The beautifully preserved samurai and geisha districts were probably our favourite areas. In Nagamachi which is where the samurai houses are located, the winding streets and canals are really atmospheric. A few houses have been turned into museums or restaurants however the area overall is residential.
Higashi Chaya Gai is a small area of narrow streets and wooden teahouses where geisha used to (and maybe still do?) entertain their clients. We had to make do with tourists dressed in kimono. Even in the rain they look pretty.
Kanazawa produces 99% of Japan’s gold leaf and the production was originally based in this area. One of the more affordable purchases is a soft serve ice cream partly covered in gold leaf for less than $10!!
We asked Yuki at the hostel where we were staying if he had ever seen a Geisha or knew much about them but it really is a secretive trade, only available for a select few.
Before we left we were treated to a private tea ceremony by Naruko, a friend of Yuki’s who was inspired to learn more about the tradition after a trip to Italy. Now she studies tea ceremony and flower arrangement.
Although it would have been interesting to visit a tea house and been served by Maiko (Geisha apprentices) this, to us, was a much more special way to experience a tea ceremony as done at home with guests. Naruko explained how the focus is on the ceremonial eg each guest turns the cup 3 times clock-wise before drinking and then 3 times back the other way and wiping it before passing it to the next person. After drinking the tea it’s customary to admire the bowl and talk about it’s origin or design. This focus on the process makes it a very relaxing break from whatever else is going on.
Kenroku-en Garden is recognised as one of the top 3 gardens in Japan and we also visited the adjacent castle garden. The original castle was destroyed by fire in 1881. A few buildings have been reconstructed to great effect.
While we walked towards Kenroku-en Garden we bumped into a group of Danish architecture students. The teacher has taken a number of groups to Japan and always include Kanazawa on the itinerary – probably mostly for historic content but there is also some great modern architecture. The main railway station is really striking and combines a large wooden gate with the mostly metal structure.
The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is another great place to visit.
Eating out is a daily occurrence and just like we used to struggle deciding what to cook for dinner each night, we now have to find a restaurant – either by looking online or as we walk around. Plenty to choose from but somehow all you can find when you want sushi is ramen shops, and vice versa.
Kanazawa is only a couple of hours by train from Tokyo. We would definitely recommend a visit to anybody coming this way.