2019 Classic Japan Autumn Tour

TOUR REPORT: Part 4 – Kanazawa to Tokyo (28-30 Nov. 2019)

Updated: 22 October, 2020  |  by Julius Pang

Part 4 of our Tour Report covers our last leg in Japan during the 2019 Classic Japan Autumn Tour. Read Part 1 here, Part 2, and Part 3.


After Kyoto we made our way north to Kanazawa, located on the Sea of Japan coast. Kanazawa is a new location for our Classic Japan Autumn Tour and we were able to include this destination for our 2019 tour as a detour on our way back to Tokyo.

Prior to my first visit to Kanazawa several years ago, I had long wondered what this place would be like as it is often described as “little Kyoto”. For me it starts with the name – I love how “Kanazawa” sounds; it gives me the impression of elegance and class, and these words definitely describe the arts and culture of Kanazawa.

We had a day and half in Kanazawa and this allowed us to look at some of the main sights in the city and even take part in a craft activity.

Myoryuji (妙立寺)

Myōryūji  was our first sight in Kanazawa. This temple looks unassuming from the outside but on the inside it is a completely different story. It features an array of defence measures inside including trick doors, hidden rooms and corridors, traps, and multiple escape routes. This has led the temple to be nicknamed the Ninja Temple (Ninjadera), even though it has no historical connection to ninjas.

The actual history of Myoryuji with its unique architecture and connection to important historical figures makes this a very significant building in Kanazawa. It was built by the third daimyo of the Kaga Domain (now modern day Kanazawa), Maeda Toshitsune. The design of the building with all its hidden defence features came about to combat the Tokugawa Shogunate’s strict building restrictions which were designed to weaken the power of daimyos.

Photos aren’t allowed inside Myoryuji but it wouldn’t be any fun if we knew all the secrets of this building. Our tour members were able to successfully escape from the temple and continue exploring Kanazawa!

  • The Ninja Temple looks like it could pass for any typical temple. It looks like a two storey building from the outside but is actually four storeys, with a seven layer internal structure. The temple’s website shows some of interesting features inside, but this just merely scratches the surface!

Kenrokuen (兼六園)

Our next location in Kanazawa was Kenrokuen. This is one of the “Three Great Gardens of Japan” (日本三名園, Nihon Sanmeien) and the main attraction in Kanazawa. The other great gardens are Kairakuen in Mito, and Korakuen in Okayama.

Each of the Three Great Gardens is very large with unique features. I find it very hard to choose a favourite and I guess whoever came up with the list of Three Great Gardens couldn’t choose a favourite either!

Kenrokuen is best known for Kotojitoro, a beautiful two-legged stone lantern, and its collection of immaculately tended pine trees.

  • A famous symbol of Kanazawa the the two-legged lantern called Kotojitoro found at Kenrokuen. I’d say this would have to be the most famous lantern in Japan. It’s also located in a picture-perfect setting, on the edge of a large pond, with a stone bridge providing access. In the background you can see yukitsuri. This is a Japanese method for protecting trees and other plants from snow damage. It involves tying ropes from the branches to a central bamboo pole, thereby providing extra support for the branches when snow accumulates on them. Yukitsuri looks beautiful and is such an elegant technique to deal with the snow.
  • The more you explore a Great Garden, the more you pick up on the details away from the famous areas. Away from Kotojitoro and the main pond, we can see beautiful aesthetics and outstanding autumn colours here.

One of the tricky things about editing autumn colour images is working out what white balance to set. I tend to lean towards a slightly warmer tone to accentuate the yellow and red hues, but you have to take care not to add too much warmth to the greens.

Kanazawa Castle (金沢城)

Kanazawa Castle is located next to Kenrokuen and would be our final stop for the day. The castle here is an example of a flatland castle, and was the headquarters of the Kaga Domain for nearly 200 years. It features a partial reconstruction of the original buildings and like many castles in Japan, it has had a bad history with fire; it had a six-storey donjon (keep) at one time, but this was burnt down in 1602 and never rebuilt.

The castle nowadays is a popular public area for both tourists and Kanazawa locals alike.

  • Gyokuseninmaru Garden is small Japanese garden next to Kanazawa Castle Park. Dating back to 1634, this garden is believed to have been a private garden for the feudal lords over the years, whereas Kenrokuen was used for entertaining guests. The garden fell into neglect with the abolition of the feudal system in the Meiji Restoration in 1868. In 2015 after several years of research and work, the garden was restored to its former glory.

Higashi Chaya District (東茶屋街)

One of the reasons why Kanazawa is nicknamed “Little Kyoto” is because it has active geisha who still work in exclusive teahouses (chaya). There are three well-preserved teahouse districts in Kanazawa, with the largest being the Higashi Chaya District (東茶屋街, Higashi Chayagai).

We visited the Higashi Chaya District on our final day in Kanazawa. This area was established in 1820 during the late Edo period and many of the buildings from that era are still standing here today.

  • Higashi Chayagai is a photogenic area so it’s no surprise that it is a popular location for couples looking to get engagement photos done. It was nice to watch on as this couple had their photos taken by a photography team.

Nomura Family Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家)

The Nagamachi district in Kanazawa was once home to samurai families and the area has been well preserved, looking much the same as it did during the Edo period. The Nomura Family Samurai House is located here and was the home of the Nomuras, a wealthy samurai family who served the ruling Maeda family from the 16th century to the end of the Edo period in the mid 19th century.

  • The compact garden at the Nomura Family Samurai house is intricate and dense with features. It has been rated one of the best gardens in Japan. The garden is beautifully maintained year round – even the stone lanterns here have straw snow protection installed for winter!
  • The features of the Nomura Family Samurai House show that the Nomuras were wealthy and influential;  large rooms, ornately decorated fusuma screens, and an exquisite garden.

D.T. Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)

To finish off our time in Kanazawa we visited the D.T. Suzuki Museum. This building is dedicated to Daitetsu Teitaro Suzuki, who was an author and scholar of Zen and Shin Buddhism. His works are considered influential in spreading interest in Zen and Shin in the West.

  • The D.T. Suzuki Museum promotes Zen Buddhism and the architecture of this place is as Zen as it gets – elegantly simple, serene and designed for contemplation. A building designed as a meditation space overlooks the “Water Mirror Garden”; there is also wonderful use of shakkei (“borrowed scenery”) here too.

Kaga Yuzen Workshop

Yuzen is a technique used for kimono dyeing and there are three main variants of this technique: Kyo Yuzen from Kyoto; Edo Yuzen from Tokyo, and Kaga Yuzen from Ishikawa Prefecture.

Kaga was the former name of the region which Ishikawa Prefecture (and Toyama Prefecture) now cover, and was based around Kanazawa Castle. Kaga Yuzen is known for depicting plants and flowers in a painterly and realistic style, with muted colours. Unique to Kaga Yuzen is a feature called mushi-kui (lit. “insect bitten”) which is where leaf damage by insects is shown as part of a pattern – the idea behind this is to convey the transience of nature.

We visited the Kaga Yuzen Kimono Center in Kanazawa and tried our hand at some kaga yuzen techniques in a special workshop. This place is wonderful space to learn more about kaga yuzen and see some beautiful artwork utilising this technique. There is even a resident kaga yuzen artist who you can watch on as he works.

  • Shelly and Louise hard at work during the kaga yuzen workshop.
  • Beautiful examples of kaga yuzen technique and precise brush work here. Note here the realistic look of the flowers and the beautiful gradations – both typical features of kaga yuzen.
    (Photographed and published with permission of the Kaga Yuzen Kimono Center, 2019)
  • Mr Morita is the resident kaga yuzen artist at the Kaga Yuzen Kimono Center. He’s a fan of rock music so we can even see his kaga yuzen artwork on non-traditional materials such as speaker grills and electric guitar inlays.
    (Photographed and published with permission of the Kaga Yuzen Kimono Center, 2019)

Shibuya (渋谷)

We returned to Tokyo for our final evening on tour and headed to Shibuya to look around before our farewell dinner. This colourful and energetic part of Tokyo is often associated with youth culture. There are plenty of shopping, eating, and entertainment options to be found here, all starting from Shibuya Station, where we have the famous Shibuya “Scramble Crossing” to start our night off with.

  • Shibuya’s “Scramble Crossing” is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. During peak periods, upwards of 2,500 people can be crossing at one time. Watching from above, people look like ants scurrying across the street.
  • Straight across from the scramble crossing, we have Beat Takeshi staring people down promoting DMM, a large e-commerce and internet company. OK mate, I’ll go check out DMM after dinner!

Our amazing tour members

Thank you so much to Louise, Shelly, and Antonio for your wonderful company and great teamwork as we travelled through Japan. I hope your time in Japan will encourage you to explore the country again in future as there is still so much more to see! 🙂

Read more of our Trip Report:

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