Kanazawa Station is JR West Railway's major station located in Kanazawa. The reconstruction of the surrounding area is still making progress for the extension of the Hokuriku Shinkansen (a bullet train) from Kanazawa to Osaka.
There is a glass dome called "Motenashi (Welcome) Dome," which looks like a huge umbrella, at the east entrance of Kanazawa Station. The dome has a wooden gate called "Tsuzumi-mon," which symbolizes a traditional Japanese instrument called tsuzumi (hand drums). The underground of the dome serves as an information corner and event space. In recent years, the area has become a busier shopping quarter with the construction of large-sized shopping buildings.
Higashi Chaya District
Discover one of Kanazawa’s largest geisha districts
In Japanese culture, geisha houses have been traditional places for feasts and entertainment since the Edo period. Also referred to as “chaya”, they are where geishas entertained wealthy nobility and rich merchants. Geishas are female Japanese entertainers who perform dances and play traditional Japanese instruments.
The central part of Kanazawa was once dotted with a number of geisha houses, but in 1820, these were moved to three specific districts away from the city centre. The largest one of these – and arguably the most famous – is the Higashi Chaya district.
The geisha houses in Higashi Chaya have a stunning traditional appearance. A geisha house is characterised by the beautiful lattice on the outer side of its first floor, called “kimusuko”, and the Japanese-style guestrooms located on the second floor. During the Edo period, the construction of two-story buildings except geisha houses was prohibited, making their appearance all the more striking.
These historical geisha houses along with Kyoto's Gion and Kanazawa's Kazue-machi have been designated as Japanese cultural assets. No other geisha districts have been designated as cultural assets for Japan, making Higashi Chaya even more special.
The district includes facilities where you can see the interior of a geisha house that was built almost 200 years ago, as well as quite a few old buildings have been refurbished into restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops. Additionally, it takes a mere three minutes on foot to reach the banks of the Asano River from Higashi Chaya, making it an excellent area to explore afterwards.
The Kanazawa City Tourism Association holds a geisha performance show in the three geisha districts of the city on designated Saturdays, so make sure you plan your visit accordingly.
A Beautiful and Famous Garden in the Heart of Kanazawa
Considered one of Japan’s three most beautiful gardens, Kenrokuen Garden is a must-visit location in Kanazawa. The name Kenrokuen means “having six factors”, representing the attributes which bring out the garden’s stunning beauty: spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water sources and magnificent views.
The garden has an area of 11.4 hectares and is located on the heights of the central part of Kanazawa next to Kanazawa Castle. The Maeda family, who ruled the Kaga Domain (the present Ishikawa and Toyama areas) in feudal times, maintained the garden from generation to generation. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful feudal lords' gardens in Japan.
One of Kenrokuen Garden’s most stunning attractions is its large artificial pond called Kasumigaike. Located near the center of the pond is Horai Island. The pond is often seen to symbolize the sea and Horai Island a sacred island out at sea, on which an ageless hermit with miraculous power was believed to live. As a result, the pond and the island were constructed to symbolize long life and eternal prosperity for the lord.
There are many other gorgeous features to enjoy in the garden, including the flowers and trees that grow there, such as plum and cherry blossoms in spring, azaleas and irises early in summer, and colorful red and yellow leaves in autumn.
In Winter, visitors can enjoy the snow-covered landscapes with yukitsuri (which means “snow hanging”). yukitsuri is a traditional technique for protecting the branches of the pine trees in the garden from heavy snow; trees are given support by bamboo poles and rope arranged a captivating conical layout.
A stunningly preserved samurai district in the center of Kanazawa
Kanazawa was once the economic and administrative center of the Kaga Domain (feudal-era Ishikawa Prefecture). Over the course of the Edo period, it grew rapidly – its population growing to over 100,000 – transforming it into one of the largest castle towns in feudal Japan. Its population rivaled that of Rome and Madrid at the time.
With the castle at its center, the town was designed with both its defensive and economic aspects in mind. Members of the upper classes were often given allotments of land for their residences close to that of the feudal lord (daimyo) in the castle, while commoners lived near the town’s edges.
Nagamachi District, located near the center of town, was where the middle to high-ranking samurais lived – which is why it’s sometimes described as the city’s samurai district. Nagamachi literally means “Long Town,” though it’s more likely that it actually takes its name from the surname of a local family, the Cho, which means “long” which can also be pronounced “naga.”
Nagamachi District’s historical value lies in its unusual state of preservation. It has escaped large-scale fires, including the firebombing that damaged other large cities such as Tokyo and Osaka during World War II. Accordingly, it retains many features from the Edo period: narrow streets, a drainage and water supply system that remains in use, and restored samurai houses.
Many of these residences maintain their original earthen walls (tsuchi-kabe), which are still covered in the winter with straw mats to protect them from frost and subsequent cracking. A walk through Nagamachi, where an Edo-period atmosphere still lingers, offers a glimpse into the heritage of Kanazawa and Japan.
Discover Kanazawa’s most famous fish market
Established during the Edo Period, Omicho Market has formed an essential part of Kanazawa’s food culture for more than 300 years. The sprawling market features more than 170 stores, including a large number of fishmongers that sell freshly caught seafood from the Sea of Japan. There are also fruit and vegetables stores that sell unique local produce, marine product stores, clothing stores, grocery stores and restaurants.
Particularly well-revered are the crab, yellowtail and shrimp from the Sea of Japan that are sold around November. Because of this, the market is normally crowded with tourists and locals alike during this time of year.
Another key attraction of the market is Omicho Ichibakan. The refurbished building features a number of popular restaurants and stores that are worth stopping by during your trip to the market.