Kanazawa Travel Guide

By JREF · Oct 3, 2018 ·
  1. JREF
    Kanazawa (金沢) is the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture and the political, economic, and cultural centre of the Hokuriku Region. Kanazawa developed in the 15th century as a de facto autonomous temple town of the Ikkō sect. In 1580, the Ikkō movement was destroyed by Sakuma Morimasa, who built Kanazawa Castle. Later, the city was ruled by the powerful Maeda clan under whose rule the arts and learning prospered. Kanazawa is still famous for its Kutani ware (九谷焼 Kutani-yaki), maki-e (蒔絵, Japanese lacquerware), and Kaga yūzen (加賀友禅, printed silk fabrics). Kanazawa was not destroyed in World War II and retained its unique character as a castle town.

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    JR Kanazawa Station (Photo credit: Ame Otoko - CC BY-NC-SA)

    Kanazawa facts:
    • Area: 468.64 square kilometres
    • Population: 466,029 (January 2018)
    • Population density: 990 inhabitants/square kilometre
    Sights of Kanazawa:

    Most sights in Kanazawa can be covered on foot. From the central train station, it takes about 10 minutes to reach the centre with the Kenroku-en and Kanazawa Castle by bus or by taxi. Just south of the centre lies Katamachi, the commercial district with the Kōrinbō 109 department store and the Scramble, Kanazawa's 'Shibuya Crossing'.

    The Nagamachi District, just north of Katamachi, is the location of the bukeyashiki, the former samurai residences, with the Nomura and Takeda samurai houses. South of Katamachi, across the River Sai, is theTeramachi temple district. Northeast of the castle lies the Higashi Chaya-gai, the eastern Geisha district with its elegant teahouses and the picturesque hills of Higashiyama.

    Kenroku-en Garden:

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    Kenroku-en is one of the three foremost gardens of Japan. Read more on it here.

    Kanazawa Castle:

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    Kanazawa Castle Park is adjacent to Kenroku-en, formerly an outlying garden of the castle before it was opened to the public in 1871. Kanazawa Castle was the seat of the powerful Maeda clan who ruled the Kaga Domain for fourteen generations from 1583 until the end of the Edo Period.

    21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (金沢21世紀美術館)

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    Leandro Erlich's "The Swimming Pool" (Photo credit: tsuda - CC BY-SA)

    Opened in 2004 and designed by the Tokyo architects of SANAA, the museum is located near Kenroku-en and the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art. The museum is circular and has a diameter of some 113 metres. The outer walls are made of glass; four internal courtyards allow daylight to permeate the inner sections of the museum. On display are temporary exhibitions of modern art from Japan and abroad. There are also frequent music and dance performances. Access to the museum is free, but admission is charged for the temporary exhibitions.

    Open: 10:00-18:00 (Tuesdays to Thursdays and Sunday), 10:00-20:00 (Fridays, Saturdays)
    Address:1-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa City, Ishikawa, Japan 920-8509
    Phone: 076-220-2800; Fax: 076-220-2802

    DT Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)

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    D.T. Suzuki Museum (Photo credit: YELLOW Mao - CC BY-NC-SA)

    Primarily a place for self-reflection, the relatively small D.T. Suzuki Museum commemorates the life and the philosophy of Suzuki Daisetz Teitaro (1870-1966), an important Japanese Zen philosopher born in Kanazawa. The exhibition expands on Zen Buddhism and presents the life and the works of D.T. Suzuki who also wrote more than 100 books on Zen and Buddhism in English. The outer part of the museum comprises the Contemplation Space Wing, and three gardens: the Vestibule Garden, the Water Mirror Garden and the Roji Garden.

    Open: 09:30-17:00 (last entry at 16:30), closed on Mondays or the next day if a public holiday falls on a Monday, as well as between December 29 and January 3.
    Admission: 300 JPY (adults), 200 JPY (senior citizens and people with disabilities), free for children under the age of 18; discounts available for groups of over 20 people.
    Address: 3-4-20 Honda-machi, Kanazawa, 920-0964
    Phone: 076-221-8011; Fax. 076-221-8012

    Oyama Shrine

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    Oyama Shrine (尾山神社 Oyama-jinja) lies just west of Kanazawa Castle Park. It commemorates Maeda Toshiie and was constructed in 1599 by his son and successor, Maeda Toshinaga. it is famous for its three-tiered gate constructed by a Dutch architect in 1875.

    Higashi-chaya-gai

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    Just north of the Asano River lies Higashi-chaya-gai, the Eastern Geisha District, a small patch of narrow alleys with teahouses that stretched along the Sai and the Asano River and that have preserved their Edo-era atmosphere. Approved by the Kaga daimyō in 1820, people enjoyed geisha entertainment here and in the Western pleasure district (Nishi-chaya-gai). The district is characterised by latticed wooden facades and reception rooms in the upper floors. A few traditional geisha houses can still be visited; they exhibit artefacts such as combs and shamisen (a lute-like, three-stringed instrument) and can be booked for private receptions, along with stately dinner and geisha performances.

    Kanazawa Phonograph Museum (金沢蓄音器館)

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    Originally a phonograph shop owned by the Yokaichiya family, they donated their collection of 240 phonographs and some 20,000 78rpm standard play records to the City of Kanazawa. Opened in 2001, the museum comprises three floors and is housed in a red-brick building that blends into the neighbourhood. 30-minute music demonstrations are held daily at 11:00, 14:00 and 16:00.

    Open: 10:00-17:30 (last entry at 17:00), closed between December 29 and January 3.
    Admission: 300 JPY (adults), 250 JPY (senior citizens and people with disabilities), free for students; discounts available for groups of over 20 people.
    Address: 2-11-21 Owari-chō, Kanazawa, 920-0902
    Phone: 076-232-3066; Fax. 076-232-3079

    Nagamachi (長町)

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    Nagamachi Bukeyashiki District (Photo credit: ajari - CC-BY)

    Nagamachi district is framed by two canals and the quarter where the samurai of the former Kaga Domain used to reside. It too consists of narrow alleys, earthen walls and the Nagayamon, the gate to the bukeyashiki area. Places to see in Nagamachi:
    • Maeda Tosanokami-ke Shiryokan Museum (前田土佐守家資料館); the residence displays weapons, art, and crafts that belonged to the Tosanokami family, chief retainers of the Maeda. Open 09:30-17:00, admission 300 JPY (adults), 200 JPY (senior citizens and students).
    • Nomura Samurai Residence: the former residence of the Nomura, high-ranking samurai under the Maeda. The gorgeous house exhibits family artefacts, arms, a ceiling made of cypress wood and a lovely traditional garden with Bayberry trees. Open 08:30-17:30 (from October to March until 16:30), closed December 26 and 27; admission: 550 JPY (adults), 400 JPY (high-school students), 250 JPY (other students).
    • Shinise Kinenkan Museum (老舗記念館): the building of the former Nakaya Pharmacy, established in 1579 and moved to the present location, contains furnishings from the original store. Open 09:00-17:00, admission: 100 JPY (adults), others free.
    • Nagamachi Bukeyashiki Kyukeikan Rest House: the local tourist information centre, open to all visitors to relax and obtain information.

    Teramachi (寺町)

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    Myōryū-ji (妙立寺), or Ninjadera (Photo credit: Kentaro Ohno - CC-BY)

    Teramachi is the temple district on the southern banks of the Sai River. There are about 70 temples which were all moved to the area and Utatsuyama about 400 years ago. The most famous temple is Myōryū-ji (妙立寺), also known as the Ninja Temple. While not related to 'ninja culture' at all, the structure is known for its contraptions, hidden staircases and floor traps. Open 09:00-16:30 (16:00 from the end of November to the end of February); closed during New Year's and on Buddhist sermon days; admission: 1,000 JPY (adults), 700 JPY (elementary school students).

    Other places to see:
    • Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art: exhibits a vast array of art and antiques related to Ishikawa as well as crafts and paintings by artists with a connection to the region. Open 09:30-18:00, closed December 29 to January 3; admission: 360 JPY (adults), 290 JPY (university students), free for high-school students and younger.
    • Kanazawa Noh Museum: information and exhibits on Kanazawa's Noh culture; attached to the museum is the Kanazawa Crafts Hirosaka Shop where Kaga inlay, Kaga mizuhiki (ribbon-like paper decorations) and Kaga fly fishing hooks are being sold to visitors. Open 10:00-18:00, Mondays closed (or the next weekday if Monday is a public holiday), also closed December 20 to January 3; admission: 300 JPY (adults), 200 JPY (senior citizens), free for students.
    • Nakamura Memorial Museum (中村記念美術館): a collection of art and crafts donated by Nakamura Eishun (1908-1978), the former president of the Nakamura Sake Brewing Company. Some of the 600 pieces were designated important cultural assets. Open 09:30-17:00, closed December 29 to January 3; admission: 300 JPY (adults), 200 JPY (senior citizens), free for students.
    • Ishikawa Museum for Traditional Products and Crafts (石川県立伝統産業工芸館): the museum displays traditional crafts such as Kaga yuzen dyed silk, Kutani pottery, Wajima lacquerware, Kanazawa Gold Leaf, Kaga Inlay, Kanazawa Scroll Mounts, Bamboo Wickerwork, Kaga Tsurugi Edged Steel, and much more. Open 09:00-17:00, closed on Thursdays (only the third Thursday of the month from April to November), December 29 to January 3; admission: 260 JPY (adults), 200 JPY (senior citizens), 100 JPY (children until 17 years of age).
    • Yasue Gold Leaf Museum (立安江金箔工芸館): founded in 1974 by a gold leaf craftsman, Yasue Takaaki (1898-1997), the museum exhibits arts and craft works and shows how the 0.0001mm thin gold leaf is made. Open 09:30-17:00 (last entry 16:30); closed December 29 to January 3; admission: 300 JPY (adults), 200 JPY (senior citizens), students free.
    • Kaga Yūzen Kimono Centre (加賀友禅): exhibiting kimono and all other materials related to dyed silk; visitors can watch hand-painting demonstrations, stencil dyeing, dress in kimono, and participate in workshops. Open 09:00-17:00, closed on Wednesdays (unless it is a public holiday), December 30 to January 1; admission: 310 JPY (adults), 210 JPY (children), discounts for groups of more than 20 people available.

    Traditional Crafts of Kanazawa:

    Gold leaf: the production of gold leaf in Kanazawa started as early as in the late 16th century. The Maeda family who ruled Kaga from 1583 invited artisans from all over Japan, but during the Tokugawa shogunate, gold beating was restricted to certain regions; thus gold leaf production started to thrive as late as in the late Edo/early Meiji period.

    Gold, mixed with traces of silver and copper, is thinned with rolling mills to the size of tatami mats, cut and beaten down to 0.0001mm. The gold sheet is then cut into squares of 10.9cm and used for gilding handicrafts (vessels, ornaments, decoration of temples, shrines, Buddhist altars, and Buddhist instruments). Nowadays, Kanazawa produces about 98% of domestic gold leaf and 100% of silver leaf and platinum leaf.

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    Ice cream wrapped in gold leaf! A golden experience!

    Kanazawa (金沢漆器) and Wajima lacquerware: pieces of cypress or zelkova wood are covered in multiple layers of lacquer before ornaments are drawn on the black surface using gold powder, silver powder, sea shells and other decoration. Lacquerware is water and heat-resistant, but should not be exposed to sunlight. It is said that its gloss deepens over the years.

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    Kutani porcelain (九谷焼): Kutani ware was originally produced in the small town of Kutani in southern Kaga. After it had been exhibited at the World Exposition of 1873, it became famous and was exported to the West. Kutani porcelain is characterised by its thick application of colours and its colourful design.

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    Kutani ware (photo credit: Belluna)

    Ōhi ware: a style of pottery invented by Ōhi Chozaemon in 1666 and made famous by the Urasenke tea master of the Maeda clan who was invited to work in Kaga. Chozaemon decided to remain in Kaga. Ōhi-yaki is hand-made, baked at a relatively low temperature and therefore lightweight.

    Kaga Yūzen silk dying:
    Miyazaki Yūzensai (宮崎友禅斎, 1654-1736) introduced this traditional technique of dyeing silk and other textiles. Kaga yūzen is famous for its realistic rendering of nature and for using the "Kaga gosai", the five vivid colours of Kaga: indigo, dark crimson, yellow ocher, grass green and ancient purple. The themes used in Kaga yūzen are plants, flowers, birds and landscapes. Kaga yūzen is famous for its realistic rendering of nature.

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