North to Kanazawa 金沢市へ
During this year’s trip, I had a sudden gap in my schedule. The friends I intended to stay with over the weekend had an unexpected development that would make it inconvenient for me to visit. As the Easter break typically falls during peak cherry blossom season for Kansai, there were no hotel vacancies (in my price range) for those few days in any of the usual places. Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, even Nara hotels were booked up. What to do? Then it hit me; who said I need to stay in Kansai? I’d been to Kanazawa before, but only as a day trip from Osaka. I knew it had far more to offer so I figured this would be an excellent opportunity. Besides, like in Europe, I’m always up for a nice train journey to see different parts of the countryside. And it is a very nice journey, through areas of rice fields as far as the eye can see, with snow-capped mountains in the background.
Kanazawa is north-east of Kansai, in Ishikawa prefecture, on the Japan Sea coast. It’s often referred to as “Little Kyoto”, and indeed, it does have some of Kyoto’s ambiance. As with Kyoto, Kanazawa has geisha districts in the three ‘chaya’ districts – Nishi Chaya, Higashi Chaya and Kazue-machi Chaya. Unlike Kyoto, you’re unlikely to see the fake dress-up geisha in these districts. There are also old Samurai areas. Naga-machi in particular, is where the streets and houses have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. It’s definitely a great place for a wander.
The jewel in the crown of Kanazawa is the 17th century garden, Kenrokuen. It is recognized as one of the three most famous gardens in Japan (the Japanese love their ‘best of’ lists) and is well worth the visit. Be warned though, it will most likely be swarming with tourists! You could spend the better part of the day in this part of Kanazawa as other sights of note are Kanazawa Castle Park (right across the street) and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (just down the street). You could even venture to the west as Higashi-chaya is only about a 20 minute walk away.
I fully recommend visiting Kanazawa not only for what it has to offer, but also what it hasn’t: the crowds of the more prominent cities like Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo.