Kanazawa – a Japanese kaleidoscope

Encompassing high tech wonders, urban giants, ancient temples, snow covered mountains and manicured gardens Japan offers visitors an entirely unique experience in a place where tradition and culture is revered.

Spend a little time in Tokyo city and you’ll soon notice that the trains run on time, the streets are clean, and the people are courteous and unfailingly polite – even in rush hour. However, no visit to Japan would be complete without a glimpse of life outside the bustling metropolis of Tokyo. Venture across the country to Kanazawa and you’ll be spellbound by its tantalising history and multifaceted culture.

Kanazawa is the capital of Ishikawa prefecture, in North Central Honshu. It is truly authentic and a place with a huge historic heart without the crowds. Though it’s off the usual tourist grid, it’s an easy 2.5 hours bullet train trip and perfectly complements a visit to the old capital city of Kyoto.

The name Kanazawa is derived from the story of a peasant who made his living digging potatoes. He washed gold dust from the potatoes into a well, so the area was called Kanazawa, meaning ‘marsh of gold’. Once the seat of power of the ruling Maeda family during the Edo Period from 1615-1868, by the beginning of the seventeenth century after years of feudal wars, Kanazawa saw a time of peace, political stability and great economic growth and prosperity, rivalling that of Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo).

Today Kanazawa proudly boasts carefully preserved samurai districts, magnificent Japanese gardens and a plethora of artisans and craft workshops. It is a must for history buffs, lovers of nature, art and curious travellers, who want to immerse themselves in a living history.

Walk through the city centre, past the temples and gold leaf artists to reach Kenrokuen Gardens. Considered one of the three ‘Great Gardens of Japan’. Kenrokuen began centuries ago as the private outer garden of Kanazawa Castle. The name means “Garden of the Six Sublimities” – spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views. Covering 11.4 acres, teeming with water features, bridges, manicured trees, flowers, stones and hidden nooks, it’s a place in spiritual harmony. A colourful living monument with an ever-changing palette, Kenrokuen literally bursts into life in Spring with abundant flowers and cherry blossoms. In the Winter the distinctive yukitsuri (snow suspension) supports trees with bamboo poles to prevent damage from snow falls.

Easy to reach from the Kenrokuen, is Seisonkaku Villa, one of the most elegant samurai villas in Japan. The samurai were fierce warriors who made up the ruling military class that eventually became the highest ranking social caste of the Edo Period. They used a range of weapons, but their main symbol was the sword. The Seisonkaku Villa, built by one of the last Maeda lords for his mother, is beautifully preserved as a clan house and features many of her personal belongings as well as period art and artefacts.

Wind your way through the streets of the historic samurai district, along narrow lanes and water canals to see traditional samurai residences with their earthen walls and private entrance gates and you’ll find yourself spellbound by displays of an ancient lifestyle from an era when samurai were prosperous. By contrast the Shinise Kinenkan Museum, is a restored pharmacy displaying the lives of the merchant class which rose in prosperity as the samurai declined.

Make sure you visit the Myoryuji Temple, nicknamed the Ninja Temple, located south of the city and you’ll understand how this place earned its nickname as you uncover its myriad of deceptive features; hidden tunnels, secret rooms, traps and a labyrinth of corridors and staircases.

No day would be complete with taking time for tea in the Higashi Chaya District. During the Edo Period, chaya (teahouse) were found in designated entertainment districts, where guests were entertained by geisha. Kanazawa has three preserved chaya districts, each well worth a visit.

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Kanazawa provides an authentic and traditional Japanese experience, that goes beneath the surface of this fascinating country. Fabulous gardens to fantastic food, the area offers unique and new experiences for the most seasoned of travellers, plus classic landscapes that you will love to explore. And it’s easily accessible from major cities and can be enjoyed all-year round.