While Kanazawa may not be found among the popular names of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the city’s distinct richness of history and culture is getting increasingly popular with both tourists and locals seeking to explore the quintessential charm of the city. Centuries of tradition have moulded the presentation of food and art in the city. The locals also possess a certain charm - their polite mannerisms and warm gestures reflect the character passed down from generation to generation.
With all its glory, here are 8 activities we recommend doing in Kanazawa for you to truly appreciate its beauty.
With the city’s wealth of history and culture, embarking on a half-day tour around Kanazawa is arguably the best way to experience its expansive breadth and colours. An intimate journey through the highlights of the city, this small-group tour hosts a maximum of 6 people; where it almost feels like a throwback to the wondrous school field trip days.
While the tour is flexible and highly-customisable, some places of interest should still snag a place on your itinerary. Kenrokuen, reputed to be one of Japan’s best gardens, is a must-see with its resplendence of nature’s colours and tranquility. The Nagamachi samurai district fashioned with narrow alleys and well-preserved residences also makes for a great sightseeing adventure, even more so as it is the last few remaining precincts of its kind in the country. Other attractions include the Higashi-chaya geisha district, Kanazawa Castle and the city’s gold-leaf production shops.
On top of being near to Shirakawa-go, Takayama and Kyoto, Kanazawa is made all the more accessible with the newly launched Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) routing between Tokyo and Kanazawa in a quick 2.5 hours. There’s no reason now why Kanazawa should be given a miss!
Kanazawa: Half-Day Private Guided Tour
Duration: 4 hour
The city’s culture is reflected deeply upon its traditional crafts and sweets melded by the hand of history and the local people. So take this chance to settle into a relaxing tour of making makie (gold lacquer decoration) and tasting local sweets accompanied with aromatic green tea.
Nicknamed as the gold leaf capital of Japan because of its churning production, get to experience for yourself the intricate art of making makie at Nosaku, a long-established classical studio venerated for its gold lacquer decoration.
Have an afternoon snack of local sweets and green tea in Nosaku’s café after the workshop. And take a languid stroll through the adulated garden Kenrokuen afterwards, located less than a 5 minutes’ walk away. The tour also gifts you a miniature model of a samurai armour at the end for sweet remembrance.
Traditional Crafts and Sweets Tour
Meeting Point: Nosaku in central Kanazawa
Price: 88 USD
Duration: 3.5 hours
Nestled in the serene district of Kanazawa is one of the city’s oldest temples, offering a peaceful meditation experience for those interested to learn more about Shodaigyo Meditation. The Japanese Buddhist practice involves the chanting of simple sutras accompanied with the metronome of taiko drums and wooden blocks; the perfect activity to cleanse your mind and renew your energy.
Belonging to the Nichiren Buddhist section, the temple itself is also a trove of holy relics and hidden explorations. Unlike popular tourist attractions where entry to certain areas are prohibited, the local priest of the temple is extremely helpful and takes pride in showing you around.
After the meditation session ends, you will be given a delightful snack of Japanese sweets and green tea. Take in the tranquility that the temple brings and continue your cultural experience by discovering the quaint charms of old buildings, roads and the Higashi Chaya geisha district in the neighbourhood.
Experience Shodaigyo Meditation
Meeting Point: Near Higashi Chaya area in Kanazawa-city
Price: 36 USD
Duration: 1.5 hours
Ditch the typical couple date for something more unique this time around.
Kanazawa is home to a legion of favoured shrines and temples, and you’ll be rewarded with lucky and spiritual “power spots” if you know where to look. Arrange for a pick up from your hotel in Kanazawa city and proceed to explore the likes of Kifune Myoujin, Korinji Temple and Ishiura Shrine in an exclusive private taxi tour.
These hidden spiritual spots are famed for bringing luck and it doesn’t hurt to be slightly superstitious when blessings of good fortune, love fulfilment and marriage are believed to be generously bestowed on you.
The shrines and temples are valued with years of history themselves. So stay to listen to their stories which are deeply meaningful and rewarding.
Love & Luck Tour
Meeting Point: Pick-up from your hotel / Kanazawa Hotel
Price: 117 USD
Duration: 2 hours
Appointed by UNESCO as the world’s first “City of Crafts and Folk Art”, one can only imagine just how vast and rich the world of traditional crafts and folk art in Kanazawa must be. While many guidebooks feature famous shops and galleries to check out, delve deeper into Kanazawa’s art scene by exploring the hidden gems of the city.
The English-speaking guide is informative and demonstrates an infectious passion for arts and crafts. Following his recommendations, enjoy browsing through an array of shops, galleries and ateliers dedicated to the selling of traditional crafts, antiques, products, contemporary crafts and arts. Discover forms of arts and crafts unique to the heritage of Kanazawa, including Kinpaku (gold leaf), Kutani ware and Kanazawa Wagasa (traditional Japanese bamboo and paper umbrellas).
The tour ends at the Kanazawa 21st Century Museum, giving you another popular attraction to visit.
Arts & Craft Tour
Meeting Point: JR Kanazawa station
Price: 98 USD
Duration: 3 hours
Hop on board this bus tour that brings you around the traditional sake breweries of Kanazawa for a comprehensive sake tasting experience. With three different sake breweries to visit, there is plenty to learn from the process of making sake itself to the pairing of the beverage with the accompaniment cuisine. The package also includes a morning visit to the esteemed Shirayama Hime Shrine where the surrounding mountain views and fresh air make for the best perk-me-up.
Still, the highlight of the tour remains the sake itself – a strong fusion of flavours and textures waiting to invoke the waking of your senses. Learn how to appreciate the taste and enhance it with alternative palettes.
Lunch will be provided at Takasago Saryo, a restaurant serving delectable French cuisine to be paired with sake. Managed by a sake brewery, it is no surprise the food and sake blend in perfect harmony. If you can’t decide on one particular flavour, try the crowd favourite Ama-zake (sweet sake), a guaranteed delight for the sweet tooth.
Meeting Point: JR Kanazawa station
Price: 159 USD
Duration: 7 hours
Catch a geisha performance of folklore songs in Yamanaka if you’re looking for something to do that is both entertaining and immersive. Reputed to be one of the best traditional theatres in the region, the hall is decked in majestic glory with its high coffered ceilings, plush wine seats, gold trimmings and lattice doors.
Performing a total of 6 traditional songs including the famous Yamanaka-bushi and the Shishi lion dance, guests will be treated to a delightful visual feast. The local geisha move with an elegance that is sure to amaze and allure.
What makes this performance even more spectacular is the chance to meet the geisha and learn the steps to the dance. You’ll also be granted access to the backstage of the theatre where you’ll understand the tips and tricks behind the success of a show. Japanese sweets are also presented at the end to keep (or eat) as a local memento.
Geisha Performance at Yamanaka Onsen
Address: Mu1 Yakushimachi, Yamanaka Onsen, Kaga-city, Ishikawa prefecture
Price: 16 USD
Duration: 1 hour
One of the biggest onsen towns in the precinct, Yamashiro Onsen is a nostalgic beauty of traditional buildings and olde worlde charm. Located just an hour away from Kanazawa, this town makes for a great day-stop and an even more rewarding overnight stay.
Having hosted famous writers and artists before, the hot springs, which dates back 1300 years ago, is still an absolute indulgence. The baths use water that flows from Yamashiro Onsen’s oldest spring, and guests can expect baby soft skin immediately after your dip. The rotenburo, an open-air hot spring, is also available for those keen on experiencing the heat of the bath contrasted with the cool surrounding air.
Stay at a traditional Japanese ryokan and experience what it is like to live as a local. Some inns have private hot springs for a pleasurable soak at your convenience. Classic Japanese cuisine is also on the menu and served in beautifully ornate Kutani-yaki ware.
Meeting Point: Pick-up from Kaga Onsen Station
Price: 500 USD
Duration: 2 days
Discover the unique charms of Kanazawa
Kanazawa is more than a city; so have fun peeling the layers of colourful culture and timeless traditions to gain the fruit of visiting. Truly an experience of its own, what Kanazawa brings cannot be found anywhere else.
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