15 Best Sights in Kanazawa, The Japan Alps and the North Chubu Coast

Gyokusen Garden

Fodor's choice

This tiny garden was built by Kim Yeocheol, who later became Naokata Wakita when he married into the ruling Kanazawa family. Yeocheol was the son of a Korean captive brought to Japan in the late 16th century. He became a wealthy merchant, using his fortune to build this quiet getaway. The garden's intimate tranquility stems from the imaginative and subtle arrangement of moss, maple trees, and small stepping stones by the pond. Two waterfalls that gracefully form the Chinese character for mizu (water) feed the pond. The garden is markedly different from the bold strokes of Kenroku Garden. You can have tea and sweets here for ¥1,500 (admission included).

8--3 Kosho-machi, Kanazawa, 920-0932, Japan
Sight Details
Rate Includes: ¥700, Closed Tues.--Thurs.

Kenroku Garden

Fodor's choice

Across the street from the Kanazawa Castle is the largest of the three most famous landscaped gardens in the country (the other two are Mito's Kairaku Garden and Okayama's Koraku Garden). The Maeda lord Tsunanori began construction of Kenrokuen in 1676, and by the early 1880s it had become 25 sprawling acres of skillfully wrought bridges and fountains, ponds, and waterfalls. The garden changes with the seasons: spring brings cherry blossoms; brilliant azaleas foretell the arrival of summer; autumn paints the maples deep yellow and red; and in winter the pine trees are strung with long ropes, tied from trunk to bough, for protection against heavy snowfalls. Kenrokuen means "Garden of Six Qualities." The garden was so named because it exhibited the six superior characteristics judged necessary by the Chinese Sung Dynasty for the perfect garden: spaciousness, artistic merit, majesty, abundant water, extensive views, and seclusion. Despite the promise of its last attribute, the gardens attract a mad stampede of visitors—herded by megaphone—during cherry-blossom season (mid-April) and Golden Week (late April and early May). Early morning is the most sensible time for a visit, when the grounds are a little more peaceful and relaxing.

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Myoryu-ji Temple

Fodor's choice

On the south side of the Sai-gawa is the intriguing and mysterious Myoryu-ji. Its popular name, Ninja-dera (Temple of the Ninja), suggests it was a clandestine training center for martial-arts masters who crept around in the dead of night armed with shuriken (star-shape blades). In fact, the temple was built to provide an escape route for the daimyo in case of invasion. Ninja-dera was built by Toshitsune in 1643, when the Tokugawa Shogunate was stealthily knocking off local warlords and eliminating competition. At first glance, it appears a modest yet handsome two-story structure. Inside, however, you find 29 staircases, seven levels, myriad secret passageways and trapdoors, a tunnel to the castle hidden beneath the well in the kitchen, and even a seppuku room, where the lord could perform an emergency ritual suicide. Unfortunately (or fortunately, considering all the booby traps), visitors are not permitted to explore the hidden lair alone. You must join a Japanese-language tour (hourly on weekdays and twice hourly on weekends) and follow along with your English pamphlet. Reservations by phone are necessary, but can usually be made on the day of your visit.

1--2--12 No-machi, Kanazawa, 920-8031, Japan
Sight Details
Rate Includes: ¥1,000, Access by reservation only. Call (simple English is ok) before going

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21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

This circular building was created to entwine a museum's architecture with the art exhibits, and for exhibition designers to take cues from the architecture. Transparent walls and scattered galleries encourage visitors to choose their own route. Previous exhibitions have included a Gerhard Richter retrospective, a video installation by Mathew Barney, and the work of Japanese photographer Araki Nobuyoshi. The building itself is a sight worth seeing, and the free, public terraces and plazas are a perfect place to stroll and relax. It's south of Kanazawa Park, next to city hall.

1--2--1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa, 920-0962, Japan
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Varies by exhibition; sometimes free, Closed Mon.

Higashi Chaya District

This high-class entertainment district of Edo-period Kanazawa was near the Asano-gawa. Now the pleasures are limited to viewing quaint old geisha houses recognizable by their wood-slat facades and latticed windows. Many have become tearooms, restaurants, local craft (and souvenir) stores, or minshuku. Take the JR bus from Kanazawa Station (¥200) to Hachira-cho, just before the Asano-gawa Ohashi. Cross the bridge and walk northeast into the quarter.

Ishikawa Local Products Center

Near Gyokusen Garden, the center serves as a place where you can both buy traditional crafts from the region and see demonstrations of Yuzen dyeing, pottery, and lacquerware production. You can also try your hand at etching a personal glass seal, decorating items with delicate gold leaf, making Japanese sweets, and other crafts at regularly scheduled workshops.

Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art

Come here to see the country's best permanent collection of Kutani-yaki (colorful overglaze-painted porcelain), dyed fabrics, and old Japanese paintings.

Kanazawa Castle Park

Though most of the castle is a reproduction, the original Ishikawa-mon (Ishikawa Gate) remains intact—its thick mossy stone base is topped with curving black eaves and white-lead roof tiles. The tiles could be melted down and molded into ammunition in case of a prolonged siege. To reach the castle, take any bus (¥200) from Gate 11 at the bus terminal outside the JR Station, or walk 30 minutes.

Kutani Pottery Kiln

You can watch artisans making the local Kutani pottery, which is noted for its vibrant color schemes, at this spot dating from 1870. If you fancy doing something hands-on, there are also pottery workshops here (apply at least two days in advance) and ceramic painting experiences; unfortunately, the workshop fees don't include the shipping costs of anything you make.

5--3--3 No-machi, Kanazawa, 921-8031, Japan
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Free; pottery workshops ¥5,500

Naga-machi Samurai District

Behind the modern Korinbo Tokyu Square shopping center, Seseragi-dori leads to the samurai district where the Maeda clan lived. Narrow, snaking streets are lined with golden adobe walls footed with large stones and topped with black tiles. Stop by the Nomura-ke Samurai Residence to get a look inside one of the area's historic mansions.

Nomura-ke Samurai Residence

This elegant house in Naga-machi was rebuilt more than 100 years ago by an industrialist named Nomura. Visit the Jodan-no-ma drawing room made of cypress, with elaborate designs in rosewood and ebony. Then pass through the sliding doors to a wooden veranda. Rest your feet here, and take in the stunning little garden with weathered lanterns among pine and maple trees, and various shrubs and bonsai. Stepping stones lead to a pond dotted with moss-covered rocks and brilliant orange-flecked carp. In the upstairs tearoom you can enjoy a bird's-eye view of the gardens and a cup of matcha (green tea) for ¥300.

Omi-cho Market

This market in the center of the downtown was established almost 300 years ago. Today, the 170 or so vendors here run the gamut from fishmongers selling highly prized crab and seafood from the Sea of Japan, to sake stores, grocers and restaurants. The place is full of energy and color. Most stores are open from 9 am to 5:30 pm, although the restaurants in the second floor stay open later.

Oyama Shrine

Built in 1599, Oyama Jinja was dedicated to Lord Toshiie Maeda, the founder of the Maeda clan. The shrine's unusual three-story gate, Shin-mon, was completed in 1875. Previously located atop Mt. Utatsu, the square arch and its stained-glass windows were believed to once function as a lighthouse, guiding ships in from the Sea of Japan to the Kanaiwa Port, 6 km (4 miles) northwest. You're free to walk around the shrine.

Shima Teahouse

Constructed in the early 19th century, this elegant former geisha house, listed as a National Important Cultural Asset, is now a museum of Kanazawa geisha culture. While there, stop off in the tea room for matcha and sweets. That costs an extra ¥500 to ¥700 on top of admission, depending on the type of sweet.

Workshop of Kaga-Yuzen

A few houses have been carefully restored in the Naga-machi samurai district, including the Naga-machi Yuzenkan, where you can buy silk products and watch demonstrations of Yuzen silk painting—a centuries-old technique in which intricate floral designs with delicate white outlines are meticulously painted onto silk used for kimonos. You can also sign up for a wide range of experiences, from dressing up in kimono to creating your own designs on silk.

2--6--16 Naga-machi, Kanazawa, 920-0865, Japan
Sight Details
Rate Includes: ¥350, Closed Tues. and Wed., and Dec.--Feb.