walk around in and try the variety of foods that it has to offer. Some of the fishmongers in the market cook and serve seafood, such as oysters, squid, shrimp, and crab, in their storefronts. There are also many restaurants that serve seafood bowls and sushi made with seasonal seafood, as well as ramen shops and izakaya. The prices are reasonable, as would be expected of a market.
Kanazawa, which has traditional culture unique to the Hokuriku region that has developed over a period of hundreds of years, has much more to do and see beyond the 20 spots and items introduced here! We hope you enjoy traveling in the ancient city of Kanazawa, where you'll find new discovery and inspiration every time you visit.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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