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Region
Chubu
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Kanazawa
Population
1,180,935

Kanazawa

Kyoto's rival is a city of as much elegance and historical significance - just more compact.

Ishikawa’s capital city has stayed fairly quiet in the shadow of its famous sister, Kyoto. Like Kyoto, Kanazawa avoided bombing in World War II, and is now one of the best-preserved Edo-period cities in Japan. It offers all the shrines, temples, castles, and historical districts you would expect, along with regional draws like insight into the powerful Maeda samurai clan.

Secluded in the mountainous Hokuriku region, Kanazawa was once difficult for tourists to reach, but its popularity is now soaring thanks to the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen line in 2015. Kanazawa’s compact size and the abundance of tourist information printed in English and other languages make it easily accessible. It’s an ideal destination for everyone from first-timers to Japan travel veterans.

A scenic picture of Keisha village

Explore Kanazawa’s different historic areas.

One of Kanazawa’s most enchanting pleasures is simply strolling around the city’s various historical districts. There are three photogenic chaya districts; historic entertainment areas where geisha served wealthy patrons in lavish tearooms. Higashi Chayagai is the largest, and the place to go for luxury souvenirs you won’t find anywhere else. Kanzawa’s rich artistic traditions have made it a UNESCO City of Crafts and Folk Art, so you’ll find hand-painted ceramics and hand-dyed silks, along with enough gold leaf products to rival the collection of King Midas himself.

Nishi Chayagai and Kazuemachi are smaller, less trafficked districts, where venerated businesses continue to serve the city’s affluent today. Do a little searching and you’ll find cozy restaurants and bars. There’s also the quiet Nagamachi Samurai District, once home to samurai families. Most of the buildings are private residences now and can’t be entered, but a few museums and restored homes and shops provide a glimpse into the neighborhood’s past life.

Kenrokuen Gardens, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Pref

Kenrokuen is one of Japan’s top three most beautiful gardens.

Admire the floral architecture of Kenrokuen, one of the “Three Great Gardens of Japan”. Though tea service can be enjoyed all around the city, Kenrokuen’s teahouses are great spots from which to enjoy the garden’s spectacular scenery. Right across the road is Kanazawa Castle Park, the former residence of the ruling Maeda clan. The spacious surrounding park contains impressive gates and stone ruins, and the exhibitions inside the reconstructed castle provide information about its history and architecture.

There’s no shortage of shrines and temples to visit, but Myoryuji stands out as an exceptionally unique attraction. If you love spies, ninjas, and secret trapdoors, make sure to reserve a guided tour of this temple to find out why it’s earned the nickname “ninja-dera”. While it officially operated as a Buddhist temple for the Maeda rulers to worship in, it doubled as a secret military post, from which hiding samurai could defend the feudal lord. The endlessly surprising tour will reveal hidden staircases, optical illusions, trick doors, and more.

Kanazawa Japan - May 10, 2015: Modern Hokuriku Sinkansen bullet train parked at Kanazawa station in Kanazawa Japan.

The new Hokuriku Sinkansen bullet train opened in 2015, making Kanazawa easily accessible from Tokyo.

Though you might not expect it from such a traditional city, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is one of the best contemporary art museums in Japan. Its permanent collection includes unpredictable interactive pieces, and rotating temporary exhibits present the best of local and international artists. It also functions as a public community center, providing a welcoming and unpretentious place for everyone to hang out.

Things To Know

Visiting Myoryuji (Ninja Temple)

To visit the Ninja Temple you need to book a tour in advance by telephone. Tours are provided in Japanese only. Adults: ¥1000 / Children: ¥700. Check the website for more details: http://www.myouryuji.or.jp/en.html

How To Get There

By train

Kanazawa can be reached from Tokyo in 3 hours (¥13,600 and up) via a new Shinkansen line that just opened in 2015. From Osaka, take the limited express Thunderbird to Kanazawa station (2 hours 40 minutes, ¥7130).

By bus

Nouhi Bus and Hokutetsu Bus operate buses between Kanazawa and other popular destinations in the area (¥3390 yen and around 2 hours to Takayama, ¥1850 and 1.5 hours to Shirakawa-go).

Where To Stay

Kikunoya Ryokan
  • Hirosaka 1-1-27 Kanazawa-Shi, Ishikawa 920-0962
  • 7.9/10
  • 0.1 km
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Hotel Crown Hills Kanazawa
  • Katamachi 1-2-44 Kanazawa-Shi, Ishikawa 920-0981
  • 0.1 km
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Town Hotel 41
  • Katamachi 1-3-33 Kanazawa-Shi, Ishikawa 920-0981
  • 7.4/10
  • 0.2 km
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Kanazawa guest house NANA
  • Satomicho 44-1 Town Heights 303 Kanazawa-Shi, Ishikawa 920-0998
  • 0.2 km
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