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Move Over Kyoto: 5 Fantastic Spots in Kanazawa

Kanazawa deserves more recognition than its nickname “the Little Kyoto” warrants.

By 4 min read

Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture is so alluring it can quickly turn your quick weekend visit into an extended stay. Once ruled by Maeda Toshiee, one of the most powerful samurai warriors of his time, Kanazawa still carries the aura of back when it was one of the wealthiest towns in the region with a flourishing art and cultural scene.

An elegant town, Kanazawa is well known for its pristine historical district lined with traditional shops, an Edo castle, Insta-worthy art museums and stylish coffee shops and breweries. These are all the often-desirable features that could be a magnet for over-tourism, yet, compared to other “traditional Japanese” spots like Kyoto, Kanazawa manages to remain off the radar. 

Connected to Tokyo with a direct Shinkansen (bullet train) in less than three hours, Kanazawa is a city too good to pass up. So Are you feeling the allure yet?  Here are five places to visit for a trip to Kanazawa that will keep you busy and have you daydreaming of coming back.

1. 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

Did this kid find the upside-down?

Home to permanent exhibitions displaying artwork by James Turell and Anish Kapoor (among many others), this contemporary art museum warrants a trip to Kanazawa all on its own.

And trust us, no one will blame you if you feel immediately drawn to the most Insta-worthy permanent display in the museum—the Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich. Other notable pieces in the museum include “Blue Planet Sky,” where visitors enter a room with a rectangular hole in the ceiling designed by famous American artist James Turell who, in his own words, “sell the blue sky.”

The museum’s beautiful architecture is circular. Thus, there are no main entrances. Instead, there are many small entrances dotted around the building. This design choice was intentional, conveying that there are multiple ways to approach art and that the museum is open to the world.

Open: 9:00 a.m. ~ 10:00 p.m. (Closed on Mondays)
Admission: Free (Temporary exhibitions are each priced differently)
1-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa City, Ishikawa - Map
Nearest station: Kanazawa
Nearest bus stop: Hirosaka 21st Century Museum

2. Kenroku-en Garden

A garden as eloquent as the city itself.

Located mere steps from the contemporary art museum, Kenroku-en Garden is one of the “Three Great Gardens of Japan.” Having visited the garden during the fall colors season, during the day and nighttime illuminations, I can attest to its beauty.

Once served as the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle, Kenroku-en has been open to the public since 1874. It is not a place for a quick visit but to take your time and let the garden surprise you with new scenery at each corner. There are two picturesque ponds, bridges and four tea houses, all surrounded by hundreds of varieties of trees.

Open: 8:00 a.m. ~ 5: 00 p.m. (times may vary)
Admission: ¥320
1 Kenrokumachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-0936 - Map
Nearest station: Kanazawa
Nearest bus stop: Kenroku-en Garden or Kanazawa Castle Park

3. Nagamachi Samurai District

The samurai district of Kanazawa at night.

Imagine a traditional Japanese street—samurai houses, old shops, and family-run restaurants—that somehow doesn’t feel like a movie set. Well, that is the allure of Kanazawa. All the tradition of Kyoto, but without the crowds.

Kanazawa’s Nagamachi district was once home to the wealthy Nomura family, samurai who served the Shogunate for 11 generations. The family’s home, now a museum, displays the daily life of a wealthy samurai household during the Edo Period.

The Maeda Tosanokami-ke Shiryokan Museum is also located on the same road. A rotating exhibition curated using eighty crafts chosen among thousands of historical articles once owned by Kanazawa’s ruling Maeda family-owned are on display.

1 Chome-3-12-2 Nagamachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-0865 - Map
Nomura Samurai House & Garden: ¥550
Maeda Tosanokami-ke Shiryokan Museum: ¥310
Nearest station: Kanazawa
Nearest bus stop: Nagamachi

4. D. T. Suzuki Museum

Suzuki was instrumental in spreading Eastern philosophy to the West.

The D. T. Suzuki Museum commemorates the life and ideas of the Kanazawa-born Japanese Buddhist philosopher Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki. Suzuki is celebrated for spreading Zen to the western world. The museum features his writings from his book, Introduction to Zen, published in 1934.

The main attraction is the building’s architecture, which is serene and inviting, a physical manifestation of Suzuki’s teachings. The museum has three wings, each opening to a unique garden with a small pond reflecting minimalist architecture. The museum was designed by Yoshio Taniguchi, who wanted to create a space where visitors would feel encouraged to self-reflect.

Open: 9:30 a.m. ~ 5.00 p.m. (Closed Mondays)
Admission: ¥310
3 Chome-4-20 Hondamachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-0964 - Map
Nearest station: Kanazawa
Nearest bus stop: Hondamachi

5. Higashi Chaya-gai

Did you remember your yukata (Japanese summer robes)?

Often compared to the Gion district in Kyoto, the Higashi Chaya District is the historical geisha district of Kanazawa, which is today lined up by tea houses, a former geisha house in the form of a museum and souvenir shops selling products decorated with gold leaf. Kanazawa (marsh of gold in Japanese) is the biggest gold leaf producer in Japan, and the former geisha district of the city hosts one of the most known souvenir shops.

The district boasts many former geisha houses in an exceptionally well-preserved form. Although not as big as Gion of Kyoto, the opportunity to scroll without the crowds more than makes up for its modest size. Connected to Tokyo with a direct Shinkansen line in less than 3 hours, Kanazawa is a city too precious to be remembered just as the “Little Kyoto.”

1 Chome-13 Higashiyama, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-0831 - Map
Nearest station: Kanazawa
Nearest bus stop: Hashibacho
Have you visited Kanazawa? What’s your favorite spot? What did you think of it? Tell us in the comments.

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