After visiting Hiroshima, one of the most devastated cities from WWII, we headed to Kanazawa, a city that managed to escape any damage during WWII. Kanazawa, a castle town founded in the late 1500s, also boasts escaping any significant damage from natural disasters and while it used to be a powerful and strategic city, it never fully industrialized. Consequently, it is one of the few Japanese cities where many of its buildings are still original and is home to many historical attractions such as restored residences and districts.
We had two nights in Kanazawa, although we arrived late and left early, leaving us with one full day. Thankfully, we only had to endure the filthy, small and uncomfortable accommodation we had booked for two nights. We might have complained about the dirt, smell or lack of kitchen but the place also lacked internet meaning we had no way to communicate with our host. Surprisingly, some of our worst accommodation from our entire trip around the world was in Japan – definitely not what I expected.
The next morning, we stopped at a Starbucks for free internet and quickly ‘starred‘ the top districts and places to visit on our phone’s map before heading out.
NAGAMACHI SAMURAI DISTRICT
Nagamachi was a samurai district located at the foot of the former Kanazawa Castle, where samurai and their families resided. The area preserves a historic atmosphere with its restored samurai residences, narrow lanes and water canals. The most famous of the samurais’ houses, and the one we visited, is the Nomura-ke. Inside there were many interesting artifacts belonging to the Nomura, a high ranking samurai family that lived there for ten generations. The houses exquisite paintings on sliding door panels were particularly beautiful. The outdoor garden at the house is small but features many characteristics of traditional Japanese gardens, including a 400-year-old Japanese bayberry, waterfall, pond, and various stone features.
The rooms definitely weren’t made for tall people….
HIGASHI CHAYA – EASTERN TEA HOUSE DISTRICT
Higashi Chaya District is the largest of the four chaya (Geisha) districts in Kanazawa. Chaya is a traditional place where Geisha entertain people through dance and music. While the traditional wooden townhouses were beautiful to look at and in many ways it felt like we were walking back in time, we didn’t go inside any of the restaurants or tea houses and did not see any geisha. Much of the area looked abandoned or closed, although I think I read many places are only open certain days on the week.
Sakuda Gold and Silver Leaf SHOP
Kanazawa is hailed as the center for Japan’s gold leaf production. In addition to having the required gold, the city has the ideal climate and water quality required for the production of delicate gold leaf. Dan and I had read that there was a shop where you could experience ‘gilding’ (the process of applying gold leaf) by designing and creating our own gold leaf covered chopsticks and there was no way we were going to miss out on that! Sakuda Gold and Silver Leaf Shop also happened to be the same place where there is a restroom completed covered in gold leaf, free for visitors of the shop to use.
When we arrived and asked about gilding we were given a number of options to choose from (including decorating a box or plate) but we opted to stick with our original plan of chop sticks.
The gilding process was briefly explained to us and tools were provided. The direction was limited (as was the instructors English) but she was there if we needed help. Dan and I were given an hour to complete our chopsticks which was more than enough time. We decided to create similar designs so that our chopsticks would match nicely 🙂
As we left, proudly holding our chopsticks, we walked through a display room where we observed the process of producing gold leaf as well as browsed displays explaining the process and its history in more detail.
Once back out in the main shop we were brought two small cups of tea with small pieces of gold leaf floating inside!
In another shop selling countless gold leaf products, a young boy was about to eat an ice cream cone covered in real gold leaf! (He looked pretty excited, and maybe I was a little jealous.)
Omicho Market, Kanazawa’s largest fresh food market, is a busy and colorful covered network of over 200 shops and stalls. Like many other tourists in the city, we headed to the market for lunch. Popular restaurants are known to often have long lines and high prices. We opted for something much simpler: fresh seafood available for purchases on the spot. We walked around browsing our options: oysters, scallops, sea urchin, shrimp, and so much more before we decided on a packet of sliced tuna. The tuna was some of the best we’ve had and tasted extremely fresh.
Kenrokuen Garden & KANAZAWA CASTLE park
Kenrokuen is classified as one of Japan’s “three best landscape gardens”. It’s name translates to “Garden of the Six Sublimities“, referring to spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views, in other words, the six essential attributes that make up a perfect garden according to Chinese landscape theory. The spacious grounds used to be the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle and were constructed over a period of nearly two centuries. There is no actual castle on the ground today, although many have been built and burned down on the grounds throughout history.
I was amazed to see these workers cutting the grass by hand.
21st Century Museum of Modern Art
The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is comprised of a circular building, with no facade or main entrance. While we read it’s worth a few hours of time, we had a busy day and only had time to walk around the limited free exhibitions all of which were fun and interactive.
Long after the fresh food market closed and our Styrofoam platter of raw tuna had been eaten, we tried to find somewhere to eat dinner (due to the fact that our “kitchen” consisted of no cooking supplies or utensils or even a fridge). Unfortunately, the mark up on fish is insane and sushi was way out of our price range. So, we settled for a 7-eleven meal, our first of many in Japan. These gyoza were actually pretty good, and they have microwaves available for you to warm up your meal and tables to sit at in the store. *It’s nothing like 7-eleven in Canada.
Kanazawa Station, which we arrived and departed through, was voted one of the world’s top 15 stations in 2011. The beautiful main entrance is a covered dome called “Motenashi” (meaning to entertain guests wholeheartedly) and in front of it are wooden structures called “Tsuzumi-mon” (Japanese drum gate).