400km Northwest of Tokyo, seaside Kanazawa is known for its well-preserved Edo-era districts. While I don’t think any Japanese town or city is ever lacking in culture or history, Kanazawa stands out because it actually has preserved neighbourhoods.
Since Kanazawa attracts a lot of tourists, there’s a specific bus loop that brings you to all the main sights. Travellers can easily get a day pass and hop on and off the bus system, hitting everything they need to see.
Another great way to enjoy the city is on a bicycle – which is how I did it. The city is well prepared for bikers, as it’s fairly flat and has many paved bike lanes. Cycling is actually the main way locals get around.
Now that we have transportation sorted out, here are some of my favourite stops in the city:
Higashi Chaya-Gai (Old Town)
Also known as the Old Town, this is the main historic attraction in Kanazawa. It’s also Kanazawa’s most famous geisha district (there are several geisha districts in Kanazawa).
Unlike some of the other historic areas in the city, many of the buildings are actually accessible to visitors. While many of them have been refurbished into modern stores and food stalls, there are still several traditional tea houses for tourists to enjoy the traditional experience.
Many of these traditional establishments are quite nondescript (really like most Japanese establishments), so it’s best to know which tea house you want to go to beforehand.
Nagamachi Samurai District
A quiet and compact area, Nagamachi was once where a lot of samurais lived. While none of the actual samurai houses remain, it’s still a pleasant and theatrical area to explore. It’s a bit of an odd feeling to see how small buildings use to be. I felt like I could peek over the walls just by going on my toes!
Unfortunately, many of the buildings were closed off to the public and all that was open were souvenir shops.
The only museum/historic house that was open was the Nomura House and it costs 500 yen to tour. The house wasn’t particularly spectacular, as there weren’t any artifacts or many things to see. It’s literally a tour of an empty house. But I soon learned it wasn’t the house this site was known for. Instead, visitors were coming for the famous back garden – which I have to agree was pretty tranquil.
A smaller geisha district, compared to Higashi Chaya-Gai, but just as beautiful. There aren’t a lot of shops and buildings to go into, but it’s a lovey walk or cycle around as its set along the riverbank.
Taking up a gigantic area in Kanazawa, the castle is a great place to spend the afternoon. Having been to several Japanese castles before, I decided to skip this one in favour of spending more time in the castle’s famous gardens.
For 310 yen, I was transported to a completely serene and peaceful oasis. It does get crowded and there are many tour groups that visit, but the gardens are so big that it wasn’t very difficult to find a secluded spot just to enjoy the views.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
One of my favourite things about Japan is how easily and effortless it is for them to have such traditional and historical buildings merge with completely contemporary ones.
Fairly close to the Kanazawa Castle is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. I didn’t have time to visit inside, but the building is an architectural masterpiece itself! I’d highly suggest visiting in the late afternoons, just as the sun is setting. It’s really a spectacular sight!
Sakuda Gold Leaf Factory
Walking around Kanazawa, you’ll soon realize it is also highly associated with gold. There’s literally gold leaves every which way you look. In fact, you can even have it on your ice cream!
More investigating lead me to learn that Kanazawa means “stream of gold”. And the city produces 99% and 100% of Japans gold and silver leaves.
Loving the abundance of gold around the city, I decided to spend a couple hours crafting with gold one afternoon.
Within the Higashi Chaya-Gai district, you can visit the Sakuda Gold Leaf Factory. There you can learn more about gold leaves and watch the goldsmiths carefully handle and transform the metal.
You can also decorate souvenirs with gold leaves, which I decided to dazzle up a pair of chopsticks. Who doesn’t want a pair of golden chopsticks?
Kanazawa City Events
The city of Kanazawa was surprisingly lively and connected. There’s actually a lot of festivals and events that happen year round. During my visit, I happened to cross paths with the Kanazawa Acappella Town Festival.
Needless to say I was ecstatic! I love acappella! The festival was such a highlight of my visit. I was even lucky to have been there for the final days of the festival, where I got to enjoy the finale show!