Kanazawa in Ishikawa prefecture is one of three prefectures in the 北陸 (Hokuriku or Central Japan) and it was a perfect quick weekend getaway from Tokyo when my parents visited my husband and me from Australia.
It felt odd to welcome my Japanese parents from Australia to Tokyo and I felt guilty for not being able to spend more time with them due to work commitments. However, it seemed to have worked well as it gave them time to revisit places they like and catch up with friends.
As my parents’ visit was a short one that coincided with an extremely busy time at my work that stopped me from taking some time off, the one weekend we had together was important.
The reason why we visited Kanazawa:
- it’s accessible by 新幹線 (Shinkansen or bullet train) from Tokyo for only 2 1/2 hours
- Visit the Japanese Sea area that none of my family have visited
- A historical and well-preserved city with beautiful garden and culture
- Good food – fresh seafood
A bit of Kanazawa history
In 16th century, Kanazawa prospered under Shogunate, Maeda Toshiie who produced the majority of rice in Japan and for nearly three centuries they enjoyed a bountiful rice production. This resulted in Kanazawa as one of the wealthiest regions in Japan which allowed Maeda family to foster art and cultures.
Fortunately, Kanazawa wasn’t damaged by WWII that people in the 21st century are still able to appreciate the beautiful gardens, streets that samurai strode along and enjoy the beautiful crafts honed from centuries ago.
金沢 (Kanazawa or golden marshes) is also known as “City of Gold” where 99% of domestic 金箔 (kinpaku or gold leaf) are produced. Yet, seeing how they sprinkle, cover and lather up kinpaku on everything in Kanazawa, it makes me wonder how much actually leaves this glistening city!
Top sights of Kanazawa in Central Japan
兼六園 (Kenrokuen, meaning mixing six garden)
Once a garden within the Kanazawa castle, it is named after the six attributes of a perfect landscape garden: spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, watercourses, and panorama.
This garden was made public in 1874 and is named one of the best gardens in Japan.
Even during the weekend, many gardeners were painstakingly pulling out weeds and looking after the garden. Every 6 months or so, pine tree expert comes in to check in on their centuries-old pine trees. No wonder they look good!
Kenrokuen is famous for their pines and also 雪ずり(yukizuri) that protects the very old pines from winter from the first of November.
It only costs 310yen for adults to enter and with plenty of resting places within the garden ground, it is a must visit attraction in Kanazawa.
Kanazawa Castle Park
Opposite Kenrokuen is Kanazawa Castle Park. It is confusing when you look at it but the castle burnt down ages ago so what you see if the castle wall that protected the castle that once stood within the ground.
Although I wasn’t too interested, the castle ground showed the progress in different ways stone walls were built progressively throughout the years but the highlight to me was the stunning and air-conditioned resting area. It has a magnificent view of the castle park with some quiz that tests your knowledge about the castle and Kanazawa history.
I can’t really find it anywhere but my colleague who grew up in Kanazawa and lived close by said that the castle was once used as a university (?) and she thought it was there (?!). She also said that 妙立寺 (Myoryuji, aka Ninja Temple) was once connected to the castle by a secret underground escape route in case shogunate were attacked. We didn’t go but Myoruji which famed for having a lot of mechanisms like secret staircases to escape the intruders and drop floors to attack the unsuspecting invaders. If you are interested in going, you need to make yourself known beforehand to enter this temple by making a reservation.
ひがし茶屋街 (Higashichayagai, East Tea House Town) is perfectly preserved from the old days and filled with Japanese sweet stores and kinpaku stores.
Strolling along the streets makes you transported back to the 16th century. As we meandered our way and eventually found a place to eat lunch, I can’t remember the name of the restaurant but we enjoyed some udon and soba for lunch within the area.
There is also 西茶屋街 (Nishichayagai, West Tea House Town) but this was significantly smaller. It is easily accessible from Nagamachi or the Samurai District so could be good to check it out but Higashichayagai is definitely worth a visit if you only have time for one.
長町(Nagamachi) also known as Samurai District is yet another well-preserved streets where samurai used to live. There are places where you can enter to have a look at the houses or old pharmacy.
The dam was released the night before (perhaps because it was the first day of autumn?) that the canal had great speed and looked beautiful.
内灘海水浴場 (Uchinada beach)
I doubt many tourists visit this beach as it isn’t close or easily accessible by public transport. Yet, we couldn’t not see the Japanese Sea when we visited Central Japan!
As it’s quite regional and no public transport nearby (we walked the last 800m or 1km to the beach from the nearest bus stop from the tourist area), the locals simply drive on to the beach. A rarity for my parents living on the East Coast Australia, it was quite cool to witness the sun setting by the beach.
It is disappointing to see so much rubbish! 😞
Note: there is a 500 yen all you can ride bus pass 🚌 that will take you to the major tourist attractions. It’s convenient as you can avoid getting caught out to have the exact change for the bus fare if you get on the local bus (as there are more frequent). A word of warning is that this “all day” ends at 18:00.
Food in Kanazawa
近江町市場 (Omicho Market)
Omicho Market is a central market to buy fresh seafood, produce and eat seafood. Split into 3 levels, there are plenty of places to dine or have a break.
We went underground to a cafeteria style place that offered ready made sushi packs where some of the fish were caught that morning, only 6 hours before! So fresh!🍣
Benkichi isn’t very touristy and frankly not that easy to get to but the only reason we went there was because they offer all you can eat crab. ズワイガニ (zuwaigani or snow crab) generally go for 6000 yen per crab, around AUD$82 (or so it was at Omicho market) but you get to eat as many boiled snow crabs until you can’t anymore with rice and miso soup included for 5,500 yen.
You simply get the utensils of chopsticks, scissors and crab spoon and a pile of crabs are brought to the table. Game on. 🦀
A few minor negatives of Benkichi are:
- that crabs aren’t in season at the moment so not quite sure where it’s from (Russia?)
- only offer a vinegar sauce if you ask or it’ll just be you and countless crabs
- they are picky. They brought back some of the ’empty shells” that they took away from our table and told us there is more meat so eat them.
Having said that, we had a lot of good laughs, their beer was so cold it was partially frozen, we scored some ice cream for free by showing the dessert voucher and between the four of us, we demolished 12 snow crabs; clean. 🦀🦀🦀🦀🦀🦀🦀🦀🦀🦀🦀🦀
Whether you’re into Japanese cultures and history, love real bling of gold or want a slight detour from Tokyo to Kyoto, Kanazawa is a great place to experience the old Japan.