How to Have a Great Weekend in Kanazawa
Looking for a new place to travel in Japan? Kanazawa is a GREAT idea. Less than 3 hours by bullet train from Tokyo, located in Ishikawa Prefecture, not only is this place famous for having the glorious Kanazawa Castle, it is also the new ‘it place’ for many repeating tourists traveling in Japan. Here are a few spots to visit during a weekend escape by the Kanazawa Castle.
The great thing about Kanazawa is that, (A) the city is small enough to go around during the weekend, and (B) there’s a loop bus that takes you pretty much to all the places you need to go. 1-day tickets are for ¥500 which allows you to ride the loop bus multiple times, and they can be purchased at Kanazawa station, or even at the hotel or ryokan you are staying at (I was surprised to find I could buy tickets sold at my hotel). Unlike Tokyo, Kanazawa seems to be a city where everyone commutes by bus or car, so be sure to have a bus map with you on your trip too.
The adventure definitely starts here at the Kanazawa Castle. The historical castle is located in the Kanazawa Castle Park, with the Kenrokuen Park right next to it. The former park is where you could get a close up of the castle, and the latter park is where you could wander around the very famous Japanese gardens. Both areas have different beautiful scenery each season, for instances, you’d expect to see a winter wonderland now, and be excited to see a spectacular scenery of cherry blossoms in the spring.
I listed this area first because it is like the center of all the places you would visit. Also, this area is ideally where your hotel or ryokan would be located as well. You can visit to other tourist places from this area by foot or by the loop bus, which comes every 10-20 minutes right in front of the park. But you need to be careful not to go to both of these parks too late, because they both close at around 4:30 PM to 5 PM.
Not visiting here is like missing the biggest fun of Kanazawa. From souvenirs to delicious Japanese cuisine, everything could be tasted and experienced here at the Higashi Chaya Street. Perhaps this is the second or third scenery you’d see on the Internet when you browse for Kanazawa. Some people may say this place is similar to the streets of Kyoto, but I’d disagree. There’s not as much tourists, so you would definitely have a peaceful, but just as adventurous time in Kanazawa as you would have on the streets of Kyoto.
Located approximately 20 minutes by foot from the Kanazawa Castle, or a 5-10 minute bus ride, is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art which seems to be always packed with tourists. This museum is not an ordinary museum like the ones you would see in Ueno or Roppongi. The special thing about this museum is that it is very unique, focusing mostly on contemporary artworks, in addition to allowing photographs for many of the exhibitions. The most famous exhibition is the swimming pool exhibition where almost everyone attempts to take their own artsy picture similar to the one above.
This is another unique place to visit for it used to be where samurai and their families used to reside centuries ago. Though it takes approximately 20-30 minutes by bus here from the castle, just walking around the area may be fulfilling especially for a samurai fan. However, you definitely need to visit the Nomura Samurai Residence, which is one of the most famous places in this district.
According to my very simple research, Nomura-ke used to be one of Kanazawa’s most prestigious samurai families until their fall during the Meiji Period. Their restored house is famous for its beautiful Japanese gardening in addition to keeping the samurai armor which is said to have been used in battle centuries ago. You could even enjoy traditional matcha tea in the tearoom inside the house as well.
If you manage to wake up early in the morning, visiting the Oomicho Fish Market, located just in between the castle and Kanazawa Station is definitely worth going. This market delivers fresh fish right from the Sea of Japan for a relatively cheap price. The sashimi bowl I had here was one of the best sashimi meals I'd had in my entire life. I’d be smart to eat as much sushi and sashimi while staying in Kanazawa. In particular, Nodoguro (rockfish) and Hotaru-ika (firefly squid) are a must-eat while you stay in Kanazawa.
You may think Tsukiji Market is worth enough, if you stay in Tokyo. But I promise, this market will (no offense) overwhelm you so much, you may not be able to eat sushi in Tokyo for a while. It’s THAT different.
In fact, during the holiday season, both the Kanazawa Castle Park and the Kenrokuen Park has a ‘night entrance,’ which is free of charge. If you were lucky to have stayed during this season, you’d be able to enjoy both parks both in the day and night. Especially during this season at night, buying a jar of hot sake right by the entrance of the Kanazawa Castle Park would ease the coldness and double the fun during your nighttime walk.
If you are looking for something different, Kanazawa is definitely the place to choose. Because Kanazawa is not as famous as Kyoto or Nara, I’m sure your expectations will be exceeded, and perhaps find yourself triggered to visit other areas within the Hokuriku region.