Located at the southwestern base of the Noto Peninsula, is the prefectural capital, Kanazawa.
Kanazawa is home to multiple interesting cultural sites, easily reached by the great bus service. Spend two full days in Kanazawa and you will be pleasantly surprised by what this small city-with-a-big-town-feel has to offer.
In this post, I have listed all of the sites worth visiting, restaurant recommendations and my foremost favourite experience – an interactive sushi making experience.
Interesting cultural sites to visit in Kanazawa
Most visitors are drawn to Kanazawa for the beautiful Kenroku-en Garden. The garden is absolutely stunning during the two most colourful seasons of the year: Spring and Autumn. The cherry blossom trees are dotted everywhere and when they turn for autumn, you get a completely different, jaw-dropping sight.
Kanazawa is also well-known for local crafts, silk dyeing, Kutani pottery, gold leaf and lacquer ware. There are a few places where you can see some of these examples displayed, such as: in the Museum for Traditional Products and Crafts, and the Ishikawa Prefectural Art Museum.
Both are located next to the Kenroku-en Garden.
The best thing about Kanazawa, is that everything is in close proximity. You never feel that you have to venture far or take a lengthy bus ride, like in Kyoto, Osaka & Tokyo.
Tip: If you are not visiting Kanazawa in season, the garden will be underwhelming. But here are 7 sights in addition to the garden that will spark your interest:
Top 8 sights to visit in Kanazawa:
- Kenroku-en Garden: ranked together with those in Mito and Okayama as one of the three best gardens in Japan. The Kanazawa castle is right across from the garden. The castle is not impressive and there is nothing to see inside but the garden makes a wonderful stroll.
It’s a must see attraction for its beauty and for the sheer dedication in the up-keeping of this famous spot.
- The Nagamachi Samurai District: Approximately, 15 minutes’ walk from the garden, is the Samurai quarter. The area is small, unique to Japan and an open Samurai house museum and garden can be visited for a small fee in the district. The Kanazawa loop bus and JR bus stop at Korinbo. Nagamachi is a five-minute walk from there.
It is worth visiting as one of the most unique areas in Japan, especially if you have a great interest in the Samurai or 12th century Japan. The garden is intricate and delicate with beautiful serene water features.
Inside the Samurai house, you are welcomed by a host to experience a traditional tea ceremony. Go on and savour Matcha tea in the tiniest room you will ever have tea in.
- Geisha district: The well-preserved tea houses of the 19th century established Geisha district, are also of interest. These are to the north of central Kanazawa, across the Asano river (approx 30 min walk from the centre).
Here, you can visit a traditional house that was converted into a museum for visitors. It is complimentary to visit.
- Omi-cho market: Located between the shopping centre and the station, is the bustling market, selling all kinds of produce including the gigantic red spider crabs – much prized in Japanese cooking. The market is busy all day long and it is fun to see the locals going about their daily lives.
- A silk-dyeing centre: Nagamachi Yuzen Kan is a workshop of Kaga-Yuzn operated by Chikou which was founded about 200 years ago. Kaga-Yuzen is a technique for hand-painting Kimonos. At the centre are various different Kimonos and crafts exhibited. It is also possible to experience the colouring by Kaga-Yuzen. It is interesting to watch but it eventually gets a little boring.
- Myoryuji ‘Ninja’ Temple: Famed for its historic associations with the Ninja assassins, this was my favourite attraction in Kanazawa. The temple is riddled with secret passages, hidden chambers and rooms, moving staircases, traps and secret devices to fox the intruder.
It set my imagination wild with the Edo period and all it’s mysteries. Rules are strict, here. Sit in a (straight) line, don’t touch anything and most importantly, don’t open anything – you might just fall in…*wink-wink*
A tour needs to be pre-booked and will be conducted in Japanese, but you will be given a picture book with English explanations. The book is also available in other International languages.
Tip: Pre-arrange a tour through your hotel – it is much easier. The Japanese like to deal with each other in their own language and feel much obliged to accommodate visitors.
Myoryuji Temple is located in the Teramachi district. From Kanazawa Station’s East Exit take the Loop Bus from bus stop 7 and get off at Hirokoji bus stop. The bus takes 14 minutes and costs approx. ¥200.
- Gold Leaf Museum and the Sakuda Gold Leaf Company are the two places to go for gold leaf and gilding. These products are still made locally, and there are plenty of good shops on the road leading from the garden to the town center for high-quality souvenir purchasing.
Alternatively, sample the creamiest gold leave ice-cream on the street.
- The 21st Century Art Museum has been completed, and makes a very well worthwhile detour for those wishing to view contemporary art. It was closed while we visited due to a public holiday. But, we could admire the famous swimming pool by Leandro Elrich from a window. The pool attracts young Instagramers, taking creative photos from ‘beneath’ the water. It is worth visiting just for that.
Ippei Sushi: Inexpensive with a cheerful chef and kimono-clad okamisan (mistress). This little bar will win you over by its authenticity and skilled chef. The sushi is super fresh.
Kanazawa Sekitei: Dine in, what used to be, a previous samurai house with a quaint Japanese garden, quietly located next to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. The kaiseki cuisine is excellent and a reservation is required. (book a day in advance). Opening hours: 11.30am to 10pm.
Pilsen: Open since 1968, this German beer hall style restaurant is very popular. There is a long counter downstairs and more intimate table seating upstairs. Closed Sundays. Drinks prices start from ¥600 and main dishes from ¥800.
Ume No Hana: For a true Japanese dining experience, it is hard to beat this place! You will never look at tofu the same way. With beautiful gardens; stunning tatami rooms, each dish is brought out to you. Reservations are essential – even at lunch time. The only downfall is that the restaurant is away from the main sights. A taxi is the easiest way to get there. Budget: Kaiseki lunches start at ¥1,500 while dinner starts at ¥3,500 per person.
Note: Keep an eye out for the pink ‘Eye on’ symbol/logo in restaurants in Kanazawa. Eye on is a useful English-language resource and information site with restaurant recommendations, indicating that the restaurant has an English-language menu or staff.
WiFi is also free in some areas on the streets.
The ULTIMATE foodie experience:
Last but not least and most definitely, my favourite hands-on experience, other than the Ninja Temple, was rolling my own sushi at COIL!
COIL is a modern and creative Japanese restaurant for the whole family. Here, you can experience traditional Japanese dishes like Hosomaki Sushi, Tempura and, of course, Saki while rolling with laughter (sushi rolling is artful fun).
Instructions come in a video format on an iPad (in any language). So, we could view the menu, order and follow the instructions in our own time. Stop – start sounds more like it!
It felt like we were in a modern kitchen with all the tools that we need to make an epic sushi roll.
COIL is easily located, 1 min walk from Omi-cho Market. Although, we were not specifically looking for this restaurant… Like Ninjas, we were on a food hunt (any food!!). We realised that many restaurants in Kanazawa are closed during a certain time of the day. After passing the shopping centre a couple of times, we finally spotted the restaurant on the first floor, thanks to it’s very modern look.
Initially, we thought it was a fine-dining restaurant and definitely not something we were in the mood for. We had a look anyway. Now, don’t let the quiet, emptiness of COIL deceive you. Pop your head in and ask to look at the menu. If we didn’t, we would have missed an ultimate unique Japanese experience. One, I am still raving about.
After much deliberation, we opted for the 6 piece and 8 piece dishes with tempura and a shared Saki tasting. What was impressive, is the choice offered to change the vinegared rice for cauliflower rice. Now, THAT would not interfere with your clean eating, low-carb diet!
What was more impressive, was the vegan set filled with green shiso leaf, radish, baked shiitake, Mexican veggies and beans – all savoured with a self-serve tea ceremony. Plant foodie heaven, thank you COIL!
If you really want to treat yourself, make a reservation for the Hosomaki Sushi special dinner. From salted firefly squid to slow cooked duck in truffle, a tea bar, Gelato and a little souvenir, you’d be spoiled. (24 hour reservation required)
COIL is all-n-all just a fun, interactive place to play with your food in a very modern and traditional Japanese style. It’s places like this that gives travel great meaning.
After-all the best way to learn is to play!!
When you think of Kanazawa – Japan, think of Ninjas and Samurais, unique architecture and history that makes it a fascinating location to visit.
Rating this city: 4.5 out of 5 Irish harps
Here are also the essential details, you need to know before packing for Japan.
Until next time,