Number 6 – Live in Tokyo (the 6 of Clubs) – Part 6
Stop what you are doing. Don’t read any further yet; first go and book your ticket to Kanazawa. Do it right now, and then come back and read why you HAVE to visit this incredible place!
Kanazawa wasn’t on my list of places to go, and wasn’t really somewhere I was even aware of. I knew I wanted to visit Toyama in order to see the firefly squid and it just so happened that a fellow traveller mentioned Kanazawa as a nice city during a conversation. As it was close I decided I could probably drop by for a night or two to check it out and as with Phuket in Thailand, it quickly became one of my favourite stops in all of Japan. I’m going to try write this more as a list of recommendations, and although Kanazawa is a pretty small place, there is an abundance of activities for a short trip. It is situated on the far west of Japan, around a 7 hour drive from Tokyo. The contrast from the big cities is remarkable and it is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle. I did the following during a one day trip, but it could easily be spread out over two days, and there is a lot more you could do in and around this wonderful city.
You will most likely start at Kanazawa bus/rail station, which is a lovely piece of architecture as far as train stations in Japan go. The main entrance is engulfed by a large glass structure designed to resemble an umbrella, which offers visitors an umbrella from the many rainy days in Kanazawa. In front of the entrance is a large wooden Torii, and a really funky clock which uses water fountains to display different information, including date, time, temperature etc. Get a few shots here, and a map if you need it, before heading south towards the castle.
This was my first stop when I got to the city, and I was immediately struck by the beauty of this place. The castle is set in some incredible grounds; spacious, open and totally serene gardens surround the castle buildings, whilst rolling, snow-capped mountains dominate the horizon on the east. Although most of the buildings have been destroyed at some point or another by fire or other things, they have been delicately and accurately rebuilt in their original style. There are a few original buildings remaining, and many can be entered and explored. The castle was the seat of the Maeda clan and to the north of the buildings is one of the most beautiful and spectacular gardens I have ever seen. This garden was built on command of the third Lord of the castle, and is one of the best examples of a Japanese garden that I have seen on my trip. The pictures below don’t do it justice, and I spent much longer than I had anticipated here. Sarah got multiple video messages whilst I was exploring here, most of which were just me saying something along the lines of, ‘oh my god, and, and look at this as well!’ It is walking distance from the bus/rail station, as are most things in Kanazawa, and I would recommend this as your first stop.
Directly south of the castle are the Kenroku-en gardens, which (unlike my subjective account above) are officially known as some of the best examples of Japanese gardens in the world. There is a small entrance fee (300yen) which includes a map and some information and is well worth it. Roku is the Japanese word for 6, and these gardens incorporate the 6 essential attributes that make up a perfect garden. The theme from Kanazawa is one of serenity and much like the castle, these gardens definitely exude this feeling. There is a beautiful plum grove, some great ponds and lakes, an intimate waterfall, amongst many other features here. However a word of warning. Because it was so beautiful, I decided to eat my lunch on a bench here by one of the lakes. Big mistake. I had seen in the castle above a group of hawks circling around in the air and admired how graceful they were. It turns out that one of the hawks had also admired my chicken salad sandwich. Headphones in, I had taken one bite of my sandwich and was enjoying the view. I was slightly aware of a few Japanese people around me slowly backing away, looking and pointing into the air, but I hadn’t really paid them any real attention. I took one more bite of my sandwich, and luckily lowered it away from my mouth just in time to save it. At that moment I felt an almighty slice across the back of my head as one hawk swooped down to try and snatch my sandwich from my hands! My SANDWICH?! It’s wing had hit me dead on and his claws missed my sandwich by mere millimetres, but at this point I was unaware of what had happened. I actually thought a passer-by had just decided to slap me, which I decided I must have deserved. That’s when I became aware of the tourists around me making all sorts of squawking noises and flapping around, much like the bird that had just tried to relieve me of my homemade lunch. It was at this point that my brain caught up and started to piece together what had happened. I looked to the air to see the would be thief giving me the evil eyes as he circled for another pop at my chicken delight. As I realised what had happened I started feeling the throbbing pain on the back of my head and the fear temporarily set in. Not so much for me, but more for my sandwich (I’m still saying it like Ross from Friends in my head)! I quickly wrapped it back up and got it safely back into my bag, gave the hawk the finger and set off, with considerable pace, to find a safer place. The moral of the story I guess is just to eat somewhere safe. I could have probably just said that. Oh well! Kenroku-en is a great second stop, so make sure you do it!.
21st century Museum of contemporary art
If contemporary art is your thing, then this should definitely be the third stop on your list. Situated just ten minutes to the west of the gardens and castle is the 21st century museum of contemporary art, along with a few other museums which you might also be interested in. There are a few free exhibitions here and the paid exhibitions are still quite affordable, housing some beautiful works from national and international artists. There is also a fantastic installation making use of a swimming pool, which makes for a great photo.
One of my favourite parts of the day was visiting this district on the west of the city. Centred around the Nomura samurai house, this area has been in parts renovated and in others preserved to give a feeling of life during the time of the samurai. The houses and streets are traditional and there are very few modern reminders here, save for the odd car bumping down the road. The Nomura Samurai house holds lots more information about life in Kanazawa for the samurai and in particular the people who lived in the area. It holds several artefacts including original pieces and replicas and is extremely peaceful (the theme, remember). As you walk around the district, there will be various gardens and alleyways that you can explore and I recommend you spend a little time getting lost here. If the weather is nice you could quite easily spend a few hours on these lanes.
Kanazawa seems to have a pretty bustling live music scene and just to the east of the samurai district I saw a lot of bars and clubs boasting an impressive roster of acts and events. Unfortunately I wasn’t there on the right night but I can imagine that the Kanazawa nightlife would be great for anybody who enjoys live music. If you have been and can share any more information, then please comment below!
There is also a small shopping area with a few malls and although small, it seems to have most of the shops you could need for a decent shopping trip. Again this is not something I did, but the quick walk through the area convinced me it was more than adequate.
Kanazawa is ideally located to allow you the chance to explore both the mountains to the east and the Japanese coast to the west. There are various trips that will take you into the mountains on day trips, or longer hikes which include overnight accommodation, and in the summer I imagine it would be quite easy to get to the beach. There is also Toyama bay one hour north of Kanazawa. This is where you could get the chance to see the firefly squid, depending on what time of year you decide to visit, and although there isn’t much else to do in Toyama, it might be worth a day out.
So there we go. I don’t need to tell you to go away and book your trip to Kanazawa because I know you will have followed my instructions at the start of this post and it will already be booked! I absolutely love these unexpected gems, and it’s great when you come across them. I do think it’s true that when you don’t have the expectation of something being so brilliant, you allow yourself to just take in the natural wonder of where you are and sometimes it leads to a much better experience. I hope you enjoy Kanazawa as much as I did and if you enjoyed this post then please comment below, give it a like and share with your friends so that they can get their trip booked as well!
Onwards to Toyama, and the Hotaru-ika!