In our Places We Love series we feature some of our favorite places in Japan, including towns & cities, shops & restaurants, hotels & ryokans, hot springs and more.
Kanazawa, a charming city located on the Japan Sea coast, is famous for its well-preserved historical districts, Kenrokuen Garden, its fresh and delicious seafood, and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.
While often missed by first-time visitors to Japan, Kanazawa is a must-see for visitors to Japan interested in history, gardens and art.
What to See in Kanazawa
The number-one reason foreign and domestic visitors flock to Kanazawa is Kenrokuen Garden, known as one of Japan’s Three Great Gardens (along with Korakuen in Okayama and Kairakuen in Mito). The garden is beautiful year-round, and particularly so during spring and fall.
A short walk from Kenrokuen is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, one of Japan’s great modern art museums (also featured in our Art of Japan sample trip).
The 21st Century Museum’s forward-thinking architecture, installations and exhibits present a powerfully striking contrast to the adjacent (and historic) Kenrokuen Garden and Kanazawa Castle.
From here, it is about a 15-20 minute stroll (or 5-10 minute drive) to the beautifully-preserved Higashi Chaya District (higashi chaya-gai). This is the must-visit traditional teahouse and geisha district.
A chaya is a teahouse, and this stunningly well-preserved collection of streets is considered one of Japan’s cultural assets. While not as boisterous as it must have been in its heyday, a stroll in this photogenic part of town conjures Japan’s past as few places in Japan can.
If you’re more intrigued by samurai than geisha, head over to the Nagamachi Buke Yashiki District. This area used to be the home of middle- and upper-class samurai, and retains an atmospheric feel. The old houses are for the most part gone, but the alleys and mud walls retain their attractive, traditional appearance.
Note: Kanazawa is a popular destination, and one of the best ways to feel like you have each of the above places to yourself is to arrive first thing in the morning.
Exploring the city with an expert guide and driver is the most convenient way to explore Kanazawa. There is also a convenient sightseeing loop bus that passes by all of the above places.
While it would be possible to visit all of the above places in one long and ambitious day, it is ideal – if possible – to spend two or three days taking everything in.
Additionally, a wonderful complement to a stay in Kanazawa is a stay at a ryokan (traditional Japanese-style inn) with onsen (hot springs) just outside of Kanazawa, which we often recommend for our clients.
Getting to Kanazawa
It used to be that getting to Kanazawa required a somewhat roundabout train trip, or a domestic flight to Komatsu Airport (KMQ).
Now with the March 2015 inauguration of the Hokuriku Shinkansen (Hokuriku Bullet Train), you can travel from Tokyo to Kanazawa in just about 2 hours 30 minutes.
In addition to the ordinary cars (which are very nice), and the first-class Green Cars, the Hokuriku Shinkansen’s Series E7 trains also offer the deluxe GranClass (click on the links to see photos of each).
Traveling between Kanazawa and Kyoto is also straightforward, with the Limited Express JR Thunder Bird train making the trip in just over 2 hours.