Kanazawa: Going For Another Kind Of Gold In Pre Olympic Japan
As tourism arrivals in safe, tourist-friendly Japan continue to increase in an ever more turbulent world, visitors are seeking out new destinations to explore beyond the exciting capital of Tokyo, upcoming host of the 2020 Summer Olympics. One of those places is Kanazawa, a highly interesting city on the west coast of Honshu. Aside from being home to one of the richest architectural histories in Japan, Kanazawa is also home to the world’s most dazzling ice cream cone.
Kanazawa is one of the most cultured cities in Japan―and not just from a tourism point of view. In our age of overtourism and exploitation, Kanazawa offers authentic Japanese experiences as they have existed for centuries. The artisans of Kanazawa are recognised throughout the country for their expertise and workmanship. Kanazawa is the goldleaf capital of Japan, producing 99% of Japan’s goldleaf, applied to surfaces across the country on everything from simple souvenirs to the world-famous Golden Temple in Kyoto. Gold is everywhere in Kanazawa, and seemingly on everything; in addition to pottery, handbags, and jewelry, gold flecks are added to tea, cakes, cosmetics, nail polish, and ice cream cones. The humid climate of this coastal city is perfect for working with goldleaf, which would simply disintegrate into dust in a drier environment.
There is more to Kanazawa than just gold, though. The city is located in Ishikawa Prefecture, famous throughout Japan for its regional cuisine that emphasises fish. A lunch at the superb Gyokusen-tei Garden Restaurant brings the traditional fare of the region to the table in a quiet dining room, attractive in an elegant simplicity as only the Japanese can create. The emphasis is on appreciation of aromas and flavours as well as of the garden, seen through the large windows. Culturally, Kanazawa is home to a plethora of museums. The DT Suzuki Museum provides insight into the works and world of the Japanese writer through thoughtful exhibits on display in a contemporary building constructed specifically for the purpose of housing the collection. The beautiful reflecting pool is alone worth a visit; it is the perfect place to sit and relax the mind, which is the goal of the Museum in general. Nearby is the new 21st Century Museum Of Contemporary Art, easily recognisable thanks to the rainbow spiral by Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson placed outside the building.
The impressive Ohi Museum specialises in the presentation of the traditional Chozaemon pottery for which Ishikawa Prefecture is renowned. The wonderful displays bring pottery and its centuries-old tradition to life―not an easy task in these times of video games and immediate gratification, though the latter is possible in the museum’s tearoom where fine teas can be drunk from one of the museum’s collection pieces. Somehow, knowing your exquisite teacup is 300 years old makes the sipping experience all the more special.
Highlighting the most important component of the Kanazawa economy is the exceptional Yasue Gold Leaf Museum. Beautiful and unusual displays present the art of goldleaf in all its forms in a very informative manner. For those visitors interested in trying the application of goldleaf themselves, a visit to the beautiful Hakuza studio in Kanazawa’s Higasi Chaya Geisha District will be both educational and rewarding. The Geisha District is one of the best-preserved, architecturally pure districts in all Japan and is very popular with Japanese tourists, who enjoy dressing in traditional clothes (available on the spot for hire) when visiting the area. Kanazawa’s other historical district is the Sumo District, so named for the sumo wrestlers who once lived in the fine homes found in this part of the city.
Kanazawa’s main attraction, though, is none of the above. That is Kanazawa Castle. More than 500 years old, this fine example of classic Japanese architecture is one of the most revered in the country. The vast park surrounding the castle is home to various gardens and shrines.
Kanazawa is an easy, 2.5-hour ride on the shinkansen train from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station. The Kanazawa Hakuchoro Hotel Sanraku, located adjacent to the castle gardens, makes an ideal base for exploring the city. More information about Kanazawa and its many attractions is available on the City Of Kanazawa Tourism and Ishikawa Prefecture websites.