Ishikawa Prefecture’s capital, Kanazawa City, is famous throughout Japan for its preservation of Edo period (1603-1868) structures, customs, and culture. Some of its famous sights include Kanazawa Castle, Myouryuji Temple, and Kenrokuen Garden, considered to be one the most beautiful traditional Japanese gardens in the country.
However, those aren’t the only places worth visiting in Kanazawa City; there are two cultural experiences you should definitely not miss — Kanazawa City’s famous gold leaf and the Higashi Chaya (Eastern Teahouse) Geisha District.
Kanazawa’s gold leaf history dates back to the 16th century, when the Kaga Clan invited artisans to the city to practise and hone their craft. Hundreds of years later, Kanazawa City now accounts for 99% of gold leaf production in Japan, which is renowned for its resistance to discolouration and oxidisation — making it a key decorative component for lacquerware, sculptures, calligraphy, and many other products. Today, you can get all sorts of souvenirs, cosmetics, and even foodstuff lined with paper-thin gold leaf.
Kanazawa has three geisha districts, known as chaya (teahouse) — Higashi Chaya (the most famous one), Nishi Chaya, and Kazuemachi. The historic Higashi Chaya-gai was built in 1820 as a place for the city’s merchants and nobility to enjoy the song and dance of geishas. Today, the area still maintains its traditional wooden chaya, although many of them are now cafes and souvenir shops. However, there are still two traditional teahouses still operating here: Shima Teahouse and Kaikaro Teahouse.
Winter is a good time to visit Kanazawa — it is ideal for sampling its fresh seafood catch, and the traditional teahouses take on a mystical quality with a snowy landscape in the backdrop.
There are several locations throughout Kanazawa City where you can learn about its history, see how it’s produced, and purchase some gold leaf products:
You can reach Kanazawa City’s Higashi Chaya by taking the Kanazawa Loop Bus from Kanazawa Station and getting off at the Hashibacho bus stop (RL5). From there, it is a 5-minute walk.
While the district has numerous shops, you’ll definitely want to check out one of the two traditional teahouses:
On the culinary side, Kanazawa City has plenty to offer. Gold leaf is so important to the local culture that it is even incorporated into some food and beverage offerings — including gold leaf shochu. Hakuichi, a gold leaf shop in the Geisha District even sells soft serve ice cream wrapped in gold leaf!
Not surprisingly, the Chaya districts are also famous for their tea and wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets which are delicate works of art, specially made to accompany the tea.
In winter especially, the city is famous for its fresh seasonal seafood straight from the Sea of Japan. Among the fresh winter catch you should absolutely try are snow crab, sushi, and kaisendon — a donburi (rice bowl) loaded with fresh seafood. If you’re looking for sushi and kaisendon, Enome is a go-to place, while Takasaki serves fresh Kano crab, a type of snow crab from Ishikawa that’s renowned for its sweet taste.
Check out Omicho Market which has over 180 shops serving just about every type of food imaginable — including snow crab, sea urchin, croquettes, and many more!
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