Kanazawa is very famous among Japanese people. But it is definitely one of those Japanese cities that are a bit overlooked when it comes to international tourism. Underrated, underestimated, or untouched? I would call it a real gem!
Kanazawa is located in the region of Ishikawa and they say that its name means ‘marsh of gold’. ‘Golden’ or not, for sure it is a little treasure full of authentic Japanese experiences.
I loved getting lost in Kanazawa, a city filled with geisha and samurai neighbourhoods - real ones! Being a woman myself, I have always been intrigued by the ‘enigmatic’ world of geishas. And, I was finally there, in the heart of it! Kanazawa is one of the very few cities where you can find authentic ones. So I felt determined to explore them.
The most popular is Higashi Chaya district. But the most secretive and the most atmospheric is Kazuemachi Chayagai. I started walking down the narrow alleys of Kazuemachi neighbourhood and I immediately travelled back in time. I was surrounded by tiny pathways and old Japanese style wooden teahouses when I suddenly heard something that made me smile; the sound of a geisha.
I followed the echo and I found myself standing on the doorstep of an old Japanese house. The door was shut tight. I desperately wanted to take a sneak peek but I soon realised it was hopeless. Inside the building, a few geishas were rehearsing and preparing for their evening performance. I could hear it through the wooden walls. There were hardly any people around so everything felt very special.
And just like that, in the middle of a quiet Japanese neighbourhood, I felt an utterly mystifying vibe overtaking me. ‘It must be the geisha effect’ I said to myself. I never dared to knock or open that door. Nevertheless, I had just had a first tiny taste of the world of geishas! This made me incredibly happy. So with an even bigger smile on my face, I decided to continue my exploration.
Next stop? Kanazawa Castle and Kenroku-en garden. If you love a peaceful stroll then you will definitely love both! Kanazawa castle with its beautiful architecture seemed to be a real Japanese gem while, according to Japanese people, Kenroku-en garden, thanks to its lay out and serenity, is one of the ‘three great gardens of Japan’.
According to me, it is one of the most colourful gardens depending on the time of the year. Therefore, don’t be surprised if you run into local artists or painters that find serenity and inspiration in these beautiful gardens.
Japan is all about a never-ending dialogue between the past and the future; and this was very evident throughout my journey in a city like Kanazawa. If geisha districts and castles are there to take you back in the country’s glorious past, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is there to remind you that Japan is, at the same time, one of the most forward thinking countries.
Located only a few meters away from Kanazawa Castle and Kenroku-en garden, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is unquestionably one of the most exciting contemporary museums I have ever been. It is a space that promotes critical thinking and interaction. That’s why I loved it. I love public spaces and museums that actively contribute to a liveable urban social centre and they don’t just act as soulless exhibition spaces.
If the above are not already enough to convince you that Kanazawa is worth a visit then let me add food into the mix! Kanazawa’s food markets are considered to be top destinations for real gastronomy experts and they are much more than a tourist attraction. If you happen to be there in November, this is when snow crab season begins so don’t leave without visiting Omicho food market or without tasting the famous ‘snow crab’ - it is the most expensive snow crab in the world after all.
As you might know by now, I love food. So apart from exploring Kanazawa’s food markets, I wanted to experience a proper Japanese sushi evening so I booked a chair at ‘Sushikibatani’. I’m not going to list all the food I had there. Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to. Not only because in local places like this there is no one speaking English, but also because of the immense amount of dishes. I actually lost count after the sixth or seventh dish and until now I still haven’t figured out what exactly I ate. It was very yummy…that’s all I know!
When it comes to food, I strongly believe that it’s all about trying new combinations and flavours but if you don’t love raw fish or if you are not as adventurous as I am, you can have an equally Japanese evening at ‘Kubota’, a local ‘izakaya’. And if you feel like trying something a bit more oriental, try deep fried Gyoza with coriander at ‘Oriental Brewery’.
I could keep writing about food or Kanazawa! But while typing these lines I keep thinking that there are so many things to be said and to be discovered in this unique city so for now I am going to leave the rest to you.