Commonly referred to as Little Kyoto, Kanazawa is a city brimming with tradition that attracts visitors year upon year thanks to its streets of old wooden tea houses, an abundance of traditional crafts and some of Japan’s most beautiful gardens.
Kanazawa is the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture which is found on the central northern coast of Japan tucked behind the Japanese Alps and facing onto the Japan Sea. An important location during the Edo period thanks to the powerful Maeda Clan, Kanazawa has started to attract attention again in recent years after it became a stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen route in 2015. As one of the few major cities that was left intact following the air raids during WWII, the city still sports several old tea house and samurai districts where you can soak up an authentic feel of traditional Japan surrounded by beautiful architecture and age-old customs.
The majority of central Kanazawa lies between the Asano river in the east and the Sai river in the west with the esteemed Kenrokuen Garden and the adjoined Kanazawa Castle grounds taking center stage. An unmissable spot in the city, for both its location and its reputation, Kenrokuen Garden and its beautiful landscapes have earned it a spot as one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. However, greenery is in no way limited to the gardens with an abundance of nature surrounding the metropolis.
The city’s most visited areas are its tea house and samurai districts thanks to their preserved Japanese streets from over 300 years ago. These days, the most captivating spots include the Nagamachi samurai district in the west of the city which houses a maze of old cobbled streets and samurai residences, or head east of Asano river to the Higashi Chaya geisha district with its main street of vibrant wooden tea houses. Much like Kyoto, geisha were a prominent part of Kanazawa’s culture during the Edo period (1603 - 1868), however, the small number of remaining geisha today make it unlikely you’ll catch a glimpse without attending a performance.
Ubiquitous throughout town are Kanazawa’s crafts, most notably the intricate designs of kutani-yaki ceramics, the delicate Kaga yuzen designed kimonos and gold leaf which can be found everywhere from the buildings to the beauty products, and even sprinkled on ice cream. As well as being an ideal location to try out the renowned sake and seafood of Ishikawa Prefecture, Kanazawa also hosts the lively festivals of Hyakumangoku Matsuri across the first weekend of June and Asano-gawa Enyukai in the second week of April, which do nothing but demonstrate how the city is alive with the vibrancy of its culture and traditions.
Although the city’s older traditions are one of the main draws to Kanazawa, the Katamachi district bustles with business in the day, before the streets come alive at night in the local restaurants, bars and clubs. The ever popular 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art also acts as a symbol of the city’s modern side.