After a series of early mornings, we decided to have a more relaxed day soaking up the sun in Kanazawa. Proceed with caution: our version of a lazy day doesn’t involve spending the best part of the day in a semi-vegetative state – we still clocked up a staggering 32,364 steps pottering around, if the iPhone pedometer is to be believed.
Feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed after a comfortable night’s sleep, we lost no time in venturing to 7-Eleven for those all-important breakfast supplies; I had a tasty apple pastry, while Laurence opted for a couple of o-nigiri (seaweed rice wraps) from the shop next door. We then detoured via Hokuriku Railroad Information Centre to purchase tickets to Shirakawa-go for the following day. Whilst we had no trouble communicating – simplifying your English and speaking slowly works wonders – another couple were busy throwing a tantrum that they weren’t being understood. We left feeling rather sorry for the poor Japanese man on the receiving end of their strop.
Our first touristy stop for the day was Ōmichō Market, a bustling bazaar of culinary delights. Though less frenetic, the section dedicated to fish and other wriggly sea dwellers – including enormous metre-long tuna – was reminiscent of Tokyo’s Tsukiji.
Besides seafood, there are dozens of stalls selling everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to sweets and flowers; in the market’s nooks and crannies you’ll find tiny restaurants serving up sea-fresh sushi and other local delicacies. We opted for some refreshing watermelon chunks – a healthy alternative to my usual biscuit-dominated elevenses.
It was a short stroll in the baking heat to Kanazawa Castle Park. Restored primarily using traditional methods, it’s an impressive sight and well worth a visit – not least because the grounds and several outbuildings are free to enter. We decided to purchase a combination ticket costing ¥500 (£3.87) for the main castle building and the neighbouring Kenroku-en Garden. Wandering round the castle we learnt about the construction methods, defence mechanisms (including slits which could be opened to pour boiling oil on attackers) and multi-million yen restoration costs; there were also several intricately carved scale models of Kanazawa Castle to admire.
Clambering up the narrow ladders to the uppermost floor enabled us to get a bird’s eye view of the grounds, surrounding buildings and, beyond the park’s perimeter, Kanazawa’s skyline.
Upon exiting Kanazawa Castle Park we found ourselves on a small street peppered with a dozen or so tourist shops – and as per, we deemed it to be frozen treat time. Whilst some tourists were going all out for gold-leaf topped ice creams, we forewent the gold leaf in favour of a cheaper option!
Sweet cravings catered for, we moved on to Kenroku-en Garden, widely cited as being one of Japan’s “three most beautiful landscape gardens”. With its winding, secluded footpaths, water features and an abundance of indigenous flora, Kenroku-en was an ornamental garden on par with the National Trust and English Heritage’s offerings across the UK. Entering via Katsurazaka Gate, we took in the famous Kotoji-tōrō (the stone lantern which is emblematic of Kenroku-en) and the ancient Karasaki Pine at the edge of Kasumiga-ike Pond.
Further on, the gnarled, tentacular branches of cherry trees were propped up on stilt-like supports which protect the trees from heavy snowfall in winter.
Picturesque bridges traversed the water features which teemed with koi. In the middle of the plum grove we found a shelter and stopped to rest our weary legs before continuing on. Passing the Shigure Teahouse we reached Midori Waterfall which cascaded into Hisago-ike Pond.
After a bite to eat we ventured north to the Kazue-machi Chaya District – one of Kanazawa’s three prominent geisha districts. Although we didn’t spot any geisha, the traditional houses along the waterfront made our detour worthwhile.
Back in the centre, we passed Oyama Shrine before setting off in search of Myoryu-ji Temple – commonly referred to as “Ninja Temple” due to its hidden passageways and trap doors. Having spectacularly underestimated the sheer number of temples in this area, and being without a detailed map, we wound up wonderfully lost in this temple labyrinth. Fortunately for us, a kind Japanese lady paused watering her plants and showed us the way – I doubt many Brits would do the same for a pair of lost tourists. We couldn’t enter the temple as it had closed for the day, but at least we saw it.
Feeling somewhat weary, we made our way back towards the station and opted for tea at a Japanese BBQ place we’d eyed up the night before – grilling all the meat ourselves made this an entertaining mealtime!
- Many important cultural and historical landmarks will request that you remove your shoes in order to enter; wear shoes that are easy to take on/off to make the process easier.
- If you intend to explore the Teramachi Temple Area, make sure you’re armed with a decent map and/or unparalleled sense of direction so you can find your way out!