Discovering the Hidden Treasures of Higashi Chaya and Utatsuyama in Kanazawa
Higashi Chaya Gai (also called Higashi Chaya District) is one of Kanazawa’s most famous areas and very popular among visitors and citizens alike. The well conserved charming streets and wooden houses of this district have the power to transport you back to the time of a traditional Kanazawa, giving you a distinct feeling of how life must have been at that time.
Most visitors spend their time in the district walking around at a very small area. But it’s not only the tea district itself which is interesting and worth a visit–behind the old streets, there are green woods and secret paths of Utatsuyama as well as hidden viewpoints waiting for you!
In this article, I want offer some suggestions for walking routes where you will discover all of it: historical sites, temples and shrines as well as nature and food!
1. Higashi Chaya
Entering the district from the west side (Bus stop: Higashi Chaya-easily accessible via Right Loop or Left Loop Bus from Kanazawa Station) you can directly enjoy the old architecture of the houses but also discover a variety of shops and restaurants! The district itself is not very big–you follow the main street for a short round course which leads you along all major houses, shrines as well as craftsmen shops and specialized tea houses.
One highlight is the red Shima Teahouse with a tall weeping willow tree in front of it. It is said that geishas would say goodbye to their visitors under this tree and watch them go back to the castle city. Decide for yourself if you consider this to be true! The tree and the red house are a popular photographic spot so make sure to get your picture there as well.
You can visit the house as it is a small museum and experience yourself how the life of a geisha has been in the past.
Important: Please check opening hours in advance as they might change constantly due to COVID-19 pandemic!
Following the round course, you will also pass the big Utatsu Shrine as well as the smaller Higashiyamasugahara Shrine, nice places you should pay a visit to enjoy the special atmosphere of these holy sites. You can also buy some shrine related souvenirs and pray for a good future!
There are many small shops along your way and you can easily get lost in the variety of all their products. However, if you have time, you should definitely pay a visit to the Hazuka Gold Leaf Store: here you can admire the beautiful craftwork of Kanazawa’s famous gold leaf and also buy various gold leaf products for yourself or your loved ones.
To regain some strength, I recommend you to make a brief stop at Café Muku, which is located in an old renovated wooden townhouse. You can enjoy traditional Japanese tea and sweets while having a look at the interesting architecture of the house. Also, the additional gallery and gift shop display local craft which comes in handy, if you want to bring some souvenirs back home. Walking along the road where this café is located, you'll also find several crafts shops as well as the Yamamoto Soy Sauce store which is definitely worth a visit, even if you are no big fan of soy sauce, as Yamamoto is one of Kanazawa’s most famous companies.
Following the streets towards the southern direction, you will arrive at Asanogawa, Kanazawa’s so called "female river", where you can not only take some nice pictures of the river or the beautiful Umeno Bridge, but also watch the cranes in the water. A nice place for taking a rest and enjoying the atmosphere.
What makes Higashi Chaya District so interesting is that you can discover so many details if you take your time and walk around with open eyes. Just leave the round course and explore the tiny side streets. Enjoy the wooden houses, the hidden gardens and the peace and quiet of the small roads. However, please be always mindful of the residents living in that area and don’t take pictures of people without asking for their consent. Bad behavior like that cannot only have serious consequences for you but also damages the reputation of foreign tourists who are sometimes seen as rude and disrespectful. So please be careful while discovering this area.
2. Utatsuyama Temple Area and Recreation Park
Many people don’t know that it’s not only teahouses that you can discover in that area - as soon as you have seen all houses on the round course, your tour is far from over! Behind the main area of Utatsu Shrine, a steep walk uphill takes you into the mysterious temple area of Utatsuyama, a great place to be in every season! It's one of Kanazawa’s biggest temple areas with over 50 temples and shrines. The Maeda family, the former ruling family of Kaga area (today’s prefectures of Ishikawa and Toyama) has collected various shrines and temples in this area, transforming it into this special place that it is today.
There is a walking course which leads you along some of them; the shortest is about 2.6 kilometers long and you will pass at least 12 temples and shrines. You’ll find maps in the tourist office of Kanazawa where you can also get recommendations regarding your personal fitness and the time you have for this area. The whole area is well equipped with street signs in English language which helps a lot not to get lost or to even get more inspired for further routes.
One of my favorite temples is the Jukyo-ji Temple, located at the beginning of the Utatsuyama slope. It was dedicated for resistance fighters in the 1850s who tried to fight for food (and justice) in the time of a great famine. Sadly, they had been killed for their action. The seven statues in the temple (nana-ine jizo: seven stone statues) were constructed for remembering them. A tough story that tells you a lot about the hardship of the common people at that time. So if you pass the temple, make sure to pray for the souls of the brave resistance fighters!
If you don’t like to follow an already designed walking course, it’s no problem! I can also recommend to just stroll around, follow the various paths uphill and let yourself be surprised by the variety of temple and shrines. Some of them are located deep in the green woods of the Utatsuyama and look very remote and mystical while some are in the middle of the residential are of Higashi Chaya! The contrast couldn’t be bigger.
3. Utatsuyama Recreation Area
Utatsuyama is the name of the mountain that is located north east of Asanogawa River and extends far east into the outskirts of Kanazawa’s eastern parts. It’s one of the city’s most popular recreation area. Many local residents enjoy taking long walks through the forest and taking a rest from the hectic city life. From Utatsuyama you can overlook the Kahoku Lagoon and see the Japanese Sea as well as the mountain range of Ishikawa. You also have a stunning view of the city center, by day and by night. On clear days, it’s even possible to see the peak of Mt. Hakusan!
Also, an observatory called Bokodai is located on top of the mountain.
During spring and summer season, you can see so many different Japanese flowers among the park - from cherry blossom in early spring to hydrangeas in the rainy season, you’ll find them all. If you love flowers, follow the steep road (Utatsuyama Koen Route) from the temple area in the direction of Utatsuyama Hanashoubuen (botanical garden). Depending on the month of your visit, you’ll find different flowers and plants and can enjoy a nice break. Of course, the whole area is beautiful in fall season too - a popular spot for discovering Momiji (autumn leaves).
From the garden, you can enter the next walking course (through a huge tori gate) and pass several viewpoints where you can enjoy the stunning view of Kanazawa, the sea and the mountains as well as beautiful forest nature (there is even a bamboo forest waiting for you). If you want, take a coffee break at Café Hiyokomame where they serve freshly brewed coffee as well as delicious cakes! The walking route comes to an end at Utatsuyama Park Observatory (卯辰山公園見晴らし台), a great viewpoint of the mountainside of Kanazawa area!
If you are tired, don’t worry: the whole walking course is also accessible via Hokutetsu bus line number 90 that runs from the station to Utatsuyama. But be careful, the bus is only running few times a day, so be sure to check the schedule before you leave!
And this is no joke: be always on the watch for bears. They live at Utatsuyama Park and are said to not be not shy regarding humans. So please always check before going if it’s safe, never go on your own or try to make some noise while walking.
I hope you can enjoy this area which is one of my most favorite places of Kanazawa!