Mmm.. Kanazawa. Before coming to Japan, I never knew anything about this city or its prefecture (Ishikawa). In fact, I didn’t know many prefectures apart from Hokkaido, Okinawa and wherever the main cities are… Osaka, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki & etc. After living there though, I came to know many prefectures and Kanazawa became my favourite city.
Not a lot of people know about Kanazawa and my God, I think it is so underrated. I heard a lot about Kanazawa from my host family. My host brother, in fact, used to work there and one of my professor’s wife is from there. No matter who I asked about Kanazawa though, everyone in my host agreed that Kanazawa is host to Japan’s best restaurants (not Osaka!) so I had to experience it for myself and it did not disappoint.
I was told that Kanazawa was like a less touristy Kyoto and I think that is an accurate description. Ishikawa is known to be the place to go to experience historical and traditional Japanese culture for the Japanese although most people mistake Kyoto for that. It is the core and centre of Japanese culture. Kanazawa is home to samurai homes, traditional izakayas and beautiful temples & tea houses minus the crowds that you see at Kyoto. I highly recommend anyone to go to Kanazawa if they’re in Japan exploring Tokyo and can afford the Shinkansen.
You can take a day trip via the Shinkansen. The trip is about 2.5 hours long but it is expensive, especially if you are booking it last minute. I endorse checking out different JR rail passes before making the trip. You can also fly but I like taking the bus and taking my time. I did a loop around Nagoya, Takayama and Kanazawa and I thought the views on the road were breathtaking. If you have time, one-way fares are about 4500 yen for a 7-8 hours ride and they depart from Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Station and Tokyo Disney according to this website. I remember it being around that price too.
When you arrive at the JR Kanazawa station, you’ll be greeted by the Tsuzumi Gate and Hospitality Dome. I suggest walking everywhere – it’s not a big city and it is pretty easy to get around. It is a great small city to explore on foot. It is also really breathtaking in the fall, I see it as a great city to visit in the summer too.
So what can you see and do in Kanazawa? There are so many monuments, gardens, historic districts to see in Kanazawa. You could probably spend a week or two there and not be bored if you’re a fan of food, culture and architecture. Here’s my top 5 list of things to do, see and eat!
5. Visit the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
If you are into modern art or architecture, this is a place you have to check out. This museum has ringed in as many as 1 million visitors in its first year of opening and is home to some phenomenal artists. The entry tickets are also very reasonable.
This neighbourhood is great to stroll in to get a sense of Japan’s samurai history and used to be home to samurais and their families. If you are a fan of samurais and want to get know more of its culture, you can even enter restored samurai residences such as Nomura-ke. The cobblestone that you walk on in this district is very unique as well and doesn’t remind you of Europe. Nearby lays the beautiful Kanazawa castle as well.
On the other side of the castle lies a gorgeous garden. You can get a nice view of the castle as well.Kenroku-en was a private garden but has been open to the public since 1871. Kenroku-en is known for its undeniably beautiful and awe-spiring landscape.
There is something to look forward to every season and is the perfect garden to take a morning stroll in which is why early admission is free (before 7am).
Similar to Kyoto’s Higashiyama Ward, the streets of Higashiyama Higashi Chaya District is laced up with latticed, traditional teahouses. It is an excellent spot for a cuppa or just to rest in the middle of the day and take a break from exploring. You also have to try wagashi.
It is the perfect tea snack and according to people I have talked to, it isn’t a daily dessert but one for special occasions (which explains the price tag..). It is also very hard to bake and only very few masters actually master it so give it a try when you can.
1. Food, Food, Food
And oh the food, how could anyone ever leave Kanazawa without trying its food? Kanazawa has a bunch of crazy good sushi, izakayas and home made food. Like most Japanese cities, there is a famous market and in Kanazawa, the famous market is Omicho Market where you can also get excellent sushi at Mori Mori Sushi. The tuna is beautiful (first photo) and it’s conveyor belt style.
Other places I recommend is Hiramipan which doubles as a bakery and cafe (second photo) as well as family-run Grill Otsuka for its very delicious and affordable Hanton Rice. There is also an amazing izakaya called Fuwari that you have to try but you have to make a reservation (third photo) and the prices are steeper so if you’re a budget traveller keep that in mind.
Kanazawa is my favourite city in Japan and I hope many of you will explore it as well. The food and beauty of the city left me speechless. It is definitely slower than other cities in Japan but also calmer and more serene. It reminds me of Ipoh in Malaysia because Ipoh used to be a thriving and busy city but it has wind down a lot since. The only busy spots are really food spots and cultural monuments which is similar to Kanazawa.
There are many more temples and architecture spots to admire than this list entails – the list would be too long otherwise! – so do extra research before going. I hope this list and all the links included helps you in planning and that you admire and enjoy Kanazawa as much as I did.