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Move Over, Kyoto: Kanazawa Is Cheaper and Has All the Japanese Culture Without the Crowds

editor@purewow.com (PureWow)

One of Japan’s best-kept secrets, Kanazawa isn’t even in the consideration set for many tourists who spend time in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. But this overlooked (and surprisingly affordable) gem has tons to offer in the way of top-notch sights—beautiful gardens, museums, shrines and well-preserved districts—not to mention great food. Because it’s fairly compact, you can tick off the main attractions and still have time to enjoy a few delicious, reasonably priced meals. Keep scrolling for the full rundown on Kanazawa.

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GORGEOUS GARDENS

It would be a big mistake to skip Kenrokuen Garden ($2.83). One of the finest—and most photogenic—examples of classic landscape design in all of Japan, this meticulously mapped out 29-acre green space is the city’s crown jewel. Give yourself a couple of hours to explore the tree-lined paths, ponds, streams, fountains and sculptures. Named for the wife of the second lord of the Kaga clan, Gyokusen-en Garden ($6.39) took more than a century to construct. When you’re traipsing through the seasonal blooms and sipping matcha in an ancient teahouse, it’s clear the effort paid off. PSA: Cherry blossom season kicks off in April.

HISTORIC SITES

Kyoto doesn’t corner the market on historic sites and sacred shrines. Kanazawa Castle stands as a testament to the artistry of the Edo period, and you can stroll the grounds for free. To enter Gojukken Nagaya warehouse and climb the turrets costs $2.92. Established in 1599 and dedicated to Maeda Toshiie, Oyama Shrine is a Shinto place of worship with many lovely sculptures. For the “Ninja Temple,” formally known as Myōryū-ji ($9.13), visitors are required to reserve a tour.

WELL-PRESERVED DISTRICTS

Get lost in the 1800s charm of Higashi Chaya-gai, which dates back to 1820. Meander along the old streets, admire the traditional wooden buildings, visit a heritage-rich teahouse, see a geisha performance and stock up on handicrafts decorated with gold leaf. Don’t forget to stop by Nagamachi, the fascinating district where the samurai used to live.

INTERESTING MUSEUMS

The capital of Ishikawa Prefecture is jam-packed with museums of all shapes, sizes and subjects. Housed in a former factory, the small but interesting Prefectural History Museum chronicles the story of the Ishikawa region. The Maeda Tosanokami-ke Shiryokan Museum ($2.83) showcases family heirlooms, ancient writings and samurai weaponry. Pottery and hand-painted silks are on display at the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Traditional Products and Crafts ($2.38). The D.T. Suzuki Museum ($2.83) reflects the Zen spirit of the Japanese author it honors with a library, contemplation area and tranquil gardens. In contrast to Kanazawa’s myriad historic attractions, the circular 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (free) really stands out. Inside, you’ll find an eye-opening collection of pieces spanning different mediums, including video and mixed media.

FANTASTIC FOOD

Tokyo and Osaka may be the foodie front-runners, but there’s plenty to polish off in Kanazawa. Fuwari dishes out perfectly cooked yakitori, sweet potato tempura, rice balls and tomago (Japanese omelet). The quality fish, wallet-friendly prices and casual atmosphere earn Kourin Sushi top marks on TripAdvisor. And bet you didn’t know that Ishikawa Prefecture produces 98 percent of all the gold leaf in Japan. You’ll notice glimmering flecks atop all sorts of tasty treats, from soft-serve ice cream and matcha lattes to takoyaki (octopus balls). 

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