Have you heard of Kanazawa, also known as “Little Kyoto”? It’s this charming city in Japan that people are often comparing to Kyoto due to its rich cultural heritage.
One of the things that makes Kanazawa a must-visit is its well-preserved traditional buildings and beautiful gardens. Kanazawa Castle is an impressive fortress that dates back to the 16th century. It offers you a glimpse into Japan’s feudal past. Kenrokuen Garden is another highlight, considered one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan.
In the heart of the beautiful Hokuriku region, on the coast of the Japan Sea, there is Kanazawa. It is one of Japan’s loveliest and best-preserved historical cities.
Kanazawa is also known for its traditional crafts, such as gold leaf production, lacquerware, and pottery. The city’s craftsmen and women have been honing their skills for generations. You can see their works at various shops and workshops throughout the city. All of these things, combined with its delicious food and drink scene and day trip options, make Kanazawa a great alternative to Kyoto for travelers looking to explore Japan’s cultural heritage.
History of Kanazawa
Kanazawa was not only a castle town but also a cultural and economic center. The Maeda clan was known for their patronage of the arts, and they attracted many artists and artisans to Kanazawa. The city became a hub for traditional crafts, such as gold leaf production, lacquerware, and pottery. Today, visitors can still see the legacy of these traditional crafts in the many shops and workshops throughout the city.
In addition to its cultural significance, Kanazawa was also an important economic center. The Maeda clan was heavily involved in trade, and Kanazawa was a hub for goods coming from the Sea of Japan. This trade helped to make Kanazawa one of the wealthiest cities in Japan at the time.
All of these factors helped to create a vibrant cultural scene in Kanazawa during the Edo period. The city was known for its luxurious lifestyle, with many samurai residences and teahouses dotting the streets. Today, visitors to Kanazawa can still see many of these historic buildings, which have been well-preserved over the years.
What to see in Kanazawa?
Kanazawa is a treasure trove of cultural attractions that you simply can’t miss if you’re in Japan. One of the things that makes Kanazawa so special is its well-preserved traditional buildings. You can take a stroll through the city’s charming streets and see many samurai residences, teahouses, and merchant houses that have been standing for hundreds of years. It’s a truly immersive experience that lets you step back in time and get a sense of what life was like in Japan centuries ago.
When it comes to cultural attractions, Kanazawa can hold its own against Kyoto, often considered the cultural capital of Japan. While Kyoto certainly has many stunning temples and shrines, Kanazawa’s focus on traditional buildings and gardens gives it a different kind of charm. Plus, with fewer tourists than Kyoto, you can experience Kanazawa’s attractions in a more peaceful and relaxed setting.
Kenrokuen Garden is one of the most beautiful and well-known gardens in all of Japan. The garden is famous for its seasonal views, with cherry blossoms in the spring, lush greenery in the summer, and vibrant autumn leaves in the fall. It’s a truly breathtaking sight to behold, and you could easily spend hours wandering the garden’s paths and admiring the scenery. Plus, there are plenty of benches and rest areas where you can sit and take in the beauty around you.
Kanazawa Castle Park
Kanazawa Castle Park is a historic site that offers a glimpse into Kanazawa’s rich cultural heritage. The park is home to well-preserved castle ruins and beautiful gardens that make it a popular tourist destination. The gardens are also a highlight of the park. With meticulously manicured lawns and colorful flower beds that change with the seasons. It’s a great place to go for a relaxing stroll. There are plenty of benches and rest areas where you can sit and soak up the scenery.
Higashi Chaya District
Higashi Chaya District is a beautifully preserved area in Kanazawa that transports you back in time to the Edo period. Walking through the narrow streets and alleyways of Higashi Chaya is like stepping into a time machine. The lanterns are hanging overhead and the sweet smell of incense wafting through the air. You can even visit one of the teahouses to experience a traditional tea ceremony. The district is especially beautiful at night when the lanterns are lit, with an atmosphere that’s perfect for a romantic stroll. If you’re looking to experience a slice of old Japan, be sure to check out Higashi Chaya District.
Nagamachi Samurai District
Nagamachi Samurai District is a fascinating area that offers a glimpse into the lifestyle of the samurai warriors who once lived here. The district is home to well-preserved samurai residences, complete with beautiful gardens, ornate gates, and traditional Japanese architecture. Walking through the streets of Nagamachi feels like stepping back in time. There, you can almost imagine the samurai going about their daily lives. One of the highlights of the district is the Nomura Samurai House. It is open to the public and offers a rare look inside the home of a high-ranking samurai family. The house is beautifully preserved, with intricate carvings, delicate artwork, and traditional tatami rooms. You can even try on a samurai helmet or pose for photos with a sword.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is a must-visit attraction for art lovers visiting Kanazawa. This striking building houses an impressive collection of contemporary art from around the world. One of the most popular exhibits is the swimming pool, which is surrounded by glass walls and appears to have no end. Visitors are encouraged to jump in and swim around with the art. The museum also has a beautiful outdoor sculpture garden, where you can enjoy more artwork surrounded by lush greenery. Even if contemporary art isn’t your thing, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is still worth a visit just to experience the unique and interactive exhibits.
Omicho Market is a bustling and vibrant market located in the heart of Kanazawa. It’s a popular spot offering a wide range of fresh seafood, produce, and other local delicacies. They are selling everything from souvenirs to kitchen utensils, making it a great place to pick up some unique gifts to take home. The highlight of the market is the lively atmosphere and friendly vendors who are always happy to chat with visitors. Whether you’re a foodie or just looking for a fun and authentic local experience, Omicho Market is definitely worth a visit.
Kanazawa Station is more than just a transportation hub – it’s a stunning architectural masterpiece in its own right. The station’s sleek, modern design features a giant glass dome that covers the main entrance, creating a bright and airy atmosphere inside. The station is also home to a variety of shops and restaurants, including a famous local sweets shop and a gourmet food market.
One of the most unique features of Kanazawa Station is the Tsuzumi Gate, a massive wooden gate that stands at the entrance to the station. The gate looks like a traditional Japanese drum, with wooden panels arranged in a circular pattern. It’s a beautiful piece of modern architecture that pays homage to Kanazawa’s rich cultural heritage. Even if you’re not catching a train, Kanazawa Station is worth a visit just to admire its impressive design and grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants inside.
D.T. Suzuki Museum
The D.T. Suzuki Museum is a hidden gem located in the heart of Kanazawa. This museum is dedicated to the life and teachings of Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki, a world-renowned scholar of Zen Buddhism who was born in Kanazawa. The museum features a collection of Suzuki’s personal belongings, including manuscripts, letters, and photographs, as well as exhibits that showcase his philosophy and contributions to the study of Buddhism. One of the highlights of the museum is the tranquil courtyard garden, which features a traditional tea house and a beautiful pond surrounded by lush greenery. The museum’s architecture is also noteworthy, with its minimalist design and use of natural materials creating a serene and contemplative atmosphere. Even if you’re not a follower of Zen Buddhism, the D.T. Suzuki Museum is a fascinating and peaceful place to visit and a great way to learn about one of Kanazawa’s most famous sons.
Myoryuji Temple (Ninja Temple)
Myoryuji Temple, also known as the Ninja Temple, is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Kanazawa. The temple was once used as a gathering place for samurai and ninjas, and it’s easy to imagine the intrigue and espionage that must have taken place here. Visitors can take a guided tour of the temple, which includes a visit to the hidden chambers and a demonstration of the temple’s unique features. The tour is led by knowledgeable guides who can explain the history and significance of each element. Even if you’re not a fan of ninja movies or Japanese history, the Myoryuji Temple is a fascinating and unique attraction that’s sure to leave a lasting impression.
Kazuemachi District is a charming neighborhood in Kanazawa that’s famous for its traditional Japanese architecture, narrow streets, and scenic river views. Strolling through this area feels like stepping back in time to the Edo period, with its old-fashioned shops and wooden buildings. Visitors can take a leisurely walk along the riverbank, stopping to admire the bridges and waterfalls that dot the landscape. Another popular attraction in Kazuemachi is the Nomura Samurai House, a beautifully preserved samurai residence that dates back to the 16th century. The house is open to visitors and features traditional Japanese gardens, tatami rooms, and a collection of samurai artifacts. Overall, Kazuemachi District is a peaceful and picturesque area that’s perfect for a relaxing afternoon stroll or a quiet cup of tea at one of its many cafes.
Food and drink in Kanazawa
Seafood cuisine is a big part of Kanazawa’s culinary scene, thanks to its location on the coast of the Sea of Japan. Fresh seafood is readily available and commonly featured in many of the city’s dishes. One of the most popular seafood dishes in Kanazawa is kaisen-don, a rice bowl topped with an assortment of sashimi and other seafood delicacies.
If you’re looking to try some of Kanazawa’s famous seafood, a visit to Omicho Market is a must. This bustling market offers a wide variety of fresh seafood, including crab, shrimp, oysters, and many types of fish. There are also many seafood restaurants located around the market, where you can sample some of the freshest seafood in the city.
Another popular seafood dish in Kanazawa is shiroebi, a type of small, translucent shrimp. Shiroebi is typically served raw and can be found at many sushi restaurants and izakayas (Japanese-style pubs) in Kanazawa. One particularly famous spot to try shiroebi is at Kuroyuri, a restaurant in the Higashi Chaya District that specializes in this local delicacy.
Gold Leaf Ice Cream
One of the most unique and famous desserts in Kanazawa is gold leaf ice cream. As the name suggests, it is vanilla ice cream with a thin layer of edible gold leaf, giving it a luxurious and extravagant look. The idea of using gold leaf in cuisine is not new to Japan, and Kanazawa is one of the few places where you can find it.
There are several places in Kanazawa where you can try this delicacy, including Hakuichi, a shop specializing in gold leaf products. They offer various types of gold leaf ice cream, including vanilla, matcha, and black sesame flavors. Another popular place to try gold leaf ice cream is at the Omicho Market.
If you want to try something more unique, head to Morihachi, a shop that offers gold leaf soft serve ice cream with a variety of toppings, including sweet potato and red bean paste. They also have a gold leaf parfait that is a feast for both the eyes and taste buds.
Overall, gold leaf ice cream is a must-try when in Kanazawa, as it is not only delicious but also a cultural experience unique to the city.
Wagashi is a traditional Japanese confectionery that is known for its delicate flavors and artistic designs. Kanazawa is famous for its wagashi, and there are many shops in the city that offer a wide variety of these treats. One of the most popular wagashi in Kanazawa is the one with gold leaves. The gold leaf is edible and adds a touch of luxury to this traditional dessert.
One of the best places to try wagashi in Kanazawa is the Higashi Chaya district. In this historic neighborhood, you will find plenty of tea houses and traditional sweets shops. Many of these shops have been in operation for generations and offer a wide variety of wagashi. Another great place to try wagashi is at the Omicho Market.
There are also many shops in Kanazawa that offer modern takes on this classic confectionery. Some shops incorporate local ingredients like yuzu, a citrus fruit from the region, into their sweets. Others offer more innovative designs, like wagashi shaped like cute animals or flowers. No matter what your taste, there is sure to be a wagashi shop in Kanazawa that will satisfy your sweet tooth.
Popular Restaurants and Bars in Kanazawa
In Kanazawa, you will find mouth-watering seafood dishes, which are served in many restaurants throughout the city. One popular restaurant is Otomezushi, which serves fresh sushi made with locally caught fish. The restaurant is located near Omicho Market, which is the perfect place to find fresh seafood and other ingredients.
Another must-visit restaurant in Kanazawa is Kuroyuri, which offers modern Japanese cuisine using local ingredients. The restaurant is located in a traditional Japanese building and offers a relaxed atmosphere to enjoy a delicious meal.
For those looking for a more traditional experience, there are many izakayas (Japanese-style pubs) in Kanazawa. One of the most popular is Hachibei, which is located in the Higashi Chaya district. The menu features a wide variety of small plates and sake, making it the perfect spot to try a range of Japanese flavors.
In addition to traditional restaurants and izakayas, Kanazawa also has a vibrant bar scene. One of the most popular bars in the city is Bar Selene, which is located in the Kazuemachi district. The cozy and intimate atmosphere, combined with a wide range of cocktails and drinks, makes it a great spot for a night out with friends.
Where to stay in Kanazawa
- Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel: This hotel is located in the heart of the city and offers modern amenities and facilities. The rooms are spacious and elegantly designed, and guests can enjoy a range of dining options, including a top-floor restaurant with panoramic views of the city.
- ANA Crowne Plaza Kanazawa: Located near Kanazawa Station, this hotel offers comfortable rooms and a range of amenities including a fitness center, indoor pool, and on-site restaurant. The hotel also offers a free shuttle service to and from Kanazawa Station for added convenience.
- Hotel Nikko Kanazawa: This hotel is known for its excellent location and high-quality service. Guests can enjoy spacious rooms with beautiful views of the city, and the hotel also offers a range of dining options, including a Japanese restaurant and a French-inspired brasserie.
Book recommendations as a perfect Kanazawa souvenir
- “Japanese Gardens: A Journey” is a beautiful book! It takes readers on a visual journey through some of Japan’s most stunning and unique gardens. The book features over 100 gardens, including famous public gardens as well as lesser-known private gardens, each with its own history, style, and design philosophy.
- “Kanazawa” by David Joiner is a great book on the city. It offers a unique perspective on the culture, history, and people of Kanazawa. The book is part travelogue, part memoir, and part cultural exploration, providing a multi-faceted look at this fascinating city.
- “Traditional Japanese Architecture: An Exploration of Elements and Forms” by Mira Locher. This book explores the architecture of traditional Japanese buildings.
- “Japanese Design: Art, Aesthetics & Culture” by Patricia J. Graham – This book provides a comprehensive overview of Japanese design, exploring its influences, principles, and unique aesthetic sensibility.
- “Kanazawa Guidebook: Hidden Treasure of Japan” is a comprehensive guide to the city of Kanazawa. It offers insights into the city’s history, culture, and attractions. The book covers all aspects of the city. From its famous historic sites like Kenrokuen Garden and Kanazawa Castle to its lesser-known neighborhoods, museums, and local food scenes.
Beautiful Coffee Table Books on Japan
- “Japan: The Cookbook” by Nancy Singleton Hachisu. This visually stunning book features over 400 recipes from Japan. But also provides a comprehensive overview of Japanese food culture, ingredients, and culinary traditions.
- “Japan: A Literary Guide for Travelers” by John H. Martin and Phyllis G. Martin. This book combines beautiful photography with excerpts from classic and contemporary Japanese literature. It offers a unique perspective on the country’s landscapes, cities, and cultural sites.
- “Japan: The Art of Living” by Amy Sylvester Katoh. Featuring exquisite photographs, this book explores Japanese design, architecture, gardens, and traditional crafts. It showcases the harmonious blend of aesthetics and functionality that is central to Japanese culture.
- “Japanese Gardens: Tranquility, Simplicity, Harmony” by Geeta Mehta, Kimie Tada, and Noboru Murata. This coffee table book takes readers on a visual journey through Japan’s most beautiful gardens. It offers insights into their history, design principles, and serene beauty.
- “Kyoto Gardens: Masterworks of the Japanese Gardener’s Art” by Judith Clancy and Ben Simmons. Focusing specifically on the gardens of Kyoto, this book showcases the city’s rich garden tradition through stunning photographs and detailed descriptions.
Experience Kanazawa’s rich cultural heritage and culinary delights
Kanazawa is a remarkable destination that should be on any traveler’s itinerary when visiting Japan. With its rich cultural heritage, stunning gardens and castles, and delicious local cuisine, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this charming city. Whether you’re interested in exploring historical sites, sampling exquisite food, or simply taking in the beauty of the natural surroundings, Kanazawa has it all. So don’t miss out on this hidden gem of Japan – come and discover all that Kanazawa has to offer!