Kanazawa and Shirakawago, Japan

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

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It’s been a while since I covered a travel destination in Japan, but I finally got the chance to check out Kanazawa and Shirakawago a few weeks ago after almost one and a half years spent in Tokyo. Honestly, although Kanazawa is a town that I’ve been dying to check out, I had very little expectation of what this place had to offer. We also had crossed our fingers and hoped for snow on the day we went to Shirakawago but sadly, it was all melted. Despite what my initial thoughts and expectations were, it was safe to say that it was a well-worth 3-days-weekend trip with my boyfriend.

I’m not big on guides and I ended up just winging it for most of this trip so below is a rough recap of my itinerary of the 3 days and 2 nights in Kanazawa from Tokyo. I hope that you can pick up a thing or two to check out on your travels here.

Day One
Kanazawa Station and Higashi Chaya District

We arrived at Kanazawa Station from Tokyo around 1 pm. Generally, it’s about 3.5-4 hours to get to Kanazawa from wherever you are in Tokyo. For the weekend, I booked a private house through Bookings.com and the owner offered a complimentary pick up at the Kanazawa Station when we got off the train. Our accommodation, Kaimoku-an was a recently renovated place so the whole thing was quite beautiful. It was located in a central location as well (pretty much a 15 min walk to the famous Higashi-chaya Street). My favorite thing about this accommodation was the delicious bakery that’s just next door. On the day that I checked out, I even grabbed two Madeline muffins to bring back to Tokyo.

After we dropped off our things, we went out to do a bit of exploring. As we were quite close to Higashi Chaya District, we decided that it would be the first place we would explore. We passed by some bridges and saw an interesting bar called HUNI. We wanted to stop by for a drink at night but found out that they were closed for the New Year. Our accommodation host actually really liked the place and highly recommended it. So if you’re looking for a place to grab a drink in Kanazawa, it might be a good spot to venture out to.

When we got to Higashi Chaya's main street, I was overwhelmed with all of the gold flakes street foods that were all around me. From gold flakes on takoyaki to croquettes, and even soft serves (of course I tried them all). And yes, the gold doesn’t contribute anything to the taste of these foods, it just makes it look expensive and extra as hell.

Since the location was super close to our place, we went back for a quick rest after before heading out for dinner.

Kanazawa is known for its seafood so we had to try a local sushi spot for omakase. My chef was the funniest for dropping gold flakes on some of my sushi pieces through the course.

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Wearing: Zara textured coat, Acne Studios sweater, Trave Denim cropped jeans, Chanel WOC, and By Far Sofia boots.
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Wearing: Aritzia houndstooth coat (similar) and thermal, NanoUniverse cashmere plaid scarf, GRLFRND Denim cropped jeans, Topshop boots and Chanel WOC.
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Day Two
Omicho Market and Shirakawago Day Trip

We got up very early on the second day. We grabbed some pastries from the bakery next door before heading out for Omicho Market to sample some fresh seafood.

Omicho Market is similar to Nishiki in Kyoto. There are seafood stands that either sell fresh fish, sashimi, and other shellfish by samples or wholesale. Kanazawa region is especially known for their crabs so of course, we didn’t hold back from trying. We had some wild scallops, uni, and giant oysters as well. Seafood in Japan is generally highly praised but it honestly lives up to all the hype. There are other interesting foods that you can explore in the market like sashimi rice bowls (some places even drop gold flakes on them as well). My favorite snack there though is fried baby shrimp. If you come across it, do yourself a favor and buy a bag.

After our market snacks, we made it back to Kanazawa Station to catch the bus to Shirakawago. By now, it’s about noon and getting there takes about an hour. As mentioned before, we were hoping that it would be snowing, or there would be some leftover snow on the roofs of these gassho-zukuri farmhouses infamously known in this UNESCO world heritage site, but the weather was clear and mild. Still, the site was quite charming. As I was reading up on this town, I saw that there were some accommodations in the area, and many people recommended to stay the night. However, after visiting for half a day, I realized that there wasn’t much to do aside from sightseeing and grabbing a casual lunch. The observation point of this town was something we did check out and that provided a nice aerial view of the town’s landscape. It was also beautiful to see multiple triangle huts so uniformly laid out next to one another.

Right before the sun went down, we decided to head back to the main bus station to get back to Kanazawa for some dinner. Close by to the station was a restaurant that we happened to stumbled upon. It ended up being one of the best meals both Shun and I have had in a long time. PLAT HOME was so well decorated that it didn’t really feel like an izakaya-style place at all. On top of their well put together menu, they had some really good wine options as well. The sashimi platter here was one of the most impressive ones I’ve had in terms of creativity in how they used normal ingredients. For example, their ginger came chopped up in stringy form and was soaked with soy sauce and wasabi to go perfectly with each piece of sashimi. Aside from that, some classics like potato salads and fried fish were really elevated too. As if we still weren’t stuffed enough, Shun wanted to check out a few more local izakayas along Katamachi street. It’s an area that is very reminiscent of any yokocho alleys that you might have come across in Tokyo and all over Japan. We stopped by a lotus root focused izakaya around here and I discovered lotus root chips (also known as 'renkon') for the first time. Pretty much changed my life. I even tried ordering another round but it was so popular that it was sold out by then.

At some point, that night Shun and I made our way to one of the most well-known shrines in Kanazawa and did a little prayer as well as got our little blessings for the New Year. Random, but glad that we were able to check out one shrine in this town full of major ones.

We called it a night after the third spot because it was pouring so bad that night.

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Wearing: Zara textured coat, Uniqlo crewneck, NanoUniverse cashmere plaid scarf (similar), Trave Denim cropped jeans, Tabio wool socks, Monica Vinader ringCommon Project sneakers and Chanel WOC.
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Shirakawago
Day trip from Kanazawa Station
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Day Three
Nishi Chaya Street, Kanazawa Castle, and Kenrokuen, and D.T Suzuki Museum before last meal at Kanazawa Station

On our last day, we took a cab over to Nishi Chaya District in the morning just to quickly check it out. In general, most of the main attractions in Kanazawa might seem underwhelming because they’re quite small but still, I found them to be pretty charming. Most of the teahouses didn't open until later on in the day at Nishi Chaya so we both headed over to Kanazawa Castle and grabbed a tea lunch set at Mamezara Chaya. Kanazawa Castle is one of the most aesthetically pleasing castles that I’ve seen in Japan so far because of how minimalistic it seems among the grounds that surround it. Or maybe it was just so pleasant because there weren’t so many tourists and people crowding everywhere. The tea set came with a sushi rice ball, a soup, and some sweets to go along with either coffee or green tea as well as a gold flaked soft serve. I have to say that the rich soft serve is honestly one of the best in Japan that I’ve tasted so far. Reminds me a lot of the Milk Bar ones back in NYC.

As we walked over to Kenrokuen Garden, which is said to be one of the three most beautiful gardens in all of Japan, it started to pour a bit. Still charming though, as is the rest of Kanazawa. We decided to head to a museum right after this and the boyfriend especially fell in love with D.T Suzuki’s space. We ended up spending a good 2 hours there just watching the rainfall from their main observation spot. From there, we headed back to Kanazawa Station and grabbed a quick meal at a local izakaya. The sashimi platter never disappoints and this one was pretty filling. We left Kanazawa Station around 6:30 pm and got back before it was too late.

It might have seemed like we did a lot, but I found it to be one of the most relaxing trips so far. One of my favorite things about visiting lesser-known areas of Japan is that the crowds of tourists are much more controlled allowing you to fully experience and see all of the beauty of these main attractions. For those of you who are seeking the Kyoto charms but would like to avoid huge crowds and getting up way too early to be able to see things, I highly recommend visiting Kanazawa. Keep in mind that accessible transportations from Tokyo to Kanazawa pretty much only existed since 2015, so I’m sure that this is an area in Japan that will quickly become more well-known.