Kanazawa Kenrokuen Garden head
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Travel Guide to Kanazawa, Japan

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Kanazawa, with its rich cultural heritage and historical marvels, offers an array of experiences for travelers. From the enchanting Kenrokuen Garden to the historically significant Kanazawa Castle, this guide aims to assist you in exploring the best attractions, discovering the optimal times to visit, understanding the diverse transportation options, and uncovering the most convenient ways to navigate this splendid city. Whether you seek the tranquility of its gardens, the allure of geisha districts, or the charm of its local markets, this Kanazawa Travel Guide is your passport to an unforgettable adventure in this cultural gem of Japan.

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Kanazawa Overview

Kanazawa, a city in Japan’s Ishikawa Prefecture, is renowned for its deep cultural roots and historical significance. Once the stronghold of the influential Maeda Clan in the Edo Period, the city proudly maintains its traditional treasures.

One of its prized gems is the Kenrokuen Garden, celebrated as one of Japan’s most exquisite landscape gardens. Visitors can also explore the Nagamachi Samurai District, where the homes of ancient feudal warriors stand, and the Higashi Chaya District, offering a glimpse into the refined world of geisha teahouses.

Craftsmanship thrives in Kanazawa, with specialties like gold leaf, lacquerware, and Kutani pottery. Workshops and museums throughout the city allow visitors to immerse themselves in these revered arts.

Beyond its borders, Kanazawa serves as an excellent launchpad to explore neighboring areas. Shirakawago and Gokayama beckon with their unique thatched-roof farmhouses, while the Noto Peninsula showcases stunning coastlines and rustic allure.

Thanks to its convenient train connections from Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagoya, reaching Kanazawa is a breeze, making it an accessible starting point for unforgettable adventures in the region.

Japan Kanazawa Yuzen Silk Painting
Learn about the art of yuzen silk painting

Top Things to Do in Kanazawa

Kanazawa offers a myriad of exciting activities. Here are some of the top things you can experience in Kanazawa:

Explore the Stunning Kenrokuen Garden: 

This breathtaking landscape garden is considered one of Japan’s top three gardens. It boasts serene ponds, beautiful bridges, elegant lanterns, and an ever-changing array of trees and flowers throughout the seasons. The garden’s beauty and tranquility can be enjoyed at any time of the year.

Discover Kanazawa Castle:

A historic stronghold that served as the seat of power for the Maeda clan for over 250 years. Despite being rebuilt multiple times due to fires and wars, the castle maintains its original design and grace. Visitors can explore the castle grounds, admiring its remarkable architecture and craftsmanship.

Experience the ‘Ninja Temple’ – Myoryuji Temple:

This Buddhist temple, constructed during the Edo period, is famous for its hidden features and traps. It ingeniously circumvented strict building rules by incorporating multiple floors, secret passages, hidden rooms, trap doors, and escape routes. Guided tours offer insight into the temple’s history and secrets.

Winter Sports at Hakuba Valley:

Just a couple of hours from Kanazawa by bus, Hakuba Valley is a renowned ski resort offering over 200 trails across 10 ski areas. Enthusiasts can enjoy skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and various winter activities in the snowy mountains.

Omicho Market for Seafood Delights:

This lively market, operational since the 18th century, is famous for its fresh seafood, particularly crab, squid, and various fish. Visitors can either buy fresh seafood to take home or relish it at one of the market’s many restaurants and stalls. The market also offers local specialties like sake, sweets, and fresh produce.

Kanazawa Hyakumangoku Festival:

Celebrating the city’s rich history and culture, this three-day festival in early June features parades, dances, fireworks, tea ceremonies, and more. The Hyakumangoku Parade reenacts Lord Maeda Toshiie’s arrival at Kanazawa Castle in 1583, serving as the festival’s highlight.

Reflect at D.T. Suzuki Museum:

Dedicated to Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, a renowned Zen Buddhist philosopher, this museum showcases a modern and simple design that mirrors Suzuki’s teachings and philosophy. Visitors can learn about his life and works in the exhibition hall or find serenity in the contemplation space.

Visit Oyama Shrine:

Built in honor of Maeda Toshiie, the shrine stands out for its unique gate, blending Japanese, Chinese, and European styles. The gate’s stained glass window depicting a dragon and a phoenix symbolizes power and prosperity.

Japan Kanazawa Kenrokuen Garden
Admire the enchanting beauty of Kenrokuen Garden

Where to Stay in Kanazawa

Depending on your preferences and budget, there are various areas and hotels to stay in Kanazawa. Here are some top recommendations:

Kanazawa Station Area:

If convenience is your priority, this is the spot, especially if you’re arriving by train or bus. You’ll have easy access to the main city attractions via public transport or on foot. The area is teeming with hotels, restaurants, shops, and convenience stores. Consider Hotel Trusty Kanazawa Korinbo, a modern four-star hotel offering spacious rooms and an on-site restaurant, or Hotel Nikko Kanazawa, a luxurious hotel boasting stunning city and sea views.

Higashi Chaya District:

To immerse yourself in Kanazawa’s traditional ambiance, this area is ideal. Higashi Chaya preserves the essence of geisha districts, showcasing old wooden teahouses, museums, temples, and local craft and sweet shops. Experience a geisha performance and tea ceremony at a traditional teahouse. Opt for Sumiyoshiya Ryokan, an authentic ryokan with tatami rooms and a delightful garden, or Hashiba-an, a charming townhouse with modern amenities and a kitchen.

Nagamachi Samurai District:

For history and samurai culture enthusiasts, this area is a must-visit. Wander through where samurai residences were once situated, some now preserved as museums or open to the public. Don’t miss the Nomura Clan Samurai House, displaying beautiful gardens and samurai armor. Hotels like Hotel Pacific Kanazawa, offering comfort and affordability with friendly staff, and Kanazawa Sainoniwa Hotel, a stylish space with a spa, gym, and shuttle service, are great options.

Katamachi Area:

If you’re seeking entertainment and shopping, this is your spot. Katamachi is the city’s nightlife hub, hosting numerous bars, clubs, and restaurants. For shopping, explore Omicho Market renowned for fresh seafood and various local products. Consider Hotel Resol Trinity Kanazawa, a chic hotel with a rooftop terrace and a café, or Kanazawa Manten Hotel Ekimae, a budget-friendly option with a hot spring bath and buffet breakfast.

Korinbo Area:

For proximity to the city’s main attractions, Korinbo is the place to be. With an array of shops, restaurants, cafes, and museums, it’s a central area offering easy access to Kanazawa Castle Park, Kenrokuen Garden, and various art institutions. Hotels like Hotel Intergate Kanazawa, offering a sleek and modern vibe with a library lounge and sauna, or Hotel Mystays Premier Kanazawa, a spacious hotel with an indoor pool and fitness center, are excellent choices.

Hotel Nikko Kanazawa
Hotel Nikko Kanazawa in Kanazawa Station Area

How Many Days to Stay in Kanazawa

For some, a single day might suffice to cover the main highlights like Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa Castle, Higashi Chaya District, and Omicho Market. However, this rush might leave you with little time to truly soak in the city’s ambiance and finer details.

Opting for a two-day stay could be more appealing to explore Kanazawa at a leisurely pace. This extended time allows for a relaxed visit and the chance to explore lesser-known yet captivating spots like Ninjadera, D.T. Suzuki Museum, 21st Century Museum, and Seisonkaku Villa. Additionally, it provides more opportunities to savor local cuisine, crafts, and entertainment.

Should you have additional time and a penchant for exploration, taking day trips from Kanazawa to neighboring destinations like Shirakawago & Gokayama, Noto Peninsula, or Takayama could be a fantastic idea. These places offer a unique perspective on Japan’s rural and natural beauty, along with distinct cultural and historical attractions.

Japan Kanazawa Shirakawa-go
Shirakawa-go in Winter

Kanazawa Weather & Best Time to Visit Kanazawa

Kanazawa experiences a humid semi-continental climate. Winters are cold and damp, while summers tend to be hot and moist.

There are two prime times to visit Kanazawa: September to mid-November (fall) and March to May (spring). During these periods, the weather is generally mild and pleasant, offering beautiful natural scenery. Fall showcases vibrant foliage, and spring reveals the stunning cherry blossoms. These times also tend to be less crowded, offering more reasonable prices.

Other times of the year are viable for visits based on your preferences. If snow interests you, consider a winter trip (December to February) with freezing temperatures and possible snowfall. Winter festivals like the Kanazawa Hyakumangoku Festival happen, yet anticipate overcast, rainy days and pack warm clothes.

For those preferring warm weather and outdoor activities, summer (June to August) might suit best. Temperatures can peak at 29°C (84°F). Summer festivals like the Kanazawa Fireworks Festival take place, but note this overlaps with the city’s rainy season, causing humidity and rain. Avoid August’s peak travel season due to crowds and higher prices.

You can use the following table to compare the average temperatures and rainfall for each month in Kanazawa:

Month

Average high

Average low

Average rainfall

January

4°C (40°F)

0°C (33°F)

228 mm (9 in)

February

7°C (44°F)

1°C (34°F)

163 mm (6.4 in)

March

11°C (51°F)

3°C (37°F)

185 mm (7.3 in)

April

17°C (63°F)

8°C (46°F)

165 mm (6.5 in)

May

22°C (72°F)

13°C (55°F)

160 mm (6.3 in)

June

25°C (77°F)

18°C (64°F)

204 mm (8 in)

July

29°C (84°F)

22°C (72°F)

232 mm (9.1 in)

August

31°C (88°F)

24°C (75°F)

174 mm (6.9 in)

September

26°C (79°F)

20°C (68°F)

214 mm (8.4 in)

October

21°C (70°F)

14°C (57°F)

241 mm (9.5 in)

November

15°C (59°F)

8°C (46°F)

229 mm (9 in)

December

9°C (48°F)

3°C (37°F)

249 mm (9.8 in)

Kanazawa Transportation: How to Get to and Travel around

How to Get to

By Train: Take the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station or Ueno Station to Kanazawa Station. The journey lasts approximately 2.5 hours, costing around 14,000 yen for a one-way ticket. It’s the fastest and most convenient option, covered by the Japan Rail Pass and Hokuriku Arch Pass.

By Bus: You can hop on a highway bus from Tokyo Station or Ueno Station to Kanazawa Station. Expect a travel duration of about 7-8 hours, with fares ranging from 4,500 to 8,000 yen for a one-way trip. Daytime and overnight buses are available, offering the cheapest option, albeit less comfort.

By Air: Fly from Tokyo Haneda Airport to Komatsu Airport, situated about 40 minutes by bus from central Kanazawa. The flight takes around one hour, but including airport transfers, the total travel time sums up to about 3-4 hours. Regular one-way fares cost around 25,000 yen, though discount tickets ranging from 10,000 to 13,500 yen are often available.

Japan Night Bus from Tokyo to Kanazawa
Night Highway Bus from Tokyo to Kanazawa

How to Travel Around

Transportation within Kanazawa offers diverse options for getting around the city easily:

Buses: The local Hokutetsu train and bus company runs a broad bus network connecting Kanazawa Station to the city center and major tourist attractions. City buses typically charge 210 yen per ride within central Kanazawa. The tourist-oriented Kanazawa Loop Bus links the station to significant sights, operating every 15 minutes in both directions at the same fare. An all-day pass for unlimited rides on loop buses and many other local buses in central Kanazawa is available for 800 yen.

Taxis: Taxis offer convenience, with fares around 1,000 yen to reach various locations in central Kanazawa.

Walking: Kanazawa is compact and best explored on foot. Most attractions are within a two-kilometer radius of Kanazawa Castle Park, allowing enthusiastic walkers to cover much of the city on foot.

Share Cycle Services: Share cycle services are available, offering a convenient way to explore the city without extensive walking.

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