Kanazawa seemed like a bit of a mystery to me. The tourists I met up until then hadn’t heard of it, but it was raved about it Japan guide books and blogs. It was on my route around Japan, just before I hit Takayama, so I decided to give it a go despite my lack of knowledge.
One day is perfect for seeing the best of Kanazawa. It may be a packed day, but the Kanazawa bus system makes everything a million times easier by passing all the biggest tourist spots in the city. This is how I spent my day in this fascinating city.
My day didn’t get off to the most inspiring start when the bus made it’s first stop at Omicho Market. The market draws favourable comparisons with Tsukiji Market in Tokyo but I guess, as a vegetarian, dead sea creatures just aren’t really my thing. Upstairs there are eateries specialising in sushi and fresh seafood but I can’t say I lingered long here. I did manage to get a few snaps of some weird marine life though.
Namagachi (Samurai) district
The Namagachi district was home to the samurai lords and their families; in fact, many of the families descendants still live here. The Nomura house, which is now a museum, displays artifacts and exhibits the lifestyle the samurai would have once led. There are some pretty sick samurai swords here. Apart from the restored houses and gardens which litter the district, the whole are itself is really pretty, with lots of little alleyways and canals dotted around.
Myoruji (Ninja) Temple
Definitely my highlight of Kanazawa, and possibly my favourite temple in all of Japan, the Myoruji temple is a labyrinth of secret stairways, trap doors, hidden passages, and booby traps. No ninjas actually resided here; though it wasn’t ever said explicitly, I’m guessing the name came from the fact that this is an especially sneaky temple, like a ninja. I was unbelievably lucky to get in, as I hadn’t booked in advance which you absolutely should do (I ended up making friends with a Japanese businessman who sweet talked the guides for me). The only downfall of this place is that no English tour guides are offered – instead, English speakers receive a guide book which they can follow as the tour progresses. It didn’t bother me, but I could see some other tourists losing their place.
The Kenrokuen Garden is one of Kanazawa’s most famous sights, and reputedly one of the three most beautiful gardens in the entire country. And it is lovely. With its waterfalls, stepping stones, huge pine trees, ponds and stone lanterns, Kenrokuen Garden is exactly what you imagine when you think of Japanese gardens. It was a little crowded by the time I got here (just after lunch), so I reckon the earlier the better if you want to get some good photos. Although I didn’t get round to visiting, Kanazawa Castle is just a short walk across the road.
Higashichaya Old Town (Geisha District)
Kanazawa is often compared to Kyoto, and the prevalence of geisha and preserved tea houses were very reminiscent of the Gion district there. The geisha district now caters mainly to tourists, with many tea shops, gold leaf shops and little restaurants lining the cobbled streets, and yet it’s still possible to get a sense for what the area was like 100 years ago. If you’re lucky you might see a geisha, which is always an exciting and odd experience (I’m still not entirely sure what they do).