Most first-timers to Japan tread the well-worn tourist path between Tokyo and Kyoto, but if you’re looking for a beautiful and attraction-packed part of Japan away from the madding crowds, then Ishikawa could be the place for you! Home to Kanazawa, one of the country’s most historic towns, it houses an intriguing mix of attractions and delicious local delicacies. Easily accessible, Kanazawa is just 2.5 hours from Tokyo using the super speedy Hokuriku shinkansen (bullet train) and from there you’re well placed to explore the region. Use your Japan Rail Pass to save yourself both time and money!
Ishikawa perfectly blends ancient and modern culture, and nowhere is this more apparent than your first port of call; Kanazawa train station! A spectacular welcome awaits you as you hop off the train and take in the imposing glass Motenashi Dome and the impressively giant wooden Tsudzumimon gate.
Ishikawa is divided into three regions; Noto, Kanazawa and Hakusan, and each host their own exciting festivals throughout the year. Japanese festivals are lots of fun and you can expect to see spectacular light and firework displays, decorated floats and processions, plus lots of tasty street food to sample. The Koiji Fire Festival by the sea, the warrior themed Kanazawa Hyakumangoku Festival and the Hakusan Snowman Festival are just a handful of the weird and wonderful festivals you can experience in the region!
The name Kanazawa means ‘marsh of gold’ and is believed to originate from the legend of Imohori Togoro, a peasant boy who washed gold dust in local marshland. In the late 16th Century, Maeda Toshiie moved into Kanazawa Castle and ruled over Ishikawa prefecture (known as Kaga at the time) for 300 years.
With the money made from rice harvesting, the Maeda family invested in local culture and as a result, Kanazawa developed many arts, crafts and cultural activities including tea ceremonies, gold leaf handicrafts, local gastronomy and theatre. Many of these are still going strong today, and in 2009 Kanazawa was awarded the title of UNESCO City of Crafts and Folk Art. If you’re in Kanazawa then be sure to head down to Kanazawa Castle to experience an authentic slice of Ishikawa history.
One of the fun parts of travelling around Japan is getting the chance to sample regional cuisine, and Ishikawa has lots to choose from! Being so close to the Sea of Japan, it’s no surprise that fresh fish and seafood is abundant. Kanazawa is home to many seafood restaurants, ranging from moderately priced ‘conveyor belt’ sushi joints to much pricier high-end establishments. Visit the (almost) 300-year-old Omicho Market for a chance to feast on everything from sashimi and scallops to oysters and sea urchin. Kaisen-don (rice bowl topped with sashimi) is another popular dish that can be enjoyed around the region.
Tea with Tradition
Step back in time with a trip to Kanazawa’s Higashi Chaya district. This atmospheric area of the city is famous for its preserved Edo period tea houses and is the place to go if you’re passionate about Japanese tea. Pair your loose-leaf brew with exquisite wagashi (confectionary) and experience an authentic slice of Japanese tea culture. The Higashi Chaya District is also a popular place to buy products (such as sake or sweets) containing Kanazawa’s signature gold leaf.
Ishikawa’s sake (rice wine) production history dates back hundreds of years and there are several brewing companies in the region that have been operating for over a century. Their sake is high quality; made with rice harvested from the Kaga Plain and brewed with water from the local rivers to create a full-bodied brew that pairs well with meat and foods from the region.
If you want to learn a bit more about sake then why not take a tour of Sogen Sake Brewery? Founded in the Edo period in 1768, the brewery is steeped in history and you’ll be treated to a fascinating insight into the secrets of sake brewing from masters of their craft. If you can’t make it to Ishikawa then you can treat yourself to some Sogen Sake at Japan Centre during the Ishikawa Fair.
Since 1945, Kanazawa has cultivated 15 of its very own kaga vegetables, which are grown all year-round and unique to the region. These include utsugi Akagawa Anagyru Kabocha (red-skinned sweet chestnut pumpkin), satsuma-imo (purple sweet potato) and gensuke daikon (white radish). With such a diverse range, there’s sure to be a nutrient-rich kaga vegetable that you can include in one of your autumnal Japanese dishes. Japan Centre has a large range of veggie dishes for you to try including pumpkin curry and baked sweet potato.
Veggie-tan is Kanazawa’s city mascot; a red pumpkin who has a range of other kaga vegetables slung over his shoulder. Look out for him if you visit and pick up a souvenir!
No visit to Ishikawa would be complete without a trip to Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens. These gardens used to belong to Kanazawa Castle and took over 200 years to construct. Designed to change with the seasons, Kenrokuen is worthy of a visit at any time of year, but the autumn colours of October and November are particularly stunning. Enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and soothing water features before heading to one of the garden’s traditional teahouses for tasty tea and beautiful wagashi.
Theme Parks and Museums
Ishikawa is home to two impressive art museums. The Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art exhibits historical art from throughout the region and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. The latter is a work of art in itself; housed within a vast glass building and uniquely designed to have no main entrance, allowing visitors to approach the art at different angles.
Another unusual Ishikawa attraction is the Yamato Koji Park, owned by the Yamato Soysauce & Miso Co. Ltd. Here you’ll be able to learn all about cultured rice grain and food fermentation in a fun and unique way, with interactive exhibits plus shopping and dining opportunities too.
Have you visited Ishikawa? Which scenic sites would you like to explore most if you had a chance to visit? Let us know in the comments section below!
Enjoy all this and more by shopping in-store at Japan Centre Leicester Square, Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City. Alternatively you can get fresh produce delivered straight to your door by shopping online at the Japan Centre website.
Kanzawa train station by gamemall104 via Flickr Creative Commons
Kanazawa Castle: Christian Bucad via Flickr Creative Commons
Snowman Festival by Masashi Yamazaki via Flickr Creative Commons
Omicho Market by Hector de Pereda via Flickr Creative Commons
Higashi Chaya District by Emily Lovell
Sake drum by Appie Verschoor via Flickr Creative Commons
Kenrokuen by Briansjs via Flickr Creative Commons
Museum of Contemporary Art by yellowmo via Flickr Creative Commons