Kanazawa is a little off the beaten track but now recently the terminal of a new shinkansen line bringing in more international tourists, including us for a brief two night stay. The city is home to one of the top three Japanese gardens, well kept if small Geisha and Samurai areas from the Edo period, and the most mesmerising train station frontage I’ve probably ever seen. Here it is in all its modern vs history glory, something that is done so well in Japan. After walking 3 minutes to our hostel, we realised we could sit and watch the sunset over the station from the common area.
To get here from Zao Onsen was one bus and two trains, taking us to the outskirts of Tokyo and back out again through the Japanese Alps and Nagano, their capital. As soon as we got in, we dumped our things in our capsule style sleeping pods and went out for some food. The recommended cheapish restaurant did not serve Japanese food yet we stayed, treating ourselves to naan pizza and baked camembert. It’s been a long time since “good” cheese.
After walking through the castle grounds we reached Kenrokuen. The gardens were large and after being on Hokkaido and then in the mountains, it was a little difficult to get used to the heat again. One of the most prominent things I will remember about the gardens was the lack of benches in the shade. There were however beautifully made bridges over streams coming from different ponds with waterfalls complete with kimono clad couples and friends taking picturesque photos. We sneaked a few photos of them ourselves.
Nagamachi Samurai District
The city is pretty walkable so we saved money by not taking any buses, despite the heat – ice creams from kombinis (convenience stores) help. South west from the castle and gardens lies an old samurai district now restored. Two houses remain as free museums to walk in, shoes off of course, and see what it was like to live as samurai. The houses are simple and functional, and both were surrounded by a small but delicately arranged garden.
In the first one we took our shoes off and walked in, then a man suddenly appeared and rushed up to us. I immediately thought we’d done something wrong but instead he asked us where we were from. Replying “igirisu” (UK/England) he just as quickly sped off to note this down.
An old bank
On the way to the Geisha district we stumbled across a very old looking almost european style building. It looked like a museum so we popped our heads in and discovered the building was an old bank. There were a few displays and we were beckoned in by a friendly man who also wanted to know where we were from. Inside was Japanese art and, of course, a collectible stamp. I can’t remember the name of the building but the stamp contains the kanji which I cannot read.
Higashi Chaya Geisha District
The Geisha district in Kanazawa is very small compared to Gion in Kyoto but the nearly single street is very well presented and another perfect place for photos of japanese people dressed up in kimonos.
On the other side of the river was a tea house street even quainter.
Almost every town, village and prefecture has its own mascot and Hyakuman-san belongs to Kanazawa. Turns out it’s not very popular… We fell in love with him though and found some hilarious postcards of him in different Ishikawa settings. Check your postboxes – and don’t forget to send us your address if you’d like to receive a postcard in the future!
The direct train to Kyoto from Kanazawa is the Thunderbird Express taking just over 2 hours. It passes Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. We contemplated coming back here for a day at the lake while we were in Kyoto, but there was so much to see in the old capital.