One of our most anticipated destinations, Kanazawa is an attractive small city with plenty of history and things to see.
Kanazawa is a small coastal city, which explained why it was pretty cold, windy and rainy – we were surprised to find ourselves colder here than we had been in the mountains of Matsumoto.
The first day was dry and we got a lot done but unfortunately day 2 consisted solely of rain, which forced us to seek out places inside for most of the morning/afternoon. Kanazawa is so rainy that a local saying goes ‘Even if you forget your lunchbox, never forget your umbrella’.
The city is compact but a bit too big to be walkable. So be sure to get a day bus pass for 500yen for the whole day. There is a convenient tourist loop with some lovely old buses running on it, which stops at all the main attractions. These all depart from platform 3 of the bus terminal outside of the JR station. It also includes discounts for various attractions although we only managed to use it for the geisha house.
Our highlight of our time in Kanazawa was definitely the Kenroken Gardens, said to be one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan, it has loads of bridges across a small stream, and 2 large ponds, the colours of autumn make for great photos here.
The second highlight for us was the ninja temple, which was awesome! Unfortunately the name is a lie – it’s been given because of the amount of trapdoors and secret passageways throughout the temple, but there is no evidence it had anything to do with ninjas. But it is fascinating to walk around.
The tours are only done in Japanese but this was OK, because you are given English tour booklets at the start so you can read along. Sadly photography is not allowed so we have no photos except of the outside.
It is located in a district with scores of temples, though most are not particularly exciting.
We also loved the geisha district otherwise known as Higashi Chaya-gai. We visited the Shima Geisha house there and it was fascinating although very small, but for 400 yen it was well worth visiting. You get to see the geisha sleeping quarters and the performance areas, and a small museum of artifacts from when the house was operational.
The whole district is so pretty, just by walking around you can get a feel of how things were when geisha really lived there. There are tourist geisha shows some evenings in the area, though we didn’t go to one.
We also went to visit the castle briefly, but had heard that it wasn’t so spectacular inside so only viewed from a distance.
The samurai district was the most disappointing. While there are a few restored samurai houses, they were closed when we visited and there aren’t many of them. It’s an attractive, but uneventful residential area.
Finally we attempted to visit the modern art museum, which frustratingly was also closed due to a public holiday, so we messed about with the exhibits outside instead.
Our big regret was not going to the fish market. We deliberated whether to get off the bus but the torrential rain put us off. However after seeing pictures of the market, I really wish we’d gone in!
If you’re bored of sightseeing Kanazawa has plenty of great department stores, I spent ages looking around them! The only thing it didn’t have was a great selection of restaurants.
There weren’t many western visitors in Kanazawa, by all accounts far more domestic tourists visit the city than foreigners, and in our opinion they’re missing out. It’s a great city.
Kanazawa is around 3 hours from Osaka and at least 4 from Tokyo via the Ltd Express Thunderbird but come March 2015 it will be connected to the Shinkansen which will slash journey times and possibly bring in many more tourists.
We had a dorm bed each in Okarare guesthouse, our only gripe was that its not in the best location about 500m behind the JR station, but its a very homely welcoming place and we really did have a nice time here. The room is clean, very clean, very modern, all the facilities seemed new and we had a good nights sleep.