Japan 2015 — Day 6: Kanazawa


Historical dis­tricts have a cer­tain charm, and hav­ing escaped air raids dur­ing World War II, Kanazawa boasts restored samurai and chaya dis­tricts, as well as an impec­cable land­scape garden in Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s three best land­scape gar­dens.

So, we’re off to take a look at Kanazawa, which lit­er­ally means ‘marsh of gold’ and fit­tingly describes a city that pro­duces 99% of Japan’s gold leaf.

Osaka — Nippombashi

We’re trav­el­ling around Japan using the 7-day JR Pass this time.


We want to make as much use of the JR pass as we can, so we’re up bright and early at a quarter to 6 to check out of our Osaka accom­mod­a­tion and make our way to Kanazawa in Ishikawa. Ordinarily, we’d leave the pre­vi­ous even­ing or later in the day — we’re late risers!


It’s still rather dark out­side and the streets are quiet.


Right on the dot at 6am, the clean­ing lady for our Airbnb host arrives to check us out.


Being a res­id­en­tial apart­ment com­plex, there’s a bunch of bicycles parked out­side.

Osaka –> Kanazawa

We catch the JR Thunderbird from Osaka to Kanazawa. The Thunderbird is a lim­ited express train fit­ted out much like shinkan­sens. The trip is about 3 hours long.


Just out­side of Osaka, we spot the Meiji fact­ory with a giant chocol­ate bar as its facade.


Outside the city, the train zooms past some rur­al towns…


…and a bunch of fields.


Having skipped break­fast on our rush to get onto the train, we rely on con­veni­ence store snacks pur­chased earli­er. These PaiCro are mini crois­sants. They’re super crispy and but­tery and sweet. I’m usu­ally a fan of but­tery and sweet, but these are just too much.


D is always on the hunt for spicy chips (left). These have a chilli rat­ing of 5 pep­pers, and the heat really does build up as you eat them. And then we have the grape with cas­sis juice, a tasty grape candy fla­voured drink with hints of cur­rant and grape pulp.

Kanazawa — JR Station


We arrive at Kanazawa around 10am, just in time for main shops and sights to open so we can make the most of our day in Kanazawa. At the sta­tion we see these stands for ‘free umbrella rent­al’. By rent­al, they mean free — just return them when you’re fin­ished with them. Ah, the Japanese are so hon­est.

Omi-cho Market


After drop­ping off our lug­gage at the hotel, we head back to Kanazawa Station to take the Left Loop Bus to Omi-cho Market, Kanazawa’s largest fresh food mar­ket. You can buy an all-day pass for Y500 that lets you catch the loop buses around Kanazawa as often as you like on one day.


There are plates of grilled eel going for Y2,700 – 2,900 (~$30).


As well as pump­kin pud­ding KitKat. I like to col­lect KitKats but I’m afraid my aver­sion to all things pump­kin means I have my lim­its.


A shop called Diamond L-II sells freshly fried cro­quettes using loc­al sea­food.


We try the crab cro­quettes. You can see the crab meat in the potato, although the crab fla­vour is rather subtle. It’s pip­ing hot with a crunchy exter­i­or.


There’s fresh pro­duce in abund­ance. Even was­abi root for Y1,000 – 1,500.


There’s frozen pine­apple as well as fresh grapefruit and orange juice served inside the fruit.


There’s even three impec­cable straw­ber­ries on a stick at a premi­um.


There’s pre­pared fish of all kinds.


After mak­ing our way through the crowds, we spot grilled sea­food on skew­ers.


We try ikayaki (grilled squid) which we see eaten often at fest­ivals in anime. They heat it up to order. The flesh is quite tender, although it’d have been tasti­er if it was heated a tad fur­ther.


The squid whets our appet­ites for a prop­er break­fast, so we head to Sushizanmai a few steps out­side the entrance to Omi-cho Market.


We sit at the bar in front of the sushi chefs as we weren’t sure wheth­er we wanted to order dishes off the menu or sushi before see­ing the menu.


We end up order­ing off the menu, though. This is a a tuna chir­ashi arranged in the shape of a rose. Isn’t it just beau­ti­ful? Much of the sea­food in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market comes from Kanazawa, so the tuna is bright and fresh as expec­ted.


D tries the clams cooked in sake. The sake takes on the fish­i­ness of the clams, which left a weird fla­vour. Some of the clams were still gritty, but it’s an inter­est­ing dish.


To go with his clams, D also gets some squid tem­pura. The bat­ter is thing and crispy, the squid is tender and and goes well with the salt.


Having chosen to sit at the bar, we feel bad for not order­ing nigiri, so we take look at the menu.

…and try sea urchin and snow crab nigiri. The sea urchin we’d seen sold in boxes at depart­ments stores and mar­kets, so we were curi­ous as to what the big fuss was — it’s got a very creamy tex­ture with a some­what fishy tasty. The snow crab nigiri comes with a dol­lop of crab paste — the snow crab is sweet and melt-in-your mouth, but we could do without the crab paste.

Nagamachi Samurai District

After a rather late break­fast, we hop back onto the Left Loop bus and head towards the Nagamachi Samurai District.


There are cute samurai and geisha fig­ures on the bus. And anoth­er cute loc­al mas­cot for the shop­ping street lead­ing to the Nagamachi Samurai District.


All the shops on the shop­ping street have a short walk­way bridging over the river that runs imme­di­ately in front of the store.


On the way, we spot a res­taur­ant using styl­ish Japanese-style cal­li­graphy for its English.


There’s a mod­ern res­id­en­tial build­ing that’s devoid of win­dows street side.


The houses on the oth­er side of the road look less impos­ing.


At the end of the road, we reach the Nagamachi Gardens. The sign explains how the mud walls through­out the are were built.


The gar­dens look to be a styl­ish garden sur­round­ing a toi­let block.


There’s maple tree with bril­liantly red leaves — my favour­ite!


You feel as though you’re walk­ing in an bygone era in the dis­trict.


One of the open build­ings exhib­its ceram­ics. There’s a rather well-loved lan­tern hanging out­side.


And anoth­er two in bet­ter con­di­tion hanging by the main gate.


At the oth­er end of the nar­row street we reach a river with more bril­liant red maple leaves.

Some houses look to be recent con­struc­tions in the style of the old build­ings.


There are quite a few dragon­flies buzz­ing around.


A souven­ir shop sold all sorts of Hello Kitty mer­chand­ise. Rilakkuma isn’t so pop­u­lar in Kanazawa.


This view faces the south of the dis­trict where you can see a school in the dis­tance.


One of the fam­ous build­ings in the dis­trict is Nomura-ke, a restored res­id­ence of a high ranked samurai fam­ily who went broke when Japan’s feud­al era came to and end.


There’s a small beau­ti­ful garden inside, but we opt out of pay­ing the admis­sion fee to see the garden.


Instead, we have a quick look at the tiny garden out­side with its stone sculp­tures…


And straw sculp­tures too!


At anoth­er build­ing for an art exhib­it, we see this pic­tur­esque tree in its court­yard.


At a con­fec­tion­ery store oppos­ite Nomura-ke, we see these col­our­ful sticks being sold. Each slice from the stick reveals a per­fectly blos­som or leaf.


…and we’re back on the bus to Kenrokuen.


On the way, we pass by a fire sta­tion giv­ing a demon­stra­tion to some school kids.


We get off at the stop for the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. While I love con­tem­por­ary art, view­ing art isn’t as much of a pri­or­ity when trav­el­ling over­seas any­more. We alight from the stop before Kenrokuen so that we can enter via the Mayumizaka entrance and exit via the Katsurazaka entrance, mean­ing we don’t have to double back. Efficiency!


Opposite the entrance to Kenrokuen, a shop sells all sorts of gold leaf products. Indeed, even a Y1,080 gold leaf soft serve. The store also has a rain­bow dis­play of sil­ver leaf that’s changed col­our due to chem­ic­al pat­in­a­tion (above).


Outside the store, there’s a gold dog plush toy wel­com­ing vis­it­ors.



Kenroku-en is one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. The oth­er two Great Gardens are Kairaku-en (in Mito, Ibaraki) and Koraku-en (in Okayama, Okayama). We vis­it Koraku-en later on our trip. Kenroku-en trans­lates to Six Attributes Garden, being built around three sets of con­trast­ing garden ele­ments: spa­cious­ness con­trasts with seclu­sion, arti­fice con­trasts with antiquity, and water­courses con­trasts with pan­or­a­mas.


Late November is the per­fect time to catch the autum­nal foliage, and it could not be bet­ter than in a well-man­i­cured garden.


We make our way into Shigure-tei, a recon­struc­ted rest house, where people are wait­ing for their tea cere­mony to begin.


The Japanese think of everything — even the lights fit in with the design of the garden.


There are many wind­ing paths and streams in the garden…


…and beau­ti­ful red trees that aren’t maples.


The plum grove is just behind the tea house. I’m sure it’s a sight to behold in spring and sum­mer.


Situated in the plum grove is the Funa no och­in. This is a recon­struc­tion after it was torn down in the early Meiji Period.


The Funa no och­in frames a beau­ti­ful view of the plum grove.


Midway to the east­ern side of the park, we see work­ers tend­ing to the garden on a nation­al hol­i­day. There’s grid drawn with string over the entire area — either to assist with main­tain­ing the shape of the shrubs or to relieve the veget­a­tion of the heavy weight of the impend­ing snow.


Yamazakiyama Hill is in the east­ern corner of the park. It’s main attrac­tion is maples.


We get some beau­ti­ful yel­low ones against the sun­light.


There’s some that are still a little green.


And then, entire trees turned bril­liantly red — how mag­ni­fi­cent!


Ascending Yamazakiyama Hill, we get a wider view of the garden.


At the top of the hill is a sheltered space to enjoy the view.


Maple leaves cov­er the moss car­peted ground.


And just before you think I only took pho­tos of maple trees, we spot some ever­greens.…


Along to north-east­ern side of the park, there’s expans­ive views of the Kanazawa sky­line.


Further north, we see a tree lean­ing pre­cari­ously over the side­walk.


A moss car­pet seems so much less main­ten­ance than grass!


Having seen almost all the edges of the park, we circle back towards Kamsumigaike Pond where we meet the stat­ute of Yamato Takeru, the 12th Emperor of Japan.


Gardeners erect yukit­suri on the Karasaki Pine from November 1. The Karasaki Pine (left of the path) is a pine tree grown from a single seed from Karasaki, near Lake Biwa.


Yukitsuri are ropes attached in a con­ic­al array (koto) that pro­tects the trees from dam­age caused by heavy snow­fall by sup­port­ing the trees branches in their desired arrange­ments.


Here, we see the Kotoji-toro lan­tern, a stone lan­tern with two legs said to resemble the bridge on a koto, and emblem­at­ic of Kenroku-en and Kanazawa.


Overlooking the lake is Uchihashi-tei, where you can enjoy your tea and the view at once.


The Uchihashi-tei faces onto a tor­toise-shaped island in the centre of Kasumigaike Pond.


The tor­toise shell shaped island said to rep­res­ent per­petu­al youth and longev­ity.


Walking around the pond, you get a beau­ti­ful view of the Karasaki Pine next to the island.


And finally, to wrap up one of the most beau­ti­ful gar­dens we’d seen to date, this foun­tain is the old­est in Japan oper­at­ing by nat­ur­al water pres­sure.


Outside the Katsurazaka entrance is Chamisedori.


A num­ber of res­taur­ants and souven­ir shops line the street.

Kanazawa Castle


The Ishikawa-mon Entrance to Kanazawa Castle is dir­ectly oppos­ite the Katsurazaka entrance to Kenroku-en. Kenroku-en once formed the castle’s private out­er garden. The Ishikawabashi Bridge spans over the busy Ohoridori Ave below and con­nects the two sights.

The castle’s main keep was des­troyed by fire and nev­er rebuilt, and what was rebuilt was burnt down sev­er­al more times. As such, only two store­houses and the Ishikawa-mon Gate now remain of the ori­gin­al build­ings. Many of the castle’s build­ings are being recon­struc­ted and the com­pleted sec­tions charge admis­sion fees, although entrance to Kanazawa Castle Park is free.


The castle’s former main entrance gate, the Kahoku-mon, was com­pleted in 2010. Going through the gate, you find anoth­er gate at right angles to it, a mas­ug­ata.


Looking down from the plat­form for enter­ing the second floor of the Kahoku-mon, you can see the vast grounds of the castle.


Looking towards the oth­er side, we see the recon­struc­ted Gojukken Nagaya store­house.


…and com­ing back down to the ground, we see the vast expanse of the store­house.


We don’t spend too long at Kanazawa Castle as we want to vis­it a geisha dis­trict.


Walking down towards Ohoridori, we spot a more ‘reas­on­ably’ priced gold leaf soft serve. And, if you’re des­per­ate to get in on the fun and can’t afford to pay Y891 for a soft serve cone, you can get one with gold dust for Y450 instead.


We enjoy the view across the street as we wait for the bus.


The view above is quite pic­tur­esque too!

Higashi Chaya District


On our way to the Higashi Chaya dis­trict we pass a shop selling gold leaf soaps. Supposedly, the gold leaf and the soap does amaz­ing things for your skin.


There’s a basin in the middle of the store for you to try out their soaps. I begin to regret wash­ing my hands, though, as I rinse off under the icy cold water com­ing from the taps. But to my sur­prise, the shop assist­ant pours warm water from the buck­et (on the left) after wash­ing your hands. Japanese cus­tom­er ser­vice is unfail­ingly thought­ful.


A book­store, has a cute Japanese akita pro­mot­ing their loy­alty card.


The sun’s about the set as we cross the bridge towards the Higashi Chaya District.


But before then, we diverge into anoth­er souven­ir shop that explains to us that hojicha is the main tea con­sumed by people in Kanazawa (as opposed to sen­cha).


On the street lead­ing into the Higashi Chaya dis­trict, we stop at this souven­ir shop to pur­chase some black ses­ame mochi — we only ever pur­chase from shops with samples.


This is the cent­ral square of the dis­trict.


Many chaya houses line the streets of the dis­trict, although many have been convereted into res­taur­ants and souven­ir shops.


Sunset casts a beau­ti­ful light on autum­nal foliage.


We enter Hakuza. Hazkua is world renowed for the pro­duc­tion of gold leaf, and in their store is a a store­house turned tea house covered with gold leaf both intern­ally and extern­ally.


The exter­i­or is ‘white washed plaster covered with pure gold plat­in­um leaf’.…


…while the interi­or is ‘a mix­ture of earthen indigo from Okinawa and the ori­gin­al store­house wall, in cross braided pat­tern and fin­ished with a gradu­ation of 24K gold leaf’. It’s a sight to behold! It’s also the only part of the store per­mit­ting pho­to­graphy. They also sell matcha roll speckled in gold leaf!


The dis­trict is get­ting dark with the sun set­ting around 4pm.


The area has a cer­tain charm that’s unlike the more spa­cious geisha dis­tricts in Kyoto.


With that, we’re back on the main street.

Kanazawa Station


This is the Tsuzumi-mon Gate at the east entrance of JR Kanazawa Station. The gate sym­bol­ises the tra­di­tion­al Japanese hand drums by the same. Behind, is the glass Motenashi (‘Welcome’) Dome that looks like a huge umbrella.


It’s a mag­ni­fi­cently impos­ing wooden struc­ture.


After the early start and the packed day explor­ing Kanazawa, we head back to the hotel for a rest. This is by huge by Japanese stand­ards, and even beats the biggest hotel room I’ve stayed at in Australia (for 150% of the price, too!). It’s wide enough for two Queen sized beds, and then some. Oh, and big TV!


Our hotel is a 3 minute walk to the sta­tion, which we can see from our win­dow.


After a short rest back we to Forus, the shop­ping mall across the street, in search of din­ner. In the spir­it of try­ing some­thing new, we eat at Pomme’s.


Pomme’s spe­cial­ises in omurice, a staple that pops up in anime all the time, but not some­thing we’ve ever actu­ally eaten all our times in Japan.


They’re quite used to English-speak­ing cus­tom­ers, with an English menu at the ready. This page explains what the sizes mean — SS (smal­ler size, when you want to eat lightly), S (stand­ard size, when you want to eat nor­mally), M (large size when you want to eat firm), L (dodeca­car­bonyl size, when you want to eat a lot). I’m not sure what they mean by dodecar­car­bonyl size oth­er than it being ‘very big’.

I order the tomato sauce with egg­plant and mush­room with but­ter rice. I love tomato based dishes and this was no excep­tion, and I’m always keen for a veget­able fix in Japan that isn’t cab­bage.

D tries the beef stew with ketch­up rice. Whereas I loved the but­tery fla­vour of the rice, he found it a bit weird, and the meat lov­er in him would’ve liked more hunks of beef.


After din­ner, we take a walk around the shop­ping mall and stop by Muji for a Soda White Grape & Lychee, a refresh­ingly fizzy drink to wash down the omurice.


We spot some cute bear and sheep plush toys wear­ing hats.


This store lured us in with its pretty bottles of syr­up bases for drinks, until we find out they’re all ginger-based. Nothing ruins our interest as quickly as ginger!


We stumble upon a branch of my favour­ite tea store, Lupicia, and I end up stock­ing up on so many teas the shop assist­ants amus­ingly give me the deep­est bows ever.


Next door at Mochi Cream, we find dessert for the even­ing: cream filled mochi.

We try the houjicha (top) and the black sea­same (bot­tom). The houjicha mochi­cream is dus­ted in houjicha fla­voured powder and filled with a anko (red bean jam), while the black ses­ame mochi­cream has black ses­ame seeds stud­ded in the dough as well as a black ses­ame cream with­in. The fla­vours were pro­nounced in both these tasty morsels, with the black ses­ame being the favour­ite.


And to fin­ish off our night, we encounter this funny device at the entrance to the shop­ping mall — it’s an umbrella drier! They’ve done away with plastic bags.