The second city we visited during our trip to Japan, Kanazawa is located on the west coast of Japan on the main island of Honshu (same as Tokyo). We traveled via shinkansen through the mountains from Tokyo to arrive at Kanazawa Station and spent the weekend here before journeying on. Less touristy than Tokyo and Kyoto, Kanazawa was a very walk-able city that seemed to be preparing for the 2020 Olympics with their excellent setup for welcoming foreign tourists with guides, maps, and buses. These are a few of my favorite sites from the city.
Kanazawa Castle Park
Kanazawa Castle Park was the first place we visited after arriving in the city. This park was large and expansive, and in its center was a beautifully restored castle. We could not walk inside the castle, but it was such a beautiful afternoon that we were more content roaming the grounds and exploring the small adjacent garden.
The sky was incredible as late afternoon turned to dusk.
We visited Kanazawa Castle Park the next day as well, on our way to the nearby Kenroku-en Garden. The sun was high in the sky and the park’s design didn’t include much shade, so it was very hot.
Kenroku-en Garden was one of my favorite places I visited on the entire trip. This garden is immensely beautiful and very easy to walk through. The name Kenroku-en means the Six Attributes Garden, and it derives it’s name from the six qualities necessary for a superior garden including: spaciousness, artistic merit, majesty, abundant water, extensive views, and seclusion. The garden indeed met all these qualities.
View of the central pond from the opposite shore of the famous lantern.
Central to the garden was a serene pond, that was so still it reflected the clouds and the trees beautifully upon its surface. There were large koi or carp fish in the pond too. Small streams flowed through the garden as well, adding to the quality of abundant water. The garden featured many small hills and outlets that provided majesty and extensive views. The overall design showcased the artistic merit of this garden.
The iconic lantern of Kenroku-en Garden, located near the main entrance (across from Kanazawa Castle Park) along the edge of the pond.
In regards to seclusion, my Fodor’s guide said that with all the tourists it’s hard to find that aspect here anymore. However, I disagree. Yes, this was the most touristy spot we visited in the entire city, but I didn’t find that the other people disturbed the sense of serenity I found here. The largest amount of tourists centered around the iconic lantern featured above, but many times on the path (especially in the more wooded areas) there would only be one or two other people besides me and my husband. The visitors to the garden were very quiet, because I think everyone was enjoying its beauty and didn’t want to mar the moment with noise.
Nishi Chaya District
We stumbled upon this neighborhood by accident on our way to Myoryu-ji Temple. This was one of the most architecturally stunning neighborhoods we saw on our trip. Similar to Kyoto’s famous Gion District’s architecture, the Nishi Chaya District features traditional building designs. Set back from the main road, the area was quiet and we could hear faint shamisen music (a shamisen is a traditional Japanese string instrument) emanating from the tea houses.
Beautiful buildings like these lined the street on both sides.
Myoryu-ji – The Temple of the Ninja
First of all, this Buddhist Temple has absolutely nothing to do with Ninjas. The temple earned this nickname because of its unique architecture that includes trap doors, hidden staircases, concealed entrances, pitfalls, and a seppuku room. Built during a time when the Shogunate prevented buildings from being taller than three stories, this temple is actually a four-story building disguised as a two-story. It features 23 rooms, 29 staircases, and seven levels (because many of the staircases are short and lead to floors in-between floors).
Street view of Myoryu-ji. An active site of worship, photos were not allowed inside this temple.
To visit this Temple we needed to take a tour, which was given only in Japanese. However, the guides provided us with an English pamphlet so we could follow along. Reservations by phone are required, but the helpful attendants at the Information Desk in Kanazawa Station booked our reservation for the tour upon arrival in the city. We really enjoyed this tour, and for those interested in unique architecture and history this place is a must see!
Oyama Jinga Shrine
Our final morning in Kanazawa was rainy. We visited this shrine before catching our train to Kyoto. In the early morning hours and with the gentle rain, this shrine was one of the most peaceful places we visited on our trip. There was a small garden pond featuring some of the largest fish I’ve ever seen. There were tiny bridges and narrow boards to walk across the water, which I absolutely loved. The architecture of the shrine was gorgeous, I loved the sloping lines of the rooftop and the shrine lanterns.
Serene in the morning rain, this was one of the most peaceful and beautiful shrines we visited.
Kanazawa was a magnificent city and will hold a special place in my heart. It is beautiful, with fantastic architecture and gardens. I am so happy that we visited this city, which is not on the traditional tourist path for a first visit to Japan.