Back in the mid-nineteenth century KANAZAWA (金沢), meaning “golden marsh”, was Japan’s fourth-largest city, built around a grand castle and the beautiful garden Kenroku-en. Today, the capital of Ishikawa-ken continues enthusiastically to cultivate the arts and contains attractive areas of well-preserved samurai houses and geisha teahouses. Its modern face is ably represented by the impressive 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa – all up, this is the one place you shouldn’t miss on the Sea of Japan coast.
Kanazawa’s heyday was in the late fifteenth century, when a collective of farmers and Buddhist monks overthrew the ruling Togashi family, and the area, known as Kaga (a name still applied to the city’s exquisite crafts, such as silk-dyeing and lacquerware, and its refined cuisine), became Japan’s only independent Buddhist state. Autonomy ended in 1583, when the daimyō Maeda Toshiie was installed as ruler by the warlord Oda Nobunaga, but Kanazawa continued to thrive as the nation’s richest province, churning out five million bushels of rice a year.
Having escaped bombing during World War II, traditional inner-city areas, such as Nagamachi with its samurai houses and the charming geisha teahouse district of Higashi Chaya, remain intact and are a joy to wander around.
Kanazawa can be used as a base to visit other places in Ishikawa-ken, including the Noto Hantō, the rugged peninsula north of the city and a great place to enjoy seaside vistas and a slower pace of life. To the south, in neighbouring Fukui-ken, is the working monastery Eihei-ji, one of Japan’s most atmospheric temples.