Have you heard of Kanazawa? Located on the west coast of Japan’s central Honshu Island, the city’s name translates to “marsh of gold”, referencing a 400 year-old history of gold leaf production that has earned the area worldwide recognition.
Also known as “little Kyoto,” Kanazawa also has some of the country’s best gardens, museums and charming, traditional neighborhoods. It’s a compact city and therefore easy to navigate — a somewhat undiscovered tourist destination for foreigners but one that has long been a top choice for Japanese travelers looking for a heady dose of culture and beauty.
On your next trip, make sure you don’t miss these the following Kanazawa sites, all beautiful fodder for your Instagram.
In Japanese, Kenroku-en translates to mean “garden that combines six characteristics” — namely spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, water-courses and panoramas. Those qualities help classify Kenroku-en as one of Japan’s Three Great Gardens, a cultural designation that is well deserved; the Maeda Japanese samurai clan spent 400 years developing the site’s 25 acres of land, starting in 1676.
Featuring gracious stone pathways, wooden bridges, streams and impossibly green landscapes, Kenroku-en possesses a beauty that is well worth experiencing first-hand. Before you snap those photos, be sure to stop and smell the sweet azaleas, which bloom only in the summertime.
Across the road from Kenroku-en garden is Kanazawa Castle, the political seat of the Maeda clan from the 16th century to the end of the Edo period in the late 19th century. Because the castle has burned down several times over the years, the current standing structure is only partially restored, but breathtaking nonetheless.
Make sure to wear your walking shoes; Kanazawa Castle may be incomplete, but it is still a vast work of architecture just waiting for exploration. Check out the lead roof tiles (one theory is that the material was used so that it could be melted into bullets back in the day if needed), a centuries-old moat and traditional interior carpentry, distinct for its use of simple wooden pieces to create complex structures. What’s more, the castle’s white exterior contrasts with the surrounding greenery, making it a perfect background for any selfies you may decide to take.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
One of Japan’s most popular art museums is the 21st Century Museum, a circular building designed without a main entrance to discourage visitors from approaching from only one direction — a method also recommended for viewing the art inside. Though the museum features travelling exhibitions, permanent installations are well worth visiting, including Leandro Elrich’s “Swimming Pool,” a three-dimensional pool where people appear to be underwater while fully clothed and interacting normally. The “Colour Activity House” is a site-specific piece featuring curved panels of translucent colored walls with a sphere at its center. Visitors moving through the structures observe how the hues around them change — a vivid set-up for a photo.
Nomura Clan Samurai Home
When you visit Kanazawa, check out the Nagamachi neighborhood at the foot of the Kanazawa Castle. With its cobblestone streets and canals, the district has been preserved to look just as it did in the 19th century Edo period. Don’t miss the Nomura samurai home, the former dwelling of one of Japan’s dynastic warrior families, which is now a museum. Inside you’ll find a collection of samurai artifacts (including a suit of armor), decorative details (like hand-painted fusama screen doors), a traditional tea room and a lush garden complete with stone lanterns and a pond home to koi fish. As you walk through, put your camera down and take in the rich history of this samurai family, which served the Maeda family from the 16th to the 19th centuries.