The Case for Kanazawa

Hello everyone, long time no write! Sorry about that! I just returned from my not so wintry winter holiday to Indonesia yesterday, but, before I write about that, I wanted to finish up this post that has been in the works now for a few months.

I’ve found it a bit difficult to write this post without it sounding like gushing. In the end I didn’t manage to write without gushing, you have been warned. I just don’t care how it comes across sounding anymore. I enjoyed writing this blog post because…

I LOVE Kanazawa.

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The front of Kanazawa train station. It’s often listed amongst Japan’s most impressive train stations.

 

I think Kanazawa is the best and most often unfairly overlooked city in all of Japan. In this post, I’m going to make the case for Kanazawa as being one of the best places ever. I mean that literally. There are so many lovely things about Kanazawa that make it great for any visitor in Japan.

1. Museums

If you are into museums and learning while on vacation, Kanazawa is a great city to visit. From the 21st Century Modern Art Museum to the Ninja Temple to the Traditional Crafts Museum. There is something for everyone.

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The 21st Century Museum’s most famous piece. The Pool by Ed Landreth.

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My friend Olivia “inside” the pool by Ed Landreth looking up at the people above.

 

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One of the museums many pieces on the lawn outside.

 

I really love wandering around the 21st Century museum every time I go to Kanazawa. It’s a bit pricy for a ticket to the museum but it’s one of the most interesting modern art museums I have ever been to. Even if you don’t want to pay the ticket price to go in, it’s worth a wander around because there are a lot of great pieces on the lawn outside and in the public space of the museum. Sometimes they even have a local artisan craft fair on the lawn. Check the museum’s website to see any special events they might have going on while you are in town!

Another favorite museum of mine is Ninjadera. It literally translates to Ninja temple. Don’t be fooled by the name though, it doesn’t have much to do with ninja’s and it’s not just a temple you walk around!

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It’s proper name is Myoryuji. It was built in the Maeda era and is a disguised military outpost. It got its name “ninja” temple because it was build with a variety of hidden trap doors and staircases to defend the area, but it was never used by any ninja. It was actually used by samurai.

The only way to enter the temple is to take the organized tour. The tour is only offered in Japanese, but they will give you an English guidebook to follow along as you go through the temple. I found it quite easy to follow along with the book and I don’t feel like I missed much by not speaking Japanese. You have to make reservations at a certain time for the tour, so be sure to call the day before to book it!

You can also visit the gold leaf museum (Kanazawa is famous for producing gold leaf), the traditional crafts museum, and the DT Suzuki museum (a famous Buddhist philosopher).

Read about all the different museums on this page.

2. Historical districts (Tea, Geisha, Castles, and Samurai!)

Kanazawa is the second largest city to survive WW2 untouched after Kyoto. It is often called little Kyoto by Japanese people because it has a lot of similar “old world” feeling. It has 3 historical refurbished tea districts, second most working geisha in a single city (after Kyoto), it’s own modest refurbished Japanese style castle, and refurbished samurai homes/living districts.

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The tea districts have many Chaya (cha=tea and ya=shop). A number of them are open to the public to this day and some are preserved for viewing as they would have been used in the past. If you go in the evening you might get lucky and happen upon a geisha and maiko on their way to and from appointments.

If you are interested in experiencing an evening with Geisha, tourists can book a dinner with actual Geisha in Kanazawa. You can organize dinner and drinks with Geishas through this company. Geisha company and performances in Kyoto are much more expensive and exclusive, so your best opportunity to interact with them is in Kanazawa. It only costs about 10,000 yen (around 100 US dollars) for dinner with Geisha in Kanazawa. This is CHEAP y’all. I hope to do it sometime this year!

3. Kenrokuen Garden

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Kenrokuen in early fall.

 

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Kenrokuen is one of the 3 best gardens in all of Japan. It’s gorgeous all year round and is Kanazawa’s biggest tourist attraction.
 

I have seen Kenrokuen in 3 seasons so far (summer, winter, and fall!).

My favorite season has been winter. It looks so majestic covered in a blanket of white snow. Snow was falling in giant flakes as we walked through the garden, but we couldn’t pull ourselves away from the sight of the garden. Just look at the pictures!

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It costs around 300-400 yen to enter the garden. That’s only 3 or 4 US dollars! How could you skip it? I have been to gardens all over Kansai and Tokyo in the last 3 years and so far nothing has compared to Kenrokuen in beauty during any season. It is an absolute MUST DO on a trip to Kanazawa.

4. Omi Cho Market (and food, in general)

Like fresh vegetables? Like raw fish? You should definitely check out the Omi-cho Market. While not nearly as famous or large as the Tsukiji in Tokyo, It’s way more approachable and tourist friendly.

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Looking down at the Omi-cho market from a sushi restaurant on the second floor.

 

The Japanese government is in the process of closing the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo and moving to another location away from tourists. The people at the Tsukiji market are annoyed by tourists because they are trying to do their job and hundreds of people come to take pictures every day. Tourists always end up in the way.

At the Omi-cho market in Kanazawa, they welcome tourists with a smile and encourage you to buy from them and eat their food. Local people are welcoming and approachable. God bless the countryside!

The seafood in the Hokuriku region is particularly famous during winter time because it all comes from the freezing cold sea of Japan. I’ve tried raw oysters and sashimi from the market and they were both delicious!

5. Small Town Charm with Big City Personality

This city, for all its tourist attractions, isn’t very large. The entire city can be seen by walking on foot if you have the energy for it! Everything on this list is in a 20 minute walking radius. Seriously.

If you aren’t the walking type there is a sightseeing bus which can be taken in a short loop around the city. A day pass to the bus costs 500 yen and pays for itself after riding on it 2 times.

I personally prefer to walk through the city. It allows me to explore any random things I stumble upon while making my way to and from different museums. No matter how many times I visit Kanazawa there is always something new just around the corner that I have never seen before.

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The people in Kanazawa are very kind and local to the area but the presence of a large university and some of the most well preserved historical areas in all of Japan give it a ton of big city charm.

I recently stayed in a hostel in Kanazawa and met a man traveling around Japan for 2 months from Israel. He was on the last  few days of his trip and I asked him what his favorite place in Japan had been so far. He said it was Kanazawa because the city had a great feel and atmosphere.

I was a bit surprised he didn’t name one of the larger more famous cities at first, but then I realized that I agreed with him. Kanazawa is one of my favorite places in Japan. The city just has a wonderful vibe to it. There are so many great little coffee shops and restaurants tucked in and away on ever street corner.

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Curio Coffee in Kanazawa was introduced to me by my friend Alyssa. Its become one of my favorite coffee shops in Japan.

 

Soon the Shinkansen will open through to Kanazawa making it easier and faster to access by Japan Rail Pass for tourists. Why skip it?

Hopefully you can understand why I love this city so much. It’s beautiful, pedestrian friendly, historical, cultural, and just far enough off the beaten path to show a completely different side of Japan from Tokyo and Kyoto while still being interesting.

Some friends recently messaged me asking me when I was coming back for another visit. I think there is a high chance it will be sometime in the near future.

End of my gushing. Sorry I’m not sorry.

(please don’t count the many ridiculous hyperboles in this post, you’ll just exhaust yourself and embarrass me.)

Next up Indonesia!

2 Responses

  1. christine February 22, 2015 / 1:26 am

    Wow! The gardens do look beautiful in winter but all i can think of is brrrrrr! 🙂

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