My trip to Kanazawa
Kanazawa is a very beautiful city and one of the lucky ones to have escaped destruction during World War II. As a matter of fact, Kanazawa was very powerful during the Edo Period, which is still represented by its historical architecture. Plus, it is not as overrun as Kyoto, so there are plenty of reasons to pay it a visit while in Japan.
I went to Kanazawa by nightbus with Willer Express. Here you can see what I experienced.
The bus ride
The bus ride was surprisingly pleasant for such a long distance.
I boarded the Willer Express Bus at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. The station is central and quite easy to find.
The seats were somewhat spacious, at least it seemed to me like there was way more space than on a plane. Every seat has an “umbrella” of sorts which you can pull over your head for more privacy during your night mode. Also, the bus frequently stops at gas stations, so you can get off — use your legs a little, use the toilet, buy some stuff…
It took us approximately 8 hours till we finally arrived at Kanazawa station. Though time goes by fast, since you’re asleep most of the time anyway.
Another good thing about Willer Express is that their buses often depart from major stations: very convenient to get around and great for having breakfast immediately after the ride, yay!
After my first breakfast at the station (I really needed some coffee), I headed out for a second breakfast at the Omicho Market, a large fresh food market with about 200 shops and stalls.
Omicho Market is not far from the station and easily reachable by walking, as all the other sights in Kanazawa. However, if you cannot walk or simply don’t want to, there is a shuttle bus that takes you to all the interesting spots.
Omicho Market is a bustling space and interesting to watch while locals stroll through it in the mornings. You can see a variety of seafood and local vegetables. There also are a lot of little restaurants and some of the stalls offer fresh seafood.
I treated myself to some scallops as second breakfast.
Kanazawa Castle & Kenrokuen
Not far from one of the market’s exits lies the Kanazawa Castle with its impressive castle grounds. The entry is free. Unfortunately, the castle burnt down several times, but it is constantly reconstructed — and they have done a very good job so far, so you can see most of the central structures standing again.
Right next to the castle is the Kenrokuen Garden. There is a street with souvenir shops and cafés between the castle and the garden, so I went for lunch first. There is one café that offers lunch sets (I had one with fried oysters) which is definitely worth checking out.
Like most Japanese gardens, it does have an entrance fee (310 yen), but this small amount is worth every penny, since Kenrokuen is considered one of Japan’s “three most beautiful landscape gardens”. You can stroll along those sweet little bridges over Japanese ponds, watch fall colors and discover all kinds of flowers and trees. It was very beautiful in fall, but it is nice in every season since there are different seasonal things to enjoy.
Higashi Chaya District
This is an old district of former geisha. Chaya means teahouse and is a type of restaurant where guests are entertained by geisha who perform singing and dancing. You feel like in another era while walking through the streets, narrowed by traditional wooden houses.
Kanazawa is also known for its gold leaf. There are gold leaf stores all over the city, some are located here in Higashi Chaya District. Something everyone has to do in their lifetime is eating soft-serve ice-cream covered in gold leaf, I guess — so yes, I did pay a small fortune in one of the gold leaf shops for the privilege of holding that cone.
I saw a shop at the station offering it for 400 yen less, so maybe you could give it a go at the station… It might be smaller though.
Oyama Shrine, or Oyama Jinja, has a huge gate that looks very unusual for a shrine. It is a fusion of European and Asian religious themes combined in an architectural masterpiece. There is a beautiful sight from inside the garden through the gate into the district. The shrine grounds themselves are unusual as well.
Besides statues, there is a strolling garden with ponds with step stones and wooden bridges. When I went up the strolling path above the ponds, I discovered some hidden treasures. To me it looked like something out of a fantasy game, maybe there is a gateway to Skyrim?
This district used to be the samurai district, where samurai and their families used to reside. It is also clustered with traditional homes, though smaller than Higashi Chaya District. Unfortunately, by the time I went there my camera had lost its power, so I have no photos of this part.
There is a stream running through the district and I very much enjoyed walking along it in the early evening, sometimes strolling into different streets that branched to the sides. However, I would recommend going there earlier in the day, since Nagamachi has a lot of interesting museums which will be closed in the evening or afternoon.
In the evening
Kanazawa does not only offer historical charm. It is a modern city, with lots of shops and bars to enjoy. The Katamachi district (just next to Nagamachi) is great for some shopping. It also offers a lot of restaurants and bars to enjoy in the evening.
I think Kanazawa is a good one-day trip. You could stay there overnight though, to enjoy more of the nightlife and take it easy during the day. If you decide to stay only for one day and leave in the evening, there are a lot of restaurants to choose from at Kanazawa station to power you up for the night bus ride ahead.
Forus is a department store just next to Kanazawa station with a restaurant floor at the top. There are plenty of delicious things to choose from — I went for a burger place, mainly because they had fried avocados. Where else on Earth can you eat fried avocados?
There is also a small restaurant inside the station where you can try the famous Kanazawa curry. A small shop offers fresh rice rolls with plenty of different fillings (they are still warm when you get them!). You can also stock up on sake souvenirs just before you board the bus.
Review by Trial Traveler from Germany