Kanzawa and the Japanese Mountains
Welcome to Kanazawa! The Shinkansen had just pulled into the station, and we were immediately greeted by the tourist clerks responsible for guiding visitors. Kanazawa, a medium-sized city on the Sea of Japan, has recently seen an influx of tourism caused by newly-finalized bullet-train line from Tokyo.
Kanazawa doesn’t look like much from the outside. Much of Japan seen via the Shinkansen looks like a never-ending array of grey concrete suburbs, and Kanazawa doesn’t buck this trend. However, once you venture inside the heart of the city and explore the gardens and old districts, you will see why Kanazawa is wholeheartedly referred to as “Little Kyoto.”
Besides hosting the beautiful Garden and Castle (which I will discuss in detail later), Kanazawa is also known as the launching pad to the Japanese Alpine region of Shirakawa-go. And go you must, as this region is one of the most beautiful in the country. There are about four villages in Shirakawa-go that are home to “gassho”-style farmhouses built over three hundred years ago. Take the bus from Kanazawa to Ogimachi, walk around the town and hike up to the viewpoint for a nice view of the village in the valley. Do yourself a favor and ditch the crowds and coach buses, however, and take the World Heritage bus to Ainokura and spend the night.
This is exactly what we did. Ainokura is a village high up in the Japanese mountains with a population just under twenty houses. After being dropped off by the Heritage Bus, we hiked upwards about 300M along a mountain road. When the road bends and allows for a view of the village, you will understand why a visit is an absolute must.
It doesn’t matter which farmhouse you book for the night. Just book one in advance. You will be greeted at check-in with some quality Sencha green tea. After settling in and touring the house, take some time to walk around the village and explore all its buildings. Eat some soba and tofu at the restaurant (you’ll know which one, as it is the only one) before going on a hike up to the top of the hill overlooking the rice paddies.
When we returned to Kanazawa, we checked into Good Neighbor’s Hostel situated near the bus station. The hostel was very familial, and attending the daily happy hour plum wine sessions are a must. We had noted a couple must-dos. Kanazawa is home to one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens. The garden is known to fulfill all six “requirements” of a Japanese Garden (). Go early in the day, as when we went around 11am it was packed full of tourists and thus wasn’t exactly as peaceful as we anticipated. Across the bridge lies Kanazawa Castle, and the local info booth offers free English tours. Take the tour.