When we travel to Japan we base out of 2-3 cities to minimize time changing accommodation and take day trips using the amazing rail system to maximize what we get to see. Trains between cities as opposed to commuter trains are so comfortable it is easy to start early and return later in the evening to give enough time at the destination. Kyoto is my favourite city in Japan to base in and Kyoto Station is a great hub for taking day trips. With the JR Pass and a bit of research we set off on a 250km day trip to Kanazawa on the northern coast.
Getting from Kyoto to Kanazawa
Using the Thunderbird Limited Express the trip took just over 2 hours each way, if you have the JR Pass the full trip is included on that and we were able to prebook seats from the desk in Kyoto station. Without the pass a standard unreserved seat is around Y6200 each way.
On arrival we made a quick stop at the information centre just outside the station to pick up an English map and bought a day ticket to the sightseeing bus (Y500) which circuits around the main sightseeing attractions in the city every 12 minutes. In hindsight we could have easily walked without losing much time, we only ended up using the bus to get to the Higashi Geisha District and then to Kenrokuen gardens but it’s excellent value and opens up other options if you have time.
Kanazawa’s Geisha District
First stop is the Higashi geisha district in the north east of the city, unlike the areas in Kyoto there are a couple of old O-chaya in this area open as tea houses and one as a museum that you look though. We went through the Shima teahouse which has been beautifully maintained and preserved with many antiques associated with the geisha performance and traditions on display.
Higashi is one of three Geisha districts in Kanazawa, it’s a beautifully historical area and I understand if you are lucky you can sometimes glimpse a Geisha in the early evening heading out to an appointment. I’d definitely go back there to wander around in the evening if we’d been staying in Kanazawa but on our day trip we ran out of time.
A short bus ride later we have the entrance to Kanazawa castle over the bridge to our right and Kenrokuen Gardens to our left, we head into the gardens first. Kenrokuen gardens are noted for being one of Japans top three gardens and they are beautiful. An interesting feature during our 2012 visit was the presence of Ume (plum blossoms) and Sakura (cherry blossoms) together in the garden due to the long cold winter, normally the Ume are well and truly done by the time the Sakura are blooming.
The gardens are open from 7am to 6pm during Spring and entry is Y300.
After a stop for a warming lunch in a nearby restaurant we headed over to the castle. Of the original castle founded in 1583 only the Ishikawa gate dating back to 1788 is original, the castle itself is an authentic replica having burned down several times during it\’s history. Entrance to the castle grounds is free and as we had been inside the original castles at Hikone and Himeji we didn\’t go into the turrets and storehouses this time. The castle grounds also have some great cherry trees which had probably just passed their best when we visited but were still looking really good.
Omiya Jinja Shrine
Walking west after the castle we found and wandered through Omiya Jinja Shrine, one of the things I like best about walking in Japan is the things that you just find tucked away in quiet corners, this Shinto shrine had a lovely old strolling garden with a big pond that you could walk around on a path within the pond.
The shrine is dedicated to Maeda Toshiie, the first lord of the powerful, local Maeda Clan and was constructed in 1599 by Toshiie’s successor, Maeda Toshinaga on Mount Utatsu. It was intil later that it was moved to its present location. The impressive entry gate had earlier stood at the castle and was also moved to the present location.
Headed back to the train we found Omi-Cho market, a local fresh produce market. There are also lots of smaller places to eat within it and being on the northern coast there was a lot of seafood, every type of crab seems to be the specialty here but there was a good range of fish and other seafood too.
We had originally planned to stay in Kanazawa for dinner so were a bit disappointed not to try one of the restaurants but had another early start planned for the next day so decided instead to get a couple of the most amazing Obento boxes of local fresh seafood sushi to eat on our two hour trip back to Kyoto on the train. We’ve had some pretty good sushi in the past in Japanese restaurants and around the Tokyo fish market but this was right up there with the best; simple and wonderfully fresh.
Kanazawa is a beautiful city, an attractive blend of modern and traditional. What attracts you to this part of Japan?