Kanazawa, Japan

With its green-tea-coloured landscapes, snow-dusted mountains and preserved geisha houses, Kanazawa provides a heady hit of Japanese beauty and tradition. The prefectural capital of Ishikawa, Kanazawa sits in central Japan, between the Saigawa River and the Asano River; peering to the mountains from the southeast and the Sea of Japan from the northwest. Thanks to the mild climate – buckets of rain throughout the year (it’s known as 'Japan’s Seattle') and plenty of snow in winter – and the proximity to the sea, Kanazawa serves up some of Japan’s most succulent seafood. Its main claim to fame, though, is its wealth of history and culture: during the Edo period, the city served as the seat of the majestic Maeda Clan, and arts and crafts flourished here (Kanazawa is a Unesco City of Crafts and Folk Art). Visitors can’t leave without seeing Kenroku-en (one of Japan’s three best gardens), the preserved geisha and samurai districts and the remains of Kanazawa Castle. It’s not without modern distractions, either, as the impressive 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, lively restaurants and bustling shopping quarters prove.

When to go

It can rain a lot in Kanazawa (according to a local proverb, ‘even if you forget your lunchbox, don’t forget your umbrella’) and in winter, the temperature plummets: this is Snow Country, after all. Come in spring for the flourishing cherry blossom and the Asanogawa Riverside Garden Party, held on the first weekend of April and featuring performances by local geishas; autumn is beautiful, too.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    Komatsu is Kanazawa’s nearest airport: get international flights from Seoul and Shanghai, or fly domestically from Tokyo Haneda and Okinawa (with Japan Airlines), or from Narita Airport, Sapporo Chitose, Sendai and Fukuoka (with All Nippon Airways). You can hop on a bus from the airport to Kanazawa (50-minute journey), or get a bus to Komatsu Station and pick up a JR train from there.
  • Trains

    Kanazawa’s train station is worth taking a peek at it for its architecture alone: a futuristic marriage of a traditional temple gate with glittering glass and steel. The station is a stop on the West Japan Railway’s Hokuriku Line and can be accessed from Tokyo, either by taking the Tokaido Shinkansen Hikari train (one leaves every hour) and transferring at Maibara for the run to Kanazawa, or by to taking a Joetsu Shinkansen train to Echigo-Yuzawa and changing on to the Hakutaka train to get to Kanazawa. The former is more expensive but more scenic; both routes take around four and a half hours (www.jreast.co.jp/e/).
  • Automobiles

    Driving around the old city will whiten your hair: the streets are a tangle of narrow twisting loops, and passengers will need to breath in at times. Parking is expensive, too. The more modern parts of Kanazawa are more car-friendly, and having wheels gives you the freedom to explore the Hokuriku and Hida regions. However, you must carry a valid Japanese or Geneva Convention International Driver's License at all times.