Ishikawa Prefecture lies on the west coast of Japan’s main island, a part of Hokuriku in the larger Chubu, or “central”, region. It is best-known perhaps for its capital city of Kanazawa, an old castle town rich in history and natural beauty and surprisingly compact in size (a good thing — more on this later). Kanazawa offers a range of sightseeing destinations and cultural experiences — not to mention the tasty food — that will delight history buffs and artisans alike. Two popular destinations are the ruins of Kanazawa Castle and the famous garden of Kenrokuen.
Kanazawa Castle Park
Kanazawa Castle was ereceted on a plateau between two rivers, with the castle town (and future city of Kanazawa) radiating outward from it. Much of it was lost to fire, and its former grounds, ruins, and reconstructions now constitute Kanazawa Castle Park.
The massive Kahokumon Gate is Kanazawa Castle’s official front door. The structure was restored in 2010 and can now be entered by the general public. If you approach the castle’s perimeter from the open fields of Shin-maru park, you will find yourself entering the castle via this imposing structure.
Outer gate of Kahokumon
Looking back after passing under the main part of Kahokumon
The largest remains of Kanazawa Castle consist of two turrets connected by a long weapon storehouse. This restored building features traditional wooden construction and houses exhibits about itself and the castle that it was once a part of. The Hishi Yagura turret on the north end of the storehouse can be climbed for a neat view; this turret was actually used as a watchtower back in the day.
Hishi Yagura and Hashizumemon Tsuzuki Yagura turrets with Gojukken Nagaya storehouse in between, illuminated at night
Ishikawamon is technically the castle’s back door, but its scenic collection of turrets, walls, and gatehouses — not to mention a number of nearby bus stops — makes it a popular part of the castle ruins. It is especially popular during the breath-taking cherry blossom season as pictured below. The structure standing today was rebuilt in 1788.
The park and castle are great to visit in all seasons, from spring’s explosion of pink and white blossoms and summer’s verdant landscape, to autumn’s vibrant foliage and winter’s peaceful covering of snow. Events and concerts are also sometimes held in the park’s spacious fields and even inside the restored castle buildings themselves.
Originally created as the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle, beautiful Kenrokuen was developed over generations of the ruling Maeda clan and is acclaimed now as one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan.
The two-legged Kotoji lantern standing in Kasumi Pond is something of a symbol of Kenrokuen and even Kanazawa as a whole. Its unique form resembles the bridge of a koto, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument.
After a great fire ravaged Kanazawa in the first half of the 17th century, the lord at the time had waterways constructed to bring water to the castle and its surroundings. These waters were eventually diverted through what is now Kenrokuen, affording the garden a winding network of ponds and streams that contribute to its refreshing atmosphere. Kenrokuen is also home to the oldest fountain in Japan, which is fed naturally by Kasumi Pond and good, old-fashioned gravity.
Kenrokuen features a wide array of flora including pines, zelkova, maples, flowering plum and cherry trees, irises, and more, depending on the season.
Visiting in late autumn and into winter affords another famous view of Kenrokuen as the picturesque trees of the garden are fitted with supportive bamboo poles and ropes — called yukitsuri — to protect them from the area’s heavy snow.
There is really only so much that can be described about Kenrokuen; it is a destination that simply must be experienced by one’s own senses firsthand. The serene, expansive garden is truly beautiful — and considerably different in appearance and color — through each season. Be sure to pick up maps and brochures (available in English) so that you can explore every nook and cranny and get lots of interesting info about the garden’s history.
One of the great things about Kanazawa, as I mentioned above, is that it is surprisingly compact. This makes it really easy to get around, be it by bus, rental bicycle, or even walking. As far as bus goes, there is a lovely retro-styled loop bus that departs Kanazawa Station and makes a big circle that hits just about all the major sightseeing spots. The bus runs from the station every 12 minutes from 8:36 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. with a single ride costing adults JPY 200 and kids JPY 100. If you’re planning to use the bus at least three times, definitely hook yourself up with a 1-day free pass, which will only set you back JPY 500 for adults and JPY 250 for the little ones. The pass also lets you ride other buses for free, so ask for more info at Kanazawa Station’s convenient foreign tourist info desk at the Sightseeing Information Center just inside the East Entrance of the station.
For Kanazawa Castle Park and Kenrokuen, you’ll want stop #9, Kenrokuen-shita.
This high-rise hotel located just outside Kanazawa Station is the top-rated hotel in Kanazawa on TripAdvisor.com (as of March 2012). It goes without saying that the hotel offers great access, but it also offers a variety of quality accommodations to choose from at reasonable rates, and the higher floors offer spectacular views of the city. Enjoy the night view from the hotel’s restaurant on the 30th floor, or venture out to one of the local restaurants or pubs in the area!
Coming in at number 2 on TripAdvisor.com right on the heels of Hotel Nikko (as of March 2012), Dormy Inn Kanazawa is a perennial favorite for its extreme proximity to Kanazawa Station coupled with its functional, stylishly designed and very affordable rooms. It is also one of the only hotels in Kanazawa offering natural hot spring spas and the only one this close to the station. Besides the other establishments in the area, the shopping mall across the street offers a number of dining options.
If visiting Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen is at the top of your list, Hakuchoro Hotel just might be the perfect place to stay. Located right next to the park, and with a loop bus stop in the area, getting around to other Kanazawa destinations is a breeze. Popular spots like Higashi Chaya and the 21st Century Museum are just a 10-minute walk away. Hakuchoro also offers natural hot spring facilities. It offers spacious rooms and a quaintly nostalgic design mixing European furnishings with Japanese motifs a la the Taisho period (1912 – 1926).