Nicknamed ‘Little Kyoto’, Kanazawa is irresistibly authentic with its graceful samurai and geisha districts, tea ceremonies and regional handicrafts. The cobbled streets, lined with latticed doors and earthen walls, are reminiscent of bygone Japan.
Once a small village on the northwest shores of Honshu, Kanazawa came under the control of the Maedas - the second largest clan in Japan’s history - for nearly 300 years. From its humble beginnings, the city transformed into a wealthy castle town and important cultural centre. Visitors today can still walk along the old maze-like paths and blind alleys designed to frustrate an enemy attack.
Kanazawa is known today for its traditional crafts, including Kaga Yuzen silk and gold leaf application, as well as its beautiful Edo-era neighbourhoods that luckily managed to escape World War II damage.
Venture into Higashi Chaya, the city’s geisha district, where paved streets are framed by charming wooden homes and historic tea houses. Nagamachi, once inhabited by the samurai, is equally atmospheric with its winding lanes and preserved samurai residences. South of the Sai River in the Teramachi district you’ll uncover numerous Buddhist temples, including the 17th-century Myoryu-ji with its hidden stairways, trick doors and secret tunnels.
Kanazawa’s finest attraction, however, has to be Kenroku-en. Comprising nearly 30 acres in the heart of the city, it ranks amongst the top three landscaped gardens in Japan. Originally laid out in the 17th century, the garden is a joy to explore with its winding streams, pretty bridges, ancient trees and quaint teahouses. Just next door lies Kanazawa Castle. The castle was carefully reconstructed after it burnt down in the 19th century, though a few original buildings remain.
For something a little more modern, a visit to the striking 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is also worth a visit, showcasing the works of artists from Japan and around the world.