The name Kanazawa translates as The Golden Marsh. The story goes that: A peasant named Imohori Togoro earned his living looking for potatoes. He washed gold dust from the potatoes into a well, presently called Kinjo Reitaku, so marsh of gold. Furthermore, The city has a historic reputation for making Buddhist altars, various wood carvings and using gold leaf for decorations. Even today, Kanazawa supplies 99% of Japan’s gold leaf.
Thanks to being such a close friend to the Tokugawa Bakufu. The feudal lord, the Maeda daimyo, developed a prosperous city. He built a castle town where the inhabitants lived in peace and had all the different districts of an old Japanese village. Areas well preserved behind a dull modern facade until today. In other words, here you find a preserved samurai area, an outstanding landscape garden, geiko districts and some of the best sashimi and sushi in Japan.
What to do in Kanazawa?
- Visit Kenrokuen Garden
- Go to the Nagamachi district for a feeling of samurai life in the city
- Visit an Okiya/Geisha house in Higashi Chaya
- Try some local seafood from any of the 160 local vendors at Omicho fish market
- Drink coffee made to perfection at Higashides drip coffee shop.
- Spend time at Kanazawa station named by the magazine Travel and Leisure as one of the worlds most beautiful train stations.
Kenrokuen garden used to be a part of the castle area. Accordingly, it was 100% reserved for the Maeda lord and his family. However, it has been open as a public park since 1871. It is adapted to be strikingly beautiful all year round, following the seasonal changes.
Kenrokuen Garden was created out of ancient wisdom and then modelled on the great landscape gardens of China. Kenrokuen ranks as one of Japan’s three most delightful gardens. It incorporates the six features of a park expressed in Chinese literature: spaciousness, solitude, artifice, antiquity, use of water, and panorama.
The Traditional Districts
Nagamachi Samurai district with the Nomura family museum
Even though the area is modern for housing, you have a traditional city planning with the walls and the alleys. Moreover, at the house of the Middle-Class Nomura family, you can see how a bureaucrat samurai lived in the age of peace. The Nomura House has a Samurai garden that won a lot of prizes.
The samurai district is just behind the main shopping street in Kanazawa.
Higashi Chaya District
For once, a district with electric cables placed underground. Traditional Geiko houses are named tea houses or Okiyas. Generally with a reception downstairs and entertainment on the second floor. The doors on the second floor still open up on hot summer days.
We always visit Kaikaro Okiya with its exclusive and unusually strong, contemporary colours and a golden tatami! The Kaikaro Okiya functions as a museum during the daytime and as an active geiko house at night.
Sashimi, Sushi and Coffee
Omicho Fish Market
Omicho, not exactly Tsukiji. But there are no less than 160 vendors here that will keep you from starving. Sashimi, sushi, or grab something on the market. But please sit down. Don’t walk and eat. There are many chances to grab a bite. Check out the yakitori corner. I enjoy this place primarily for lunch, and after eating here, I will head over to…
Kanazawa perfect coffee – Higashide Coffee
Drip coffee brewed to perfection. The owner takes his time; he sips the coffee to get the taste you prefer. I usually go for an Italian blend, a Caramel Custard cake, or two. Those cakes might be the best Creme Caramel in Japan! The cafe is located just outside the market in a brick house. Friendly retro/vintage style.
The downside is that you are allowed to smoke inside. This is Japan, after all. No walking and smoking outside. However, inside coffee shops, it’s not unusual that you are permitted to smoke.
Adress to Higashide Cafe on Google maps here.
The new station opened in 2005. This is a complex full of shops and restaurants. Railway stations are often designed to be meeting places in Japan. Like a city centre in itself. This is an excellent example of that. When you enter from the modern new side, you will see a fascinating water clock and the robust wooden Tsuzumi – mon gate. From a distance, the station has the shape of a samurai helmet.
If you take the escalator up to the second floor inside the station and turn left, there is a very popular and good Kaiten Sushi at Sushitama restaurant. You might need to wait a little bit to get seated. The sushi on the carousel is good, but if you want to order some specials, you have a digital screen to order from. The plates will be collected and scanned when you pay your bill. Golden leaves are more expensive.
With the relatively new Hokuriku Shinkansen, you can reach Kanazawa from Tokyo via two services:
- The Kagayaki Shinkansen takes 2 hours and 30 minutes.
- The Hakutaka Shinkansen 3 hours, makes more stops.
So suddenly, Kanazawa has become a day trip from Tokyo.
The Maeda Clan
It was the most powerful and wealthy clan after the Tokugawas themselves. Therefore, if you were friendly and an ally in the great battle for Japan at Sekigahara on October 21st in the year 1600, you would walk out of this war greatly rewarded. Also, Maeda’s rule of Kanazawa is considered to be a prosperous time. But Kanazawa wouldn’t play the same critical role in an industrial and modernised Japan, but the lack of heavy industry saved the city from bombs during WWII.
Below you can see the dramatic Netflix documentary about the power struggle over Japan to understand the background of the Tokugawa shogunate better. Described is the history of three great warlords, Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu: The Age of the Samurai, Netflix.
Kanazawa is situated in the North-Western Ishikawa prefecture by the Sea of Japan. Also, you are just 1 hour 15 minutes from the UNESCO World heritage of Shirakawa Go, or a 2-hour train ride from Kyoto.
Where to stay? I like the location around the Korinbo commercial shopping street; at the same time, it is nearby many of the attractions. Walking distance to the fish market, samurai area and of course, the station.