Kanazawa: One Fine City in Japan

Kanazawa, located in Ishikawa Prefecture, has much to offer for its modest size. I often wonder whether the Kanazawa residents are offended by the city’s nickname, “Little Kyoto,” which undermines the unique offerings of this elegant city.

Kanazawa Castle

City visits in Japan can sometimes be hard on the eyes. Even in most historical cities, one often needs to put in a lot of effort to visually disregard the not-very-inspiring post-World War II architecture and focus on the authentic sides. But not in Kanazawa, the small city center, largely deprived of high and concrete buildings, allows a distraction free visual experience.

Museums of Kanazawa

One of the main allures of Kanazawa is the fine quality of the museums hosted in the city. My favorites are the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and the D. T. Suzuki Museum.

D.T. Suzuki Museum

D. T. Suzuki Museum is dedicated to the life and works of Kanazawa-born Buddhist philosopher Suzuki Daisetz Teitaro. The museum’s architecture aims to bring out the serenity that comes with Zen philosophy. It, in my view, greatly achieves its purpose. It is well worth the entrance fee of 300 Yen, which includes an English audio guide.

D.T. Suzuki Museum - Kanazawa Tips
D.T. Suzuki Museum – Kanazawa

There is a pool surrounding the museum, which, at the time of my visit, acted as a great mirror reflecting the colors of autumn flushing out of the surrounding small forest.

Contemporary Art Museum of Kanazawa

The contemporary art museum, on the other hand, is surprisingly rich in terms of the permanent collection. In addition to Blue Planet Sky by James Turell, l’Origine de Monde by Anish Kapoor is included in the permanent collection.

While these two pieces are quite well known, Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich is the piece that gets the visitors the most excited. The work is comprised of 10-centimeters of water suspended over the transparent glass, which gives the deep water feeling thanks to the aquamarine-colored empty space below. Visiting the pool is free unless you want to enter the aquamarine part and get eye-to-eye with all the photographers above the ground looking down at you. It is quite a photogenic piece in every sense of the word, and therefore, expect many mobile photographers to work on that perfect Instagram shot.

Fall colors in Kanazawa

My favorite time to visit Kanazawa is the fall colors season.

Kanazawa, while it still gets its own share of crowds, allows for a relatively more intimate opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the fall colors compared to the usual suspects such as Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Tokyo.

My favorite location to see the fall colors in Kanazawa is the small woods behind the D. T. Suzuki Museum, and my second favorite is the garden right behind Oyama Shrine. While these two spots were not nearly as popular as arguably Japan’s finest garden, Kenrouken Garden, I enjoyed the tranquility of these places a lot more than I enjoyed the relatively packed Kenrouken Garden.

Four nights turned into nine

During my first visit to Kanazawa, the original four-night plan, quickly turned into a longer stay once the vibe of the city won me over. The quality of my hostel (listed in the tips section below) also had a lot to do with it, not only with its very reasonable pricing policy but with its very cozy and stylish atmosphere as well.

Kanazawa tips in a nutshell

How to get to Kanazawa

Kanazawa is served by Shinkansen, which offers the most convenient way to reach Kanazawa from most parts of Japan, but it is not cheap. One way Shinkansen ticket from Tokyo to Kanazawa costs around 14.000 Yen and takes a little under 3 hours. If you book using the JR East – Eki-net website, you may be able to secure varying degrees of discount depending on how far in advance you make the booking and the seat availability. If you are in Osaka or Kyoto, you can also consider Limited Express Thunderbird. 

Alternatively, you can fly to nearby Komatsu Airport and take the shuttle to Kanazawa’s city center. I sometimes prefer the flying options, especially when I can book an ANA flight with my Turkish Airlines miles – it requires only 7500 miles for a way ticket.

I once also traveled to Kanazawa by bus through Nagoya. The trip takes around 4 hours and costs a little under 5000 Yen. It was a very comfortable ride and a relatively cheaper option if you are around Nagoya. The bus is also your only option if you are already in Takayama or Shirakawa-go area.

Where to stay in Kanazawa

Hatchi Kanazawa Hostel is one of the best two hostels that I have ever stayed in. It has a design hotel quality and, like most places in Japan, is immaculately clean. It was an amazing deal for Japan, with its nightly rate of USD 18. The bed area also comes with a locker, a place to hang your coat, and enough room to even use as a bookshelf. As one of the reviewers mentioned online, the showers in this hostel are like spa showers, so go figure!

Where to eat in Kanazawa

I love yakitori a lot. Yakitori places have a cozy atmosphere; I like the simplicity of the food and the usual counter-style seating. Chokichi, near my hostel, worked great for me as it also had some red meat selections on its menu and not only chicken (like in many yakitori places). It is also known to be welcoming to foreigners, and it even has an English menu. Like in most places in Japan, they only accept cash payments, so be prepared.

Books about Japan
Late evening in Kanazawa

For drinks, Oriental Brewing, located right across the street from Hatchi Hostel, is a very friendly place offering pizzas and other finger foods in addition to a good selection of craft beer (they do not show it on the menu, but they also have wine, so ask for it). One other place I really enjoyed, with its very good English-speaking staff, was the bar/cafe of Emblem Stay. They have a happy hour, like most places in Kanazawa, between 4 and 6 pm, and they host a weekly gathering mixing locals with tourists every Friday.