City of Gold Marsh
Kanazawa is located in Ishikawa prefecture on the north-west coast of Japan. The name literally translates to “marsh of gold” as the area is famous for its gold leaf. In fact, almost all the gold leaf produced in Japan originates from Kanazawa. If you’re not familiar with gold leaf, it’s a process of creating extremely thin sheets from small amounts of gold while retaining its brightness. These sheets are then used in the arts, jewelry, architecture, and even food.
Besides gold leaf production, Kanazawa is also known for the Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa Castle, the Geisha District, Kaga Yuzen Textile, Kutani Pottery, Kanazawa lacquerware, and wonderfully fresh seafood.
The town was established in 1583 by the Maeda Clan that ruled the area from Kanazawa Castle until the end of the Edo period. Because of its wealth, art and culture flourished in Kanazawa. This legacy remains to this day and Kanazawa is best known for its historical attractions, modern museums, and vibrant arts and crafts community.
The city, with limited access from Tokyo, was an undiscovered gem until 1997 when Hokuriku Shinkansen started its service from Tokyo to Nagano. Then in 2015, the Shinkansen became available from Nagano to Kanazawa making it possible for travelers to go from Tokyo to Kanazawa in less than three hours.
There is at least one Shinkansen per hour bound for Kanazawa from Tokyo Station every day. This makes Kanazawa an ideal destination city for both Japanese and international tourists alike.
Day 1: Fish Market, Higashi Chaya Geisha District & Izakaya
Omicho Fish Market
From Kanazawa Station, take a bus or walk to Omicho Market and take in the sights, sounds, and smells of this vibrant seafood and vegetable market. You’ll find that many of these are unique to the area. It’s a large, sprawling market and reminiscent of Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. The market is roofed over making it conveniently accessible rain or shine.
Before you go, treat yourself to a fresh, sushi lunch at a restaurant on the first or second floor of the market or stop at one of the many vendors selling everything from grilled Noto beef skewers to traditional Japanese confections.
Higashi Chaya Geisha District
Kanazawa has three well preserved Geisha Districts and the Higashi Chaya District is the largest and most popular. Here you’ll have the opportunity to visit these historic buildings called Chaya or teahouse. Here, Geishas would entertain wealthy customers with traditional music, dance and games.
You can get a guided tour of the area compliments of the volunteer group, Kanazawa Goodwill Guide Network. You can even rent a kimono for the afternoon and simply stroll through the area at your own leisure.
How about a soft ice cream wrapped in paper-thin gold for an afternoon snack? Then head to over to the Gold Leaf Application Studio to learn gold leaf is made. Many of these arts and crafts shops offer workshops as well.
Wrap up the day by grabbing an open counter seat at an Izakaya shop. You’ll find a number of izakaya shops located between Korinbo and Sai River (behind Korinbo Tokyu Square). Beautifully presented food can be cooked on the table-side for your enjoyment.
Day 2: Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa Castle & Kutani Kosen Kiln
On the second day wake up early and wander around the Kenrokuen Garden, one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. Arranged another guide through KKG to get a full understanding of the history, philosophy, and significance of this garden. Shigure Tei Tea House is located in the garden welcomes you with made to order matcha tea and Japanese sweets.
While the Castle was mostly destroyed in a fire in 1818, the main gates did survive, and large sections of the structure have since been rebuilt to their original appearance and contain sections showcasing the intricate joinery and woodworking techniques of the era.
Kutani Kosen Kiln
After lunch head to Kutani Kosen Kiln for history and demonstration on Kanazawa’s famous pottery (reservation required).
If you like crafts, you will enjoy making brooch at Meboso Needle Company. Their unique designed was a byproduct of their original product, a fishing lure (needle). Perfect for a gift. (reservation required)
Where to Stay
Kanazawa Pacific Hotel ($)
A two-minute walk from Oumi Fish Market. This contemporary hotel has a cafe on the first floor and lodging on the upper floors. Bathroom is small but the rooms are spacious and very clean.
Mitsui Garden Hotel ($$)
A five-minute walk from Omicho Fish Market. This hotel was built in 2019 and has a spa-quality hot tub on the top floor overlooking the city. The rooms are very clean and the service is exceptional.