It’s time for another flurry of holiday photos! I cannot recommend a visit to Kanazawa enough if you are travelling around Japan. It’s serene, beautiful and full of history. We managed to cram the highlights into just two days – Kanazawa Castle got its own blog post which you can read here – so here is a round-up of the other ‘must see’ places if you are thinking of going to Kanazawa. Thanks to Japan’s amazing train system, the city is directly accessible from Tokyo in just 2.5 hours.
Kanazawa’s main attraction is Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s three best landscape gardens. Just a stone’s throw from Kanazawa Castle, the grounds were constructed by the ruling Maeda family over two centuries. ‘Kenrokuen’ means ‘Garden of the Six Sublimities’ – spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, abundant water and broad views – all of which the garden offers in abundance. The foliage changes with the seasons, and there is much to admire whenever you visit. There are also a number of teahouses in the garden and, for a small fee, you can enjoy a cup of freshly brewed matcha tea (very frothy) then admire the views from the tatami room.
Higashi Chaya District
Kanazawa has three very well-preserved tea districts and the largest of these is Higashi Chaya. Cross over the rushing river, which is best seen in spring or autumn when the trees are in bloom, and explore the narrow streets and tall wooden buildings to your heart’s content. There are still a number of operating teahouses (chaya) – Shima Teahouse and Kaikari Teahouse – where you can see geisha perform and dance. Another must-visit place is the Hakuza Gold Lead Store, where you can buy handmade gold leaf products and are served tea with gold flakes on arrival. Gold leaf production took off in Kanazawa in the 16th century and the city now produces 99% of the country’s gold leaf.
Kanazawa was the seat of the Maeda clan, a powerful samurai family during the Sengoku period. History buffs will therefore want to visit the well-preserved Nagamachi samurai district, complete with samurai residences, narrow lanes and water canals. The most popular sites here are Nomura-ke, a restored samurai residence displaying artefacts from the era and with a beautiful private garden, and the Shinise Kinenkan Museum, a restored pharmacy from the Edo period. We also went into the Maeda Tosanokami-ke Shiryokan museum, which displays artefacts from the prominent Maeda family and also has an amazing giant samurai board game.
Ninjadera, or Myoryuji Temple, earned its nickname because of its deceptive defences and is not actually associated with ninja. This temple was built by the Maeda family in the Edo period to serve as a disguised military outpost, and had plenty of defence and escape routes so the defenders could alert the castle in the event of an attack. You can book on to a guided tour (held in Japanese, although there are English guidebooks available) and explore the secret rooms, traps and even a ‘hidden’ room where defenders could commit seppuku rather than be taken captive.
If you’re the sort of person who likes taking photos of samurai statues (like me) Oyama Shrine is worth visiting. It is dedicated to Maeda Toshiie, the first Maeda lord, and is known for its unusual Dutch-designed gate. The shrine was originally built on Mount Utatsu and later moved to its present location near Kanazawa Castle. There is also a nice little strolling garden on the grounds, so you can spend a good half hour or so here.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
This is one of Japan’s most popular museums exhibiting contemporary artists from across the world. One of the most popular permanent works is Leandro Erlich’s ‘Swimming Pool’, where you can see museum guests ‘beneath’ the swimming pool. Part of the museum is free to enter (we came across an amazing ‘furniture for dogs’ architecture room). Photos aren’t allowed in the museum, so you get to see ‘with your eyes’ rather than ‘behind the camera’.
And with that, we’ve reached the end of the chronological Japan holiday blog series – just before Christmas! You can read all the previous blog posts here, but I have plans for a few more blog posts in 2016.