People always ask me what my favorite place to visit outside of Tokyo is—and though it’s extremely hard to for me to choose because there’s simply so many—one of my favorite destinations of all time is Kanazawa. Kanazawa is the capital city of Ishikawa prefecture and is known for its famous seafood market, historical buildings including samurai houses, and brilliant gold architecture. It has a rustic charm that is similar to Kyoto, but is far less touristy and is surrounded by the beautiful sea.
Kanazawa is also the birthplace of famous musical artist Nakata Yasutaka (producer of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, capsule, and Perfume), who created his own indie music festival called OTONOKO that was held once a year from 2016-2018 (it currently if unknown when it will be held again). The festival attracted around 200-300 people and created a close community of music lovers that had traveled from all over Japan. It’s one of the best music festivals I’ve ever been to in Japan because it features both the experienced artists of ASOBISYSTEM and the new and upcoming talents too. I was happy to share this experience with many friends I had met at his previous music events held in Tokyo and other cities as well as explore the famous capital that is his hometown. There is so much to do in Kanazawa outside of the festival too!
Here’s a list I’ve compiled of all of my favorite places in Kanazawa. You can easily spend 3 full days doing things here:
Kanazawa Castle & Kenrokuen
Kanazawa Castle is one of my all-time favorite castles in Japan and is located right next to the famous Japanese garden Kenrokuen. This castle is massive compared to other ones I’ve visited and you can tell a lot of detail was put its re-construction after in caught on fire in the 1600s. I first came here in the winter when a light layer of snow had piled on top of the castle’s roof and it was extremely aesthetic. I was glad that it was one of the first places I had visited because it’s a huge part of the city’s history.
Strolling through Kenrokuen and listening to all of my favorite music was also a huge pleasure. It’s considered one of Japan’s “three most beautiful landscape gardens” and is the best garden of Kanazawa so you should definitely check it out if you’re here.
The castle is free to enter, and Kenrokuen’s admission is 320 yen.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
I recently wrote an article on the The Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums I’ve Been to in Asia, and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is my top pick.
What you see here might just be my favorite exhibition in the world. The image of the pool looks like some kind of mirage or frozen frame from a vaporwave music video, but there are actually living, breathing people going about their daily routines under the waters of this pool. You can even “dive in” and join them—but you can’t jump or use the ladder. Instead you must reach the underwater zone from another entrance (which can easily be found by following the signs). In addition to the pool, there are various rooms with simulations you can enter.
This museum is an important part of Kanazawa’s culture because it draws a large number of people to the city. Its design is very modern but somehow fits in the center of Kanazawa’s historic streets because it has a beautiful outdoor park and is near the Kenrokuen Garden. The outside of the museum has free exhibits you can see as well.
The entrance fee is 360 yen for temporary exhibitions (some exhibits are free).
Golden Ice Cream & Sake
Since Kanazawa is the city of gold, you can find all sorts of golden souvenirs here. The golden ice cream is by far the most famous (and delicious too). At a confectionery shop called Hakuichi, you can savor the best gold-leaf ice cream in Japan. I went during October one year and they added an edible ghost topping too! The gold sake is also something I bought back for home. It tastes just like any other sake but the gold flakes inside make it look like a glittery snow globe. My friends joke that I have eaten more gold than anyone they know, and that very well may be true.
Omicho Fish Market
The Omicho Fish Market is where you’ll find some of the freshest seafood in mainland Japan. Kanazawa is most famous for crab, but you can find almost any other kind of fish imaginable. My personal favorites were Kaisen Maruhidon (rice bowls with mountains of seafood on top) and the tiny servings of sea urchin sold in the stalls outside. Most restaurants will gladly customize your orders for you and there are amazing sushi restaurants here as well.
One of my favorite memories was when Nakata Yasutaka’s first solo album Digital Native was announced the night before the festival, so my friend and I split a crab then ordered a pitcher of sangria from a restaurant below the station in celebration. A waiter peeled a fresh avacado for us too, but I don’t actually remember what we ordered in last photo… That just goes to show how much fun I had here!
Higashi Chaya District
The Higashi Chaya District of Kanazawa is where some of the traditional teahouses and upscale ryokan are located so it’s one of the prettiest parts of the city. There are also cafes, souvenir shops, and a lot of interesting architecture here. It’s a lot similar to Kyoto’s Gion district but the crowds are more evenly distributed. I love the winding streets and also the liveliness here. Everything seems like it was built to perfection.
I highly recommend checking out the Nomura Clan Samurai Home here because it has unique artifacts and a beautiful home garden. The Godburger is also a nice meme. Although haven’t eaten there yet, it’s definitely on my bucket list.
Piano of Memories (思い出ピアノ)
As I was walking underneath Kanazawa Station, I noticed a really interesting exhibit. Here sat an ordinary piano that anyone could walk up to and play but it had an interesting concept. People could upload videos with the hashtag “sharepiano” for others to listen to online. I uploaded this video I took to Twitter and the pianist actually found it and was happy I captured this moment!
Kanazawa is a popular destination for both foreign and domestic tourists, but it’s spread out enough so that things like this can be heard and appreciated.
Hotsprings, Hotels, & Other Recommendations
When I first came to Kanazawa, I didn’t have a lot of money so I decided to stay at a hostel called Good Neighbors Hostel (now called Off) near the station for around 2500 yen a night. The 2nd time I stayed at Neighbors Inn (owned by the same people) for around the same price. Both were extremely memorable times.
The first time I met a Perfume fan from Hong Kong who had awesome stickers of all the idols on his laptop. We became good friends during the duration of the festival and the hostel had a Death Note-inspired “Guest Note” that we wrote in (fortunately no one died). The second time the hostel had a ball pit so I took hilarious photos of myself pregaming in it. I always have the best time staying in this city no matter where I am.
If hostels aren’t your style, you can find a variety of cheap hotels on websites like Booking. Additionally, if you are looking for a day hot spring I recommend Terume Kanazawa. The admission fee is only 1100 yen.
The official after party for the festival was held at an event space called Double with two floors (one bar floor and one music floor). It is here where the strong gather and continue to party until down. In 2018 I managed to meet Nakata-san before he left and get me T-shirt signed. It was on my birthday weekend so it made it extremely special:
Here is a shot of the after-party I recorded in 2018. It truly was a time to be alive and I hope to go again if it resumes in the future:
From Tokyo Station, take the Hokuriku-Shinkansen towards Kanazawa. This takes approximately 3 hours and costs 15,000 yen one way. Nakata Yasutaka actually designed the shinkansen departure melody for this train so it’s extremely special!
You can also fly to Komatsu Airport and take a bus to Kanazawa Station which may be cheaper unless you have the JR Rail Pass.
If you are interested in other day trips from Kanazawa, please see my Shirakawago article.