this post was sponsored by the Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau
This travel guide originally appeared in February 2023 and ever since Covid restrictions were lifted, Ishikawa prefecture has seen a steady climb in tourism. However, the tragic Noto Earthquake at the beginning of 2024 changed that and many businesses have seen a precipitous drop in activity. Although roughly 6000 people in the city of Wajima continue to be living in evacuation centers, the mayor of Ishikawa has put out a cry for tourists to not change their plans and come visit. The city of Kanazawa is largely business-as-usual and now is a great time to visit as tourism will only help recovery efforts.editor’s note
Just quick ride from Tokyo aboard a speedy Kagayaki 505 bullet train, Ishikawa Prefecture is a hidden gem among popular tourist destinations across Japan. Offering a host of ancient gardens, historic temples, delectable dining, and exposure to artisanal crafts, towns like Kanazawa, Kaga, and Komatsu offer a rare glimpse at uncompromising beauty and tradition that spans centuries. We chose to visit Ishikawa in the fall, just as the maple and cherry trees turned a fiery red that formed a sumptuous backdrop to our daily explorations.
As the main entry point into the Ishikawa region, Kanazawa station was first built in 1898 and was subject to a dramatic overhaul in 2005 that saw the construction of a vaulted glass roof and monumental spiraling wood gate that resembles a tori–a gate often found at Japanese shrines. Amidst a bustling interior of shops and vendors, some 36 pillars showcase a wide variety of traditional crafts found throughout the Ishikawa region.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
Our next stop was the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, a famously circular art museum designed by renowned architecture firm SANAA. Although small by international museum standards, this circle of creativity punches high above its weight featuring works by art heavyweights like Olafur Eliasson, James Turrell, Anish Kapoor, and Leandro Erlich among its permanent collection. Stop into the the museum’s Fusion21 Cafe Restaurant for a buffet of salads and various bites including twists of soba noodles, miniature croissants, and soup followed by optional courses of pasta or beautifully plated fish.
Higashi Chaya District
Kanazawa features three separate immaculately preserved chaya districts, of which we selected Higashi Chaya for an afternoon walk and gold leaf lesson. Walking the narrow stone streets is like stepping back in time. From the low-slung kawara tiled roofs to ornate woodwork facades, to the plethora of tourists donning rented kimonos, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re on a movie set. But, more than just a set, the neighborhood thrives with small businesses including tea houses where modern-day geishas still perform, chocolate and gift shops, several gold leaf stores, and restaurants. We stopped by the Sado Gold Mine, and after a brief history lesson were able to experience the art of applying gold leaf to an object of our choice.
Kenrokuen Garden & Kourin Sushi
One of the three Great Gardens of Japan, Kenrokuen is an expansive landscape garden famous for its seasonal beauty achieved through contrasts embedded in the garden’s name: “Kenrokuen” which translates to “garden that combines six characteristics.” Open areas of lakes and fields embody spaciousness while featuring pockets of private gardens and walkways that offer seclusion; artifice is demonstrated with carefully constructed bridges and outbuildings while antiquity manifests in the ancient pine trees, maples, and untouched parklands; lastly, the many streams and lakes provide sources of water, and the entire garden is elevated on a mountain offering unparalleled panoramic views of the surrounding city. We found peace and solitude around every corner, and a deep sense of history–the gardens were primarily designed from the 1620s to the 1840s by the Maeda clan.
After a long stroll through the garden we crossed the street to the nearby Kourin Sushi for one of our favorite meals of the trip. There’s only a few seats inside—two tables and a short bar—but the limited space intensifies the food. We recommend getting a chef’s selection of whatever’s best that day, and prepare yourself.
The smells of incense and echos of distant bells envelope you as you encounter Natadera Temple, carved into a small mountain outcrop and continuously maintained for nearly 2,000 years. Perhaps more than history or beauty alone, this sacred Buddhist temple exemplifies the Japanese tradition of melding nature and worship, where rivers, mountains, deep ponds of koi fish, and towering woods with dense moss floors manifest a truly spiritual experience.
Rokuro-no-Sato Arts and Crafts Hall
Our last stop was to visit the Rokuro-no-Sato Arts and Crafts Hall and try our hand at wood turning. Hundreds of bowls and cups are produced every single week at this arts and crafts center in Kaga famous for its Yamanaka lacquerware. Watch as a skilled artisan produces work through skills passed down through generations, or take a seat yourself and make your own custom bowl that you can sign yourself.
Many thanks to the Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau for supporting this article. #HOKURIKUxTOKYO