Kanazawa's Best Spots to View Autumn Foliage
As a former castle town and home to a powerful samurai family, Kanazawa is full of beautifully groomed gardens and open spaces to enjoy. Autumn presents the perfect time to enjoy them as the once-green summer foliage explodes in fiery fall colors. Here are some of the best locations around the city to appreciate Nature's autumn spectacle.
Kanazawa Castle Park
The grounds of the former castle are the heart of Kanazawa city and a great place to start your autumn adventure. The castle's perimeter provides breathtaking views of cherry and maple tree leaves transforming into fall colors atop the castle's massive stone fortifications. Inside, autumn colors are scattered throughout the park grounds, offering quintessentially Japanese landscapes of autumn leaves with castle buildings in the background. You'll find the best fall colors at the top of the park where the main keep once stood. In this area known as Honmaru Garden, the forest is so dense you might forget you are in the middle of a modern city, and the beautiful maple and beech leaves that float down in the breeze are magical.
Best viewing period: early to mid-November
Kenrokuen Garden was built for the pleasure of the samurai lord of Kanazawa Castle and designed to be uniquely beautiful in every season, though many may find autumn their favorite.
Two locations in Kenrokuen are hidden gems for enjoying views of the garden during Autumn. Yamazaki Hill, in the eastern portion of the garden, is covered with deciduous trees, making it one of the most colorful spots in the autumn season. Sazaeyama is a tall hill overlooking the Kasumi-ga-ike Pond with the perfect panoramic views of the pond and surrounding area.
Various species of plants were chosen for their autumn colors and planted throughout the garden: maple, dodan-tsutsuji, ginkgo, euonymus, and many others. Combined with the majestic Karasakinomatsu pine tree prepared with yukitsuri rope supports to protect them from the winter snow, these colorful foliage provide a picture-perfect view of Kanazawa's autumn season.
Be sure to visit Kenrokuen after dark at the peak of the autumn season in November, when for a limited time period the foliage and other garden elements are illuminated to create a luminous and romantic place for an evening stroll.
Best viewing period: the entire month of November
Seisonkaku villa is located adjacent to Kenrokuen Garden, built in 1863 by the 13th Kaga clan lord as a retirement home for his mother.
Seisonkaku contains two small gardens, both gorgeous when the fall colors appear. Tsukushi-no-en Garden is flat, containing several types of trees with a small winding stream, stepping stones, and lanterns. The garden here is planted with rhododendrons (dodan-tsutsuji) that create a lovely contrast in the garden as they remain green while the maples change to red and orange. The rhododendrons leaves begin to turn a few weeks later, extending the timeframe that the autumn colors can be enjoyed here. Omoto-no-en Garden has various miniature hills around which several old trees are planted and maintained in beautiful shapes. Listen carefully; the flowing water has been designed to echo, reminiscent of a deep valley between the mountains.
Best viewing period: early to mid-November
American Maple Street
This 250-meter-long stretch of road between Kanazawa City Hall and Gyokuseninmaru Garden is lined on both sides with American maple trees, creating a bright red tunnel of leaves to enjoy. As these trees are the earliest to change color in Kanazawa, this area heralds the start of the autumn foliage season in the city.
Best viewing period: late October to early November
Terashima Kurando Samurai Residence
This well-preserved Edo Period home was once owned by a middle-ranking samurai serving the Kaga clan. Though it was once much more extensive, the portions of the house that have been preserved and rebuilt still maintain the feel of a residence of a middle-class retainer. The home features a beautiful garden centered around a large dry pond. The 300-year-old dodan-tsutsuji shrub is spectacular in the fall when its leaves turn brilliant shades of orange to red.
Best viewing period: mid-November
Former Nomura Family Samurai House and Garden
You’ll find the Nomura Family Samurai house in the Nagamachi Samurai District. It was formerly owned by the family of a high ranking attendant of the Kaga clan. The building and garden that has been preserved is a lovely example of a samurai residence, especially its beautiful inner garden, which contains a waterfall and a pond full of colorful koi. These colorful fish mimic the colors of the changing autumn foliage and create a picture-perfect scene that is quintessentially Kanazawa.
The garden was recognized in 2003 as one of the top gardens in Japan and is beautiful from various angles as it can be seen from many different rooms of the house. In autumn, brightly colored foliage highlights the garden’s natural beauty, making it a popular photo spot in the Nagamachi neighborhood west of the castle.
Best viewing period: early to mid-November
Gyokusen-en Nishida Family Garden
This elaborate landscape garden is 120 years older than the more famous Kenrokuen Garden and took over 100 years to complete by four generations of a family employed by the Kaga clan. When you tour the grounds of this incredibly designed garden, you can understand why it was worth the wait.
Situated on a steep hillside, the garden utilizes the topology to allow water to flow from the upper to the lower garden using beautifully constructed waterfalls. Stones are arranged on the slope to create a pleasing sense of depth from the lower garden. It is a garden best experienced by walking around, so tread lightly on mossy stepping stones and enjoy the changing view as you circle the central pond.
The upper level of the garden contains Saisetsu-tei tearoom, the oldest in Kanazawa. Enjoy a hot cup of matcha tea here while enjoying the view of autumn leaves falling gently on the garden’s pond.
There are many ancient trees around the gardens; some are believed to have been here even before the garden was constructed. Several hundred species of trees and plants grow in the garden, giving it an ever-changing appearance through the different seasons, but perhaps none as spectacular as autumn. The reflections of the red Japanese maples on the still waters of the ponds and the rustle of the autumn wind through the dense foliage are quintessentially Kanazawa in the fall.
Best viewing period: mid to late November
Kanazawa's Autumn Events and Traditions
Seafood fishing restrictions are lifted in the waters off of Kanazawa in the autumn, so be prepared to be served some of the freshest seafood around when dining out in the city. Plump amaebi sweet shrimp are in season from September 1st, followed by snow crab on November 7th. Visit Omicho Market to see dozens of stalls selling these delicacies of the sea and dine at one of the onsite restaurants to sample them.
Kenrokuen begins construction on the beautiful and functional yukitsuri from November 1st through mid-December. These rope structures help the beautifully sculpted and ancient trees of the garden support the weight of Kanazawa's winter snow, which is dense with water content, keeping their branches from snapping under the weight of the snow. Teams of trained gardeners are engaged in work all over the city to protect important and valuable trees using this ancient gardening method.
From early November, seasonal illuminations begin at Kanazawa Castle, Kenrokuen Garden, and in Kanazawa's Central Shopping District. So take a romantic evening stroll with that special someone to enjoy this seasonal spectacle.
How To Pack for Autumn in Kanazawa
Kanazawa’s fall season starts mild and rainy and ends cold and brisk, so here is our advice on what kind of clothing to pack for your visit based on the time of year.
Late September can still feel like summer in the daytime, but early mornings and late evenings can be chilly, so make sure you have a light jacket or sweater. It is also the autumn rainy season, so keep a small umbrella with you whenever you leave your hotel.
From October to mid-November, the weather is often clear, and the days are perfect for walking around outdoors. Carry a light jacket or sweater if you go out earlier in the morning or stay out after dark.
The winter season approaches quickly from late November into December, with temperatures dropping to near freezing at night and early mornings. Winter coats and down jackets are perfect for this period. Thunderstorms are also common during this time, so definitely carry an umbrella with you while you are out.