Kanazawa City

The principal city of Ishikawa prefecture and the capital city of Ishikawa, Kanazawa was, along with Kyoto, one of the only major Japanese cities to escape bombing in World War II. Oft-regarded as a little Kyoto for its numerous temples, shrines, traditional gardens and historic streets, it is considered today as somewhat of a backwater. Situated on the Sea of Japan coast, it sees heavy snowfall in winter and a rather wet climate for much of the year. Although home to a number of worthwhile sights, it also serves as a convenient springboard for the rural Noto peninsula to the north.

Kanazawa’s most famous sight is unquestionably Kenroku-en, rated among Japan’s top three traditional gardens. Although this ranking has resulted in near constant tourist crowds, the beauty of the landscaping more than justifies a visit. Early mornings tend to be the best time to visit. Late November sees the erection of graceful ‘yukitsuri’ over the greenery – long ropes suspended from a central pole to protect the branches from the weight of accumulated snow.

In addition, numerous poles are in place year round to support the old and heavy branches from both the snow loads and the weight of the branches themselves. Of note to tourists (from Canada in particular) is that instead of grass for covering the ground, they have moss. Ladies are often seeing removing weeds from the moss surface.

The city’s historic remnants include three old geisha districts, the largest and most important of which being the Higashi Chaya district northeast of the center. Despite being mostly ruins, Kanazawa’s castle area features an intact, 18th-century gate and an impressive reconstruction of fortifications dating from 2001. An attractive, old samurai district (Naga-machi) has been meticulously maintained just west of the center. The now largely residential area of Tera-machi south of the center is home to many temples and shrines. The most famous of these is the ninja temple of Myoryu-ji, which is host to numerous trapdoors and trick walls.

Kanazawa’s modern center is based around the landmark Kohrinbo 109 building. The long artery of Hyakumangoku-dori runs through the main commercial center and its neighboring nightlife area of Kata-machi with its pulsating neon signs. Kanazawa station, recently rebuilt, is now almost an attraction in itself, with its sleek, futuristic design, towering wooden entrance gate, and plaza clock made from a series of small fountains.