Kanazawa is a sleepy little city on the west coast of mainland Japan. Just over two hours from Tokyo on the bullet train, it’s accessible but not a major tourist site for international visitors. The name Kanazawa translates to “golden swamp” as legend says a peasant trying to find potatoes happened upon gold instead! Nowadays the city is known throughout Japan for its gold leaf. Visitors can purchase beautiful gilded items (chopsticks and other laquerware), beauty products with bits of gold leaf (lotions, soaps and crazily full-face masks), OR indulge in an edible, gold leaf sweet (ice cream, cakes, you name it).
Kanazawa is known as the site of one of Japan’s three sacred gardens (along with Kairaku-en in Ibari and Koraku-en in Okayama). Kenroku-en is a beautifully landscaped garden dating back around 400 years. It features several ponds, small waterfalls, a lovely tea house, footbridges, and paths leading through the park’s nearly 9000 trees. Admission is ¥310.
Only a short bridge away from Kenroku-en, Kanazawa Castle grounds are the site of several historical buildings, including watchtowers, entrance gates, and a large rebuilt warehouse, as well as a moat encircling the main building and a small garden, Gyokuseninmaru.
21st Century Museum
There are several museums within close walking distance of Kenroku-en and Kanazawa Castle, including the 21st Century Museum, a small modern art museum built out of glass. The building itself is a perfect circle, and the museum includes some crazy features, a “floating” elevator as well as the famous Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich in one of the museum’s inner courtyards. Much of the museum is free to the public, but entering the exhibitions (including the pool) varies from a few hundred yen up to ¥1000.
Many visitors go to Kyoto seeking out traditional Japanese architecture and find the city’s beauty spoiled by the thousands of other tourists with the same idea. Kanazawa’s Higashichaya is an off-the-beaten track alternative to sites like Kyoto’s Higashiyama district, although visitors have increased in recent years thanks to the construction of the shinkansen. Higashichaya is a small neighborhood on the banks of the Asano River full of old builings and tiny alleyways. Step into a tiny shop to buy some gold leaf souvenirs and see a storehouse covered in gold leaf or tour an old geisha house for your dose of history. No matter where you go, end your tour at Oriental Brewing to try some local beers (and pizza! if you aren’t tied to eating only Japanese food).
A day in Kanazawa wouldn’t be complete without a night out in Katamachi. Start off with some yakitori at Chikuzenya and continue the night with sake or umeshu at Choikichi, affectionately known as Mama’s. To end your day in Kanazawa, wander around Katamachi and see where the night takes you…. Karaoke anyone?
You’ll come into and out of the city by way of Kanazawa Station. An architectural site, the station is framed by a large stylized gate designed to look like a drum. Shinkansen tickets from Tokyo Station to Kanazawa station cost ¥14,320 one way.
- The Share Hotels Hatchi – with a branch of my favorite coffee shop on the ground floor, near Higashichaya
- Guest House Nagonde – dorms and tatami rooms near KZ station
- Blue Hour Kanazawa – cozy dorms near the station
- Good Neighbors Hostel – stylish hostel minutes from the station
Pinned locations in order for the perfect daylong walking tour: Kanazawa Map