Our next stop on our honeymoon through Japan was slightly off the “basic” tourist itinerary: the city of Kanazawa on the western coast. During the Edo period, Kanazawa was the home of the very powerful Maeda clan, and it was not very damaged during the war, so many attractions similar to those in Kyoto can be found.
What We Did
We allocated two nights and just one day for sightseeing, which was enough to see the highlights.
Kanazawa’s most famous attraction is Kenrouken, a large landscape garden constructed by the Maeda clan and located in the old castle district.
We headed to the garden first to make sure to see it. As we were walking through the remains of the castle, we went by an information booth and were approached by an older Japanese gentleman who offered us a free tour of the garden. He explained that he was a part of a volunteer group of retirees who led these tours. He took us on a quick circuit of the garden, pointing out the top features, which include the Kojitoro Lantern (the symbol of the gardens, the Meiji Monument, the Midori Waterfall, and a fountain that is powered by gravity. We really enjoyed our tour and wanted to give our guide a tip, but he walked away before we had a chance!
We then took another lap around the garden by ourselves, pausing to take more pictures. We also bought a shaved ice (with green tea syrup) to cool off, as it was hot and humid. The garden was beautiful, but like many of the gardens we visited on our trip, the middle of summer is a little bit of a boring time to visit because you miss the spring blooms and fall colors. Still, it was a peaceful, relaxing place.
Higashi Chaya District
Like Kyoto, Kanazawa has a historic district that was once the designated area for teahouses (chaya) where geisha would entertain guests. The narrow streets with traditional wooden houses on either side evoke the feeling of the bygone era.
We paid to tour the inside of Ochaya Shima, a preserved teahouse from the 18th century. The upstairs had three different guest rooms, each with a waiting room where the geisha would perform. Downstairs was a kitchen, proprietress room, and dressing room.
There were also many stores selling gold leaf products, something that Kanazawa is known for. We resisted the temptation to buy gold leaf ice cream!
Where We Ate
Hachiban Ramen (Ramen 8)
Our first night in town we had a little trouble finding a place near our hotel for dinner, so we decided to head back to the train station, given that we had already had good luck finding tasty, cheap meals at other stations. Not surprisingly, we were once again successful. We each got a combo that came with ramen and gyoza (dumplings). Eric got the miso broth ramen while Della got the pork bone broth ramen.
While exploring the Higashi Chaya District, we stopped into this small restaurant for lunch. It felt somewhat like a diner from back home, especially since we sat at the counter and could watch the chefs work. Della got a “set plate” with an “omiken” (omelet around fried rice) and crab cream croquettes, while Eric got the plate of the day which had barbecue chicken and fried fish with rice. Both meals came with a cabbage salad and miso soup.
For dinner the second night, we ate at an izakaya (traditional Japanese pub/small plate restaurant) attached to our hotel. We shared a variety of small dishes: potato salad, sushi sampler, croquettes and tempura vegetables.
Where We Stayed
We had a little bit of trouble finding a place that was affordable and located within walking distance of the sights, but we eventually settled on the Hotel MYSTAYS Kanazawa Castle. This is confusingly named, because it is not really that close to the castle – there are actually two Hotel MyStays in Kanazawa, and this one is on the castle side of the train station as opposed to other one which is on the opposite side.
Our room was small, but comfortable. We took advantage of the public onsen in the hotel (gender segregated), using it for our nightly ablutions. The hot pool had an outdoor portion which was refreshing. The onsen was actually quite crowded with other guests, so the second night we attempted to go earlier. The provided yukata felt more like a bathrobe but was still comfortable enough for us to walk to and from the onsen in.
We enjoyed our time in Kanazawa – it was nice to see a city that isn’t necessarily on the top of all the tourists’ lists, and both the gardens and the chaya district were pleasant. On the other hand, it felt somewhat like a smaller version of Kyoto, so if you only have a small amount of time in Japan it may not be necessary to go both places, especially in the summertime when the heat and humidity are high and the colors at the garden are muted.