Are you looking for a less touristy place to add to the classic Golden Route on your next trip to Japan? There are a lot of hidden gems waiting for you to discover, and one of them is only two and a half hours away from Tokyo by Shinkansen (bullet train). Discover why Kanazawa, or “Little Kyoto”, is an excellent add on your Japanese route!
Since 2015 Kanazawa is easily reachable by Shinkansen, being only two and a half hours from Tokyo. Although the Shinkansen was a big thing for Kanazawa, attracting more tourists, it’s fair to consider it “off the beaten track”, if you compare to more popular destinations such as Hokkaido and Osaka.
When we arrived in Kanazawa, we were stunned by the beauty of its station. Tameo Kobori designed the curved glass-and-steel dome, called Motenashi, of Kanazawa station. It represents the concept of omotenashi (hospitality), acting like an enormous umbrella for visitors in a city where it usually rains and snows.
We had mentioned before that we discovered Kanazawa through one of our favourite Japanese TV shows – Japanese Style Originator (available on Netflix), in an episode dedicated to Japanese Gardens.
In this episode, they explained the typical features of a Japanese garden, taking the Kenroku-en as an example. We fell directly in love with it, and, we were not disappointed with our visit!
It is known that there are 3 must-see Japanese Gardens in Japan, and Kenroku-en is one of them.
We advise you to watch this Japanese Style Originator episode before your visit to Kenroku-en. It won’t be a “spoiler” but will help you to understand and recognise these traditional garden’s elements, enriching your experience.
Open: 7am to 6pm (8am to 5pm from Oct. 16 to the end of Feb.)
– 310 yen
– 6 to 18 years old: 100 yen
– +65: Free
A chaya is a house where guests enjoy feasts and Japanese traditional performances, like Japanese dance and live performances of Japanese instruments. An area full of chayas is called a “chayamachi”.
There are 3 famous chayamachi in Kanazawa, and the Higashi Chayamachi is the biggest and most interesting one.
This is the old district where the geisha lived and entertained. Many former homes are now shops, and a few are small museums.
But don’t worry, nowadays you can still see real geishas and maikos. We were lucky spotting some around Kaikaro, a working geisha house that is open to the general public during the day.
It’s worth to mention that Higashi Chaya is replete with VERY nice shops. You won’t find there the typical (and cheap) souvenirs stores but shops where you can find beautifully crafted gifts, cosmetics, kintsuba – a particular confection of sweet adzuki beans wrapped in a wheat flour dough, and porcelain, to name a few.
There are lovely cafes in the area as well as a Sake brewery, Fukumitsuya, founded in 1625. Tip: Don’t miss their sake tasting.
Higashi Chayamach is the only chaya district in Japan designated as “Japanese cultural asset”.
Kanazawa is also famous for its ‘gold leaf’, and you can buy some of its gold leaf products at Hakuza Gold Leaf Store in Higashi Chayagai. The store is stunning, featuring a room entirely covered (inside and out) with gold leaf. They sell from tableware to jewellery, as well as cosmetics and edible gold leaf.
If you don’t feel like owning any gold leaf product, you can eat it. Yes, you can! There are several cafes offering from Gold leaf topped Kasutera sponge cake to ice-creams sprinkled with gold leaf. We went for the second one and felt like the most glamourous ice-cream we have ever savoured!
These were our favourite spots in Kanazawa, but there more places worth visiting such as the Kanazawa Castle, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, the D.T. Suzuki Museum of Buddhist philosophy, the Nagamachi Samurai House Area, and the Omicho Market.
The website Inside Kyoto shares a very helpful map, pointing find Kanazawa’s attractions. See the Google Map here.