Kanazawa

Kanazawa (金沢) is an historic city in Ishikawa prefecture, Japan.

Teahouses in Higashi-Chayamachi

Understand

Kanazawa is one of the long overlooked jewels of Japanese tourism — although not by the Japanese, who visit in droves. Its relatively remote location, until recently off the beaten (shinkansen) track, has perhaps unfairly contributed to the historically lower number of foreign tourists. However for those travellers who want to see perhaps the best-preserved major Edo-period city in the country (along with Takayama), it is hard to beat. Kyoto's offerings of temples and shrines are all very well, but Japanese history and culture is not just about them. The samurai, the merchants, the geisha, and the lords have all left their mark on Kanazawa in a compact, easily navigable central area. Kanazawa is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Crafts and Folk Art. With the opening of the new Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo in March 2015, the number of foreign tourists has increased significantly. As the influx of foreign tourists has been recent, English language ability tends to be much more limited than in the likes of Kyoto and Nara, but visitors can take comfort in the fact that locals will nevertheless go to great lengths to help you out.

Don't leave here without seeing the gold leaf craftsmen at work. Many of them are over 90 years old and still putting in a full day's work!

Kanazawa cuisine is famous throughout Japan, particularly its seafood since it lies in the sweet spot of the hot south and cold north currents. The quality of food is so high, that essentially you'll eat good food whatever the price.

Climate

Heavy snow in Kanazawa

Kanazawa can get a lot of rain — it's "the Seattle of Japan". A local proverb says "even if you forget your lunchbox, don't forget your umbrella". Although the weather can be beautiful in spring and autumn, it is never a good idea to bank on it being fine in Kanazawa, and winters in particular are cold. Kanazawa is in the Snow Country, the area along the Japan Sea coast of Honshu where cold Siberian winds dump large amounts of snow in orographic precipitation, and while it does not get as much as more inland areas, half a metre or more is not uncommon. Most of the main roads have lines of sprinklers down the street to wash the snow away, but the smaller roads often do not.

Get in

By plane

The nearest airport serving Kanazawa is in the city of Komatsu (IATA: KMQ). JAL offers flights into Komatsu Airport from Tokyo Haneda Airport, and from Okinawa. ANA flies into Komatsu from Tokyo Haneda and Narita Airports, as well as Sapporo Chitose, Sendai and Fukuoka. Internationally, Komatsu serves Taipei daily, Seoul (four times a week), and Shanghai (three times a week).

From Komatsu airport, buses run directly to Kanazawa (50 minutes, ¥1100). Or you could take a bus to Komatsu Station and a JR train from there, which is somewhat cheaper and, depending on your luck with connections, not much longer. Taxis are frequent though not cheap, and there are several rental car places in the area.

By train

Wooden Tsuzumi Gate and glass facade of Kanazawa Station

Kanazawa's train station, a futuristic marvel that integrates a traditional wooden temple gate with glass and steel, has been served by the Hokuriku Shinkansen since 2015, when a 228km extension from Nagano entered operation allowing for one-seat bullet train rides to Tokyo. The fastest services, called Kagayaki (かがやき), generally operate during the morning and evening hours to/from Tokyo with the fastest services taking 2 1/2 hours. The more frequent Hakutaka (はくたか) makes all stops north of Nagano yielding slightly longer travel times. Visitors using the Japan Rail Pass may like to know that the pass is valid on all Hokuriku Shinkansen services, including the Kagayaki services.

The regular fare from Tokyo to Kanazawa is ¥14,120 for a reserved seat. Standard and Green Car seats are fully covered by the respective versions of the Japan Rail Pass, but if you want to use the premium GranClass seats - which feature airline-like business class seats and personal attendant service - you will have to pay the limited express and GranClass surcharges (an additional ¥19,630 from Tokyo to Kanazawa), as any version of the Japan Rail Pass only covers the base fare.

Note that regional JR passes will only cover part of the above journey... for example the JR East Rail Pass will only cover trips to Jōetsu-myōkō, at the end of JR East's territory; to continue to Kanazawa you will have to pay for a regular ticket (¥6,130 for a reserved seat) over the portion operated by JR West.

JR West Hokuriku Main Line services from Fukui terminate in Kanazawa. Through-running limited express services from Osaka and Kyoto are called Thunderbird (サンダーバード). Trains run from Osaka to Kanazawa in around 2 1/2 hours on the fastest service at a cost of ¥7,650. Another service, the Shirasagi (しらさぎ), runs from Nagoya (3 hours, ¥7730) and Maibara (2 hours, ¥5700). There is no charge for these trains with a Japan Rail Pass.

East of Kanazawa station, JR mainline trains have been transferred to private companies, and the Japan Rail Pass will not be valid unless you travel from Kanazawa to Tsubata station to connect to the JR Nanao Line. A bullet train shuttle, called the Tsurugi (つるぎ), operates frequently from Kanazawa to Toyama complementing the other bullet train services. The short ride takes just 23 minutes and costs ¥2,810 for an unreserved seat. Reserved/Unreserved Standard class, and reserved Green Car seats, are available. This train is also covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

By car

Kanazawa is served by the Hokuriku Expressway, which runs through the western edge of the city. It has three interchanges: Kanazawa East and Kanazawa West feed into National Route 8, and Kanazawa Morimoto feeds into the Mountainside Loop Road (山側環状線 Yamagawa kanjō-sen). The cost for a normal car from Kyoto-East via Maibara is ¥5500, and the distance is 245km (to Kanazawa West). From Osaka, ¥6850 and 296 km; Niigata ¥6350 and 293km. From the capital city, expect ¥11,800 and 585km.

The national Route 8 is also a good option for those on a budget or who wish to take a leisurely trip, stopping off to see various sights along the way. It is four-lane for much of the way, and so passing those slow old farmers in their white mini-trucks is actually possible. There are other routes into the city, such as via the base of Hakusan, or over the hills from Toyama prefecture.

By bus

Several bus companies make runs from Tokyo to Kanazawa. JR Bus runs two daytime buses and two night buses run from Shinjuku and Ikebukuro (more runs added on Weekends and Holidays). One bus also runs at night from Tokyo Station. The cost for all of these buses is the same (¥7,840 each way) and the trip takes about 8.5 hours.

Discount bus operators Willer Express, Star Express and Hope Tour operate buses from Shinjuku to Kanazawa; fares start at ¥5,000 each way. Overnight services are available.

JR Bus runs four daytime trips to/from Osaka, taking 4.75 hours, and an overnight service, taking 7h. The cost is ¥4,300 one-way.

From Kyoto to Kanazawa, several bus companies (for example Keihan, JR, Hokutetsu) run about 5 times a day. The trip takes 4 hours and the one-way fare is ¥4,060.

Get around

Kanazawa attempts to attract more foreign tourists to the city. There is a Tourist Information Lobby in the station, with English speaking staff always present, where you can get free maps of the city and help with any questions you may have.

By bus

Kanazawa has a decent bus system to help you get where you need to go. There are three types of buses: city buses, a tourist bus, and community buses (Furatto-Bus). The tourist bus makes a loop around the main sights in 15 minutes and costs ¥200 per trip or ¥500 daily. There are four community bus routes which make 15 minute loops around different districts of the city and cost ¥100.

By bicycle

Bicycles can be hired from JR Kanazawa station and due to the winding streets and plethora of traffic lights and one way systems are often the fastest way to travel around town.

On foot

As the central city is fairly compact, one of the best ways to get around (at least when the weather is cooperative) is simply walking, exploring the narrow side streets. From east (Higashiyama) to west (Teramachi) would take about an hour at a leisurely pace, though to see everything between them properly would take days.

By car

Driving in Kanazawa itself is not for the inexperienced. The old city in particular is a labyrinth of narrow twisting streets once you leave the main roads, and you need to be good at judging just how wide your vehicle is at times. Parking in the old city is also at a premium. However the newer areas on the outskirts are car-friendly, and parking is ample. For those using Kanazawa as a base to explore the Hokuriku and Hida regions, renting a car would be a good idea as public transport between some of the more far-flung areas is far and few between.

Remember that a valid Japanese or Geneva Convention International Driver's License must be carried at all times, and that driving while drunk results in at best some extremely stiff fines: up to ¥300,000 and instant loss of license. Driving without a valid license will set you back ¥100,000. Note that the official "drunk driving" blood-alcohol limit is 0.25 mg, but there is a separate "driving under the influence" charge which has no set minimum.

See

Many of the links below are only available in Japanese. However almost all major tourist sites in Japan have English pamphlets, and Kanazawa is no exception. Free maps can be picked up at the Tourist Information Lobby at Kanazawa station. In the street directly opposite the main exit of the station, on the right hand side, is the Rifare Building, where the Ishikawa Foundation for International Exchange is located (4F), as well as the Ishikawa International Lounge (2F). There is a small library in the building with free use of computers.

Exploring Kenrokuen
Ishikawa Gate, Kanazawa Castle
The alleys of Nagamachi's samurai district

Temples and shrines

Statues of Jizō, the patron saint of travellers, in Teramachi

The river to the south, the Sai River, has on its far bank the main temple district of Teramachi (寺町). One of the more impressive ones in Japan, both sides of the road are lined with imposing walls and looming black-tiled roofs. Its eastern counterpart is the Higashiyama Temple District. In contrast to Teramachi's straight road, the eastern temples are dotted around the hillside in a maze of narrow streets. The Kodatsuno ridge also has a small temple area, dominated by Tentokuin.


Museums

A bouquet of candy at the Confectionery Culture Center

Do

Learn

Work

As a large and fairly youthful city, there are plenty of opportunities to teach English. Do research and be prepared. It would be unwise to turn up and expect to find legal work easily, however, the better your Japanese ability the better the chances. In recent years NOVA, ECC and Berlitz closed operations in Kanazawa. The Ishikawa Foundation for International Exchange and the Ishikawa International Lounge, both located in the Rifare building close to the station, provide free legal, visa, and financial advice to foreigners (set times only).

Buy

Gilded tea house at Hakuza

Kanazawa is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and any of the over 30 local arts and crafts make lovely souvenirs. Japanese-style confectionery also makes a good souvenir.

The city is famed for gold leaf production (金箔 kinpaku) and an interesting and reasonable priced gift is a small box of gold leaf fragments, which can be used to decorate cakes and food or for adding sparkle to cups of sake. Within the station are a plethora of shops selling tourist items. Another area specialty is lacquerware (漆器 shikki) with products available to suit all budgets. Wajima (in Noto) and Yamanaka are two main areas of production.

Kenroku-en is ringed by shops catering to the tourist trade. Just as one would expect, the products at such shops are not typically authentic local goods, but they do have the Kanazawa keychains, postcards, and other knickknack collectibles.

Kanazawa is known as a trendy city, and fashion reflects this. The Tatemachi shopping street is full of stores, many of which house good deals if you look hard enough.

Eat

A famous local dish is jibuni (治部煮), made from boiled and seasoned duck and various vegetables. Crab is another local favourite served up during the winter months, common types include the hairless male crab (zuwaigani) or smaller female crabs with eggs still attached. Served cold with a light vinegar or in nabe style hot pots. Sushi made with fish from the neighboring sea is also popular, the sweet shrimps (amaebi) are especially good in this region. In Spring the tiny gray river fish gori is a well known delicacy. Sometimes served deep fried with salt or in miso soup. Eaten whole it is an acquired taste.

Budget

Ōmichō-ichiba Market

Mid-range

Right next to Kanazawa train station is a new shopping complex called Forus. The 6th floor is dedicated to restaurants and has a very good conveyor style sushi restaurant. No English is spoken but they do have a picture menu and all tables have an electronic menu device. Be aware that if you do not finish all of your food, the Forus restaurants will not give you a box to take your leftovers! Other options include Chinese; Indonesian; Italian and Korean restaurants. Nearly all restaurants have a lunch special in the ¥1000 range.

Splurge

Drink

Houses of tea

In Japan, a teahouse doesn't always serve just tea.

茶屋 
The name may mean "tea shop", but the main selling point of a chaya is geishas, not tea.
茶房 
A "tea room" (sabō) is a tea house that serves traditional Japanese tea and sweets.
茶寮 
A "tea pavilion" (saryō) is where formal tea ceremonies are conducted.
茶店 
True to the name, a "tea shop" (chaten) sells tea (the leaf) and its utensils, but doesn't serve it.
茶の間 
The "tea space" (cha-no-ma) is what the Japanese call living rooms.
喫茶店 
These days kissaten or "tea enjoyment shop" usually means a coffeeshop including Starbucks!

While in Kanazawa, don't miss the opportunity to sample tea ceremony tea (抹茶 matcha), served with either an incredibly dry and tasteless sweet (干菓子 higashi) or a rather more appetizing fresh one (生菓子 namagashi). Figure on ¥500-1000 depending on where you try it; the Higashi-Chaya geisha district probably offers the nicest teahouses.

The Katamachi area in central Kanazawa is wall to wall with bars of all shapes and sizes. Some buildings such as the Elle Building are almost exclusively full of hostess bars (often referred to as lounge bars) which may not always be foreigner friendly. Many bars will hit you for a cover charge anywhere upwards of ¥500 per person stretching into thousands. As the competition is stiff bars without a charge will often advertise it quite clearly. The St. Louis Jigger Bar run by Suntory is one such cocktail bar on the corner of the Scramble.

Sleep

The largest concentration of hotels is around the station area including all the usual suspects: ANA, APA, Nikko etc. Toyoko Hotel and Route Inn hotel are two of the newest. For cheaper options, the Kanawaza Ryokan and Hotel Society runs a Yadotime booking engine, also available in English.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

There are free Internet terminals in the underground plaza just below the station, although they're usually patronized non-stop by the local homeless community getting their online mahjong fix.

Stay safe

As with most if not all cities in Japan, Kanazawa is a very safe place to visit. The central crossing in Kanazawa`s Katamachi area (known locally as the Scramble) can get a bit rowdy on the weekends. The worse that is likely to happen is a snide comment or two. The usual common sense rules apply and single female travellers would be wise to keep their wits about them at night-time.

Cope

English is not as widely spoken as in other bigger cities and many restaurants will only have a Japanese menu. A big smile and a bit of patience will work wonders in these cases. In many cases, the waitperson can probably speak some English if you give them a chance to get over their nervousness.

Go next

Take the Hokutetsu bus bound for Arimatsu from JR Kanazawa Station`s East Exit. Get off roughly 20 minutes later at Nomachi bus stop and walk downhill 1 minute to Hokuriku Railway Nomachi Station. Take a train to Kaga-Ichinomiya Station (35 minutes). From here you can take a fairly long walk or catch a taxi to Park Shishiku which is at the base of Shishiku Heights. There is a boarding area for the gondola that will take you up to the mountain top. It is possible to hike down from top during the warmer months. Great views can be had stretching across the Kaga Plain all the way to the Sea of Japan.

Roughly 1 hour by Hokutetsu bus for Shiramine from JR Kanazawa Station. Get off at Komonbashi or Furobashi bus stop and walk for several minutes. It is clearly signposted in English and easily accessible by car from Kanazawa.

Routes through Kanazawa

Toyama Oyabe  N  S  Nonoichi Fukui
Toyama Oyabe  N  S  Komatsu Fukui


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, December 21, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.