The Top 10 Things to Do in Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa is the Japanese city you’ve never heard of. Nestled alongside the Sea of Japan, Kanazawa boasts one of the country’s best modern art museums, a vibrant geisha district, and fresh, delicious seafood. Less popular with tourists than Kyoto or Tokyo, it’s most definitely a destination to watch. Here are the top things to eat, drink, see, and explore there.

01 of 10

Stroll Through Kenrokuen Garden

These spider's web of ropes called yukitsuri, is a technique to prevent the snow from crushing the pine trees at Kenrokuen Garden.

 FotoGraphik / Getty Images

Address
1 Kenrokumachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-0936, Japan
Phone
+81 76-234-3800

Considered one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, Kenrokuen is at the center of Kanazawa sightseeing. Many gardens in Japan demand that you view the landscape from a certain spot — but not this one. Kenrokuen is a “strolling garden,” meaning that you’re meant to enjoy the grounds as you leisurely walk through small thickets of trees, over streams, and around picturesquare man-made hills. The garden is gorgeous at any season, but it’s especially worth a visit in the fall or spring.

02 of 10

Submerge Yourself in Modern Art

Aerial shot of 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa

金沢市 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.1 JP

Address
1-chōme-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa-ken 920-8509, Japan
Phone
+81 76-220-2800

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is an absolute must-see. It’s perhaps most famous for one particular work in its permanent collection — Leandro Erlich’s “The Swimming Pool.” When first viewed from above, it looks like any other chlorine pool. But appearances deceive: this pool is not filled with water at all. Visitors can enter the concrete chamber and look up at the shimmering expanse above, or gaze down into the “waters” at their bewildered counterparts.

03 of 10

Sip Tea in a House of Geisha

Geisha and men in traditional Japanese dress outside teahouses in Kanagawa's Higashi Chaya District

 

thanyarat07 / Getty Images

Address
Japan, 〒920-0831 Ishikawa-ken, Kanazawa-shi, Higashiyama, 1-chōme−14−8 懐華楼一眠庵

For now, forget Kyoto’s Gion — Kanazawa’s Higashi Chaya-gai district, while less impressive in color and size than that of the old capital city, is one of the last vibrant preserved districts in Japan. Chaya means teahouses, places where customers are entertained with traditional song and dance by real geisha. Kaikaro is one old teahouse that is still in operation today. Marvel at the golden floors, and enjoy a hot cup of matcha and alongside a traditional Japanese sweet.

04 of 10

Enjoy Sashimi & Sake at Omoicho Market

Early morning shoppers peruse fresh seafood at the the Omicho Market in Kanazawa, Japan.

Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Address
50 Kamiomicho, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa-ken 920-0905, Japan
Phone
+81 76-231-1462

Kaiseidon is a heaping portion of raw fish over a hot bowl of rice. It’s a delicious Kanazawa speciality, and the best place to eat it is at Omoicho Market. It’s best to get here early to avoid the long lines that start to form before some shops even open their doors. Rest assured, it’s totally fine to have sashimi for breakfast here! Also make sure to sample some jizake, or local sake. Kanazawa’s access to exceptionally clean water (gathered from the melted snow of the nearby mountains, and consistent rainfall) makes for some of Japan’s finest rice, from which high quality sake is made.

Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10

Tour the Ninja Temple

Outside of Myoryuji Temple during winter

Kentaro Ohno / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Address
1-chōme-1-2-12 Nomachi, 野町 Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa-ken 921-8031, Japan
Phone
+81 76-241-0888

Myoryuji temple was founded as a Buddhist temple in 1643, but the religious site also had a covert function as a secret gathering spot for then-rulers the Maeda lords. There’s no connection to real Japanese ninjas, but upon visiting you’ll understand why Myoryuji has earned the moniker of “ninja temple” — there are hidden stairways and corridors, and whole secret chambers. It’s a good idea to book a tour in advance.

06 of 10

Visit Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle stands in substantial park grounds in the center of Kanazawa City.

 

thanyarat07 / Getty Images

Address
1-1番1号 Marunouchi, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa-ken 920-0937, Japan
Phone
+81 76-234-3800

Adjacent to Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa Castle is probably the city’s most important site. Although it's currently undergoing some construction, there’s a lot to see here. As you walk through the gates and cross moats, you’ll learn not only about the history of castle-building but also about Japan’s many rival clans, who continually battled for power over hundreds of years. If you find yourself battling hunger pangs, try some hearty Japanese-style curry at nearby Nanohoshi.

07 of 10

Discover the Meaning of Zen

D.T. Suzuki Museum entrance with a reflective pool in front of it

金沢市 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.1 JP

Address
3-chōme-4-20 Hondamachi, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa-ken 920-0964, Japan
Phone
+81 76-221-8011

D.T. Suzuki is the Japanese philosopher who brought Zen Buddhism to the West. In Kanazawa there’s an entire museum dedicated to his life, which is a delight for people who want to learn more about the enigmatic concept that is Zen. The architecture here, by Taniguchi Yoshio (the same person who redesigned the MoMA), most certainly induces a serene mind-state. There’s also a “contemplative space” where you can meditate while overlooking a minimalist garden.

08 of 10

Explore the Nomura Samurai House

Nomura Bukeyashiki Samurai house entrance in Kanazawa Japan

 TkKurikawa / Getty Images

Address
1-chōme-3-32 Nagamachi, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa-ken 920-0865, Japan
Phone
+81 76-221-3553

Not far from Kanazawa Castle is the Nomura Samurai House, located in the historic Nagamachi district of the city. This neighborhood was once populated by samurai families, and luckily many of the buildings and cobblestone streets have been preserved by the city. The Nomura House was at one time owned by a wealthy clan, and today you can view many old artifacts on display,  including a full set of samurai armor.

Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10

Shop for Souvenirs

Address
Kakinokibatake, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-0999, Japan

The shopping streets of the Kakinokibatake and Musashigatsuji areas are definitely worth a stroll, especially if you’re hankering for some interesting treats and trinkets to bring home to your friends and family. There are also some veritable vintage shops in Kakinokibatake. In the Musashigatsuji area is the above mentioned Omoicho market, and the spectacular Meitetsu M'za department store, which sells both standard retail and traditional goods.

10 of 10

Marvel at the Sacred Gate

Tsuzumimon located at East entrance to the JR Kanazawa Station. The gate's architecture draws its inspiration from a Japanese traditional drum called tsuzumi

Korkusung / Getty Images

Address
2 Kinoshinbomachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-0858, Japan

Kanazawa station is defined by the presence of the Tsuzumi-mon Gate, which has become a symbol of the city itself. The tsuzumi-mon resembles a massive torii gate, the sacred demarcations that designate Shinto shrines in Japan. Before you leave for the next leg of your journey, stop by the restaurant Kuroyuri  for some soul-warming oden.

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The Top 10 Things to Do in Kanazawa, Japan