On Japan’s central island of Honshu, Kanazawa boasts a delightful blend of ancient allure and modern wonders. Affectionately called ‘Little Kyoto’ for its well-preserved neighborhoods, exquisite gardens, and interesting museums, Kanazawa is laid-back and full of charm. Explore beautifully preserved samurai districts, discover the enchanting Kenrokuen Garden, and delve into Japanese art and culture as you fill your vacation plans with all these incredible things to do in Kanazawa, Japan!
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Top of your list of places to see in Kanazawa should be the magnificent Kenrokuen Garden. Sprawling across 25 acres in the heart of the city, this verdant masterpiece is one of the top three traditional gardens in Japan.
Kenrokuen Garden was established by the ruling Maeda family in the 17th century. Its name translates to ‘Six Attributes Garden,’ symbolizing spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water, and panoramic views. You’ll see these elements seamlessly interwoven in this enchanting garden.
Meander through the meticulously landscaped pathways adorned with cherry blossoms in spring and vibrant foliage in autumn. Discover the iconic Kotoji Toro lantern and the serene Kasumigaike Pond, which reflects the teahouses along its banks.
Enjoy a traditional Japanese tea ceremony at the beautifully restored Yugao-tei teahouse. Sip your tea surrounded by samurai-era elegance and serene views of Hisago-ike Pond.
INSIDER TIP: To witness Kenrokuen’s full splendor, visit in the late fall when the leaves transform into a breathtaking tapestry of reds and golds. The autumn foliage here rivals the renowned cherry blossoms in spring!
Kanazawa Castle Park
Step into the world of the wealthy Maeda clan as you journey back in time on a visit to Kanazawa Castle Park. Located next to Kenrokuen Garden, this sprawling green oasis is home to a reconstructed version of Kanazawa Castle, the headquarters of the mighty clan. The park is also renowned for its exquisitely manicured gardens and tranquil ambiance.
Begin your exploration by crossing the iconic Ishikawa-mon Gate, the main entrance to the castle grounds. The gate’s distinctive black and white colors symbolize the region’s proud history. Wander through the meticulously maintained gardens and discover the Hishi Yagura, a reconstructed watchtower offering panoramic city views.
Delve into the castle’s past at the Ishikawa Prefectural History Museum within the park, unraveling the story of feudal Japan and the Maeda clan’s influence on Kanazawa’s development. As you stroll through the teahouse-lined stone paths, admire the majestic Gojukken Nagaya, a long storehouse with a unique architectural design.
For a peaceful escape within the park on your Japan trip itinerary, find the Gyokuseninmaru Garden. This intimate space with a pond and meticulously pruned trees is a lovely spot for quiet reflection.
INSIDER TIP: Look for the intriguing Tsuzura-Ishi stones scattered around the castle grounds. Legend has it that these stones, resembling ancient Chinese zithers, carry mystical powers. Touching them is believed to bring good fortune and artistic inspiration.
Myouryuji (Ninja Temple)
Venture into the mysterious Myoryuji Temple (Ninja Temple), where hidden rooms, secret passageways, maze-like stairwells, and trap doors have earned the moniker ‘Ninja Temple.’ Based in the Teramachi district, this inconspicuous temple unveils a fascinating history as a secret armed outpost.
Built by the Maeda clan, the Myoryuji Temple protected Kanazawa Castle from attack. Wander through the concealed corridors, discovering the ingenuity behind the architectural features designed for stealth and deception.
Explore the trick rooms, where acoustics distort sounds and hidden doors are strategically placed to baffle intruders. Uncover the temple’s hidden interconnected tunnels that link various buildings in the Teramachi district. Discover the Shuriken Dojo, where you can step into the boots of a ninja and try your hand at throwing ninja stars.
Myoryuji Temple can only be visited through a guided tour, so book your spot in advance.
INSIDER TIP: Stroll through the Teramachi district’s quaint streets and sample local delicacies after your ninja adventure. Try the Yuba Soba at a nearby noodle shop—a dish unique to Kanazawa made with tofu skin. Top off your ninja day with a visit to a traditional teahouse for matcha and wagashi.
Higashi Chaya District
Wander through the enchanting Higashi Chaya District, where cobblestone streets and well-preserved wooden machiya houses transport you back to the Edo period. Nestled along the Asano River, this historic area is one of the city’s three geisha districts with traditional teahouses where geisha perform.
Even if you only have 24 hours in Kanazawa, meander along winding alleys adorned with traditional lanterns and admire beautiful examples of Edo architecture. Visit the prominent Shima Teahouse and delve into the rich history of the Ochaya teahouses, where geishas once entertained patrons with dance, music, and conversation.
For a touch of local artistry, visit the Hakuza Gold Leaf Store, where artisans meticulously craft exquisite gold leaf products—a craft deeply rooted in Kanazawa’s cultural heritage. Continue your stroll to the Chaya Shiryokan Museum, offering a glimpse into the district’s geisha culture through captivating exhibits.
INSIDER TIP: Keep an eye on the cobblestone streets; some stones bear inscriptions of geisha footprints. These subtle yet fascinating imprints serve as a nod to the district’s geisha heritage. Locals believe that stepping on these stones brings good luck.
Nagamachi Samurai District
Delve into Kanazawa’s feudal past in the Nagamachi Samurai District. Once home to high-ranking samurai, this historic district near Kenrokuen Garden exudes the timeless elegance of Edo-period Japan.
Begin at the Nomura Samurai House, a meticulously preserved residence offering a glimpse into samurai life. Wander through Nagamachi’s narrow lanes. Flanked by earthen walls and traditional mud-plastered houses, you’ll almost feel as if you’re reliving some of your favourite samurai movies!
Explore the Nagamachi Yuzen-kan, a hidden gem where you can witness the intricate art of Kaga Yuzen silk dyeing—a craft synonymous with Kanazawa. As you stroll, notice the subtle water channels running alongside the streets, a clever design to protect the samurai footwear from the mud.
Visit a local teahouse like the Shiguretei Café for traditional Japanese sweets and matcha. As the sun sets, experience the district’s enchanting ambiance when lanterns softly illuminate the stone pathways.
INSIDER TIP: Head to the charming Tea House Wakuen for an authentic tea ceremony experience in a tranquil setting. Chat with the tea master to learn more about the artistry and philosophy of Japanese tea culture.
When it’s time to taste the best local cuisine, there’s no better place than the bustling, vibrant Omicho Market! This foodie haven has been a gastronomic hub for over 280 years, offering an array of fresh produce, seafood, and local delicacies.
You’ll find Omicho Market close to Kanazawa Station – simply follow your nose! A busy, bright network of covered streets is lined with over 200 shops and stalls selling excellent local seafood and produce.
Stroll through the maze of colorful stalls, where fishmongers proudly display their catch of the day. Marvel at the variety sourced from the Sea of Japan. Soak up the lively atmosphere, mingling with locals as you explore traditional sweets, pickles, and seasonal fruits.
Treat taste buds with a sushi feast at one of the market’s intimate eateries. Try Kaisen-don, a seafood rice bowl adorned with the day’s freshest catches for a unique twist. Don’t miss the chance to savor the rare white shrimp, a local specialty.
INSIDER TIP: If you’re craving a great coffee, find Sakuda Coffee. Tucked in a corner, this small coffee stand serves expertly brewed cups using locally roasted beans. It’s the perfect spot for a quick coffee break.
Nomura-ke Samurai Residence
Step into the shoes of a samurai at the Nomura-ke Samurai Residence. Situated in Nagamachi, this beautifully preserved residence belonged to the Nomura family, a distinguished samurai clan. The elegant home showcases the lifestyle of these feudal warriors.
Wander through the tatami-mat rooms with exquisite sliding doors and discover the Nomura family’s treasured artifacts, including samurai armor and weaponry. The intricate kimono-inspired motifs adorning the sliding doors and screens highlight the Nomura family’s appreciation for art and design.
Meander around the serene inner garden with its carefully manicured landscapes, a small waterfall, and a pond stocked with colorful koi carp. The inner garden is renowned as one of the top three gardens in Japan.
INSIDER TIP: After your visit, head to the nearby Hakuza Honten. This renowned establishment specializes in gold leaf-covered delicacies. Savor gold leaf-topped sweets or try the signature gold leaf-flaked ice cream—a true Kanazawa indulgence!
If you love beautiful Japanese architecture and design, pop into the Oyama Shrine. Built in 1599, the Shinto shrine pays homage to the powerful Maeda family, the rulers of the Kaga Domain during the Edo period.
Standing at the base of Utatsuyama, the Oyama Shrine is striking with breathtaking detail. The gate to the shrine is unusual in that it boasts a blend of Japanese, Chinese, and European styles. Designed by a Dutch man named Holtman, it’s famous for its Dutch-style stained-glass windows on the third floor.
Meander along the stone paths, flanked by centuries-old cedar trees, leading you to the main hall adorned with intricate wooden carvings. Discover the iconic ‘Koma-Ita’ wooden planks. These are reminiscent of a spinning top, a unique feature reflecting the Maeda clan’s connection to the renowned Kaga horse breeders.
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Pause at the Temizuya water basin for a symbolic purification ritual before climbing the stone steps to the main hall. Don’t miss the Enmusubi Stone nearby. Couples visit this stone for blessings, believing their bond will be strengthened by encircling it while holding hands.
INSIDER TIP: Escape the crowds and find the hidden stone torii path bordered by lush greenery behind the main hall. This secluded trail leads to a peaceful wooded area and small shrines. It’s an ideal spot for those seeking a quiet escape within the shrine grounds.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
Need a dose of cutting-edge, modern art? The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art won’t disappoint! An architectural masterpiece in itself, this progressive museum showcases artists from Japan and abroad.
Stroll around the iconic structure, admiring its unique design. You’ll find several entrances around the main building, evoking the mission of being ‘a museum open to the world.’ Check out the outdoor installations scattered in the open spaces, showcasing contemporary art in harmony with nature.
Wander inside to admire diverse exhibits, ranging from avant-garde installations to thought-provoking sculptures. Don’t miss the captivating ‘Swimming Pool’ exhibit, where it appears as if you’re standing at the edge of a pool with people swimming beneath the glass floor. It’s a visual illusion that never fails to astound!
INSIDER TIP: Head to the museum’s rooftop garden for panoramic views of Kanazawa.
For beautiful panoramic views of Kanazawa, head for the hills! Just east of the Asano River and the Higashi Chaya District, Utatsuyama Park is one of the largest parks in the city. Home to the 460-foot Utatsuyama Mountain, it’s the perfect place to stretch your legs and see the city from a different perspective.
Over 80 hectares, Utatsuyama Park features pristine woodlands, sprawling lawns, historic sites, and beautifully manicured gardens. The iris and hydrangea gardens covering the hillside of the mountain are breathtaking!
Uncover the park’s hidden treasures, including historic shrines and traditional Japanese bridges. Visit the Kodatsuno Yuimaru Kannon, a revered Buddhist statue that symbolizes unity and harmony. Locals adorn the Buddhist statue with meticulously arranged seasonal flowers, each display reflecting the natural beauty of Kanazawa.
For a breathtaking sunset experience, head to the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art within the park. The museum’s terrace offers a panoramic view of Kanazawa, with the changing hues of the sky creating a mesmerizing backdrop.
INSIDER TIP: Attend a local ikebana workshop or poetry reading event in the park if your visit coincides with one. They are a fantastic way to engage with locals and connect with Kanazawa’s artistic and cultural scene.
Another breathtaking example of Japanese architecture that shouldn’t be missed is Seison-kaku. Based in the southeast corner of Kenrokuen Garden, this stately villa was built in the late 19th century by the head of the Maeda clan for his mother.
Start in the elegant Tatami Room and the intricate woodwork and painted fusuma sliding doors. Explore the villa’s Western-style room, a rare blend of traditional Japanese and Victorian architecture. Marvel at the Meiji-era fusion, highlighting the cultural exchange between Japan and the West during that period.
Venture to the upper floor of Seison-kaku to find a secret room with windows offering spectacular views of Kenrokuen Garden. After the tour, indulge in a traditional tea ceremony at nearby Yugao-tei. Sip matcha while overlooking the serene Yugao-tei Pond, surrounded by weeping cherry trees.
INSIDER TIP: If you are interested in Japanese history, ask about the special lectures hosted at Seison-kaku, where experts share in-depth insights into the Maeda clan’s legacy and the cultural context surrounding Seison-kaku.
Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art
Step into the vibrant world of creativity at the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art (IPMA). This fascinating museum focuses on local arts and crafts and contemporary and traditional Japanese art.
You’ll find the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art in Utatsuyama Park, just a short walk up the hill from the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Wander through the museum’s galleries, where rotating exhibits spotlight the works of local and national artists.
If you’re visiting with family, the museum has a fantastic interactive children’s area. This space encourages young visitors to engage with art through hands-on activities and keeps them busy!
Head to the museum’s terrace, where you can enjoy panoramic views of Kanazawa from an elevated vantage point. Relax with a cup of locally roasted coffee from Sakuda Coffee Terrace while overlooking the lush greenery of Utatsuyama Park.
INSIDER TIP: Love a piece of art but can’t afford to buy it? The museum’s unique Art Rental Program allows visitors to rent select works from the museum’s collection to display in their homes for a nominal fee.