Kanazawa & the Hokuriku Coast
The Hokuriku (北陸) region stretches along the Sea of Japan coast, encompassing Fukui, Ishikawa and Toyama Prefectures. The opening of the Hokuriku shinkansen (bullet-train) line in 2015 greatly improved access to the region, and tourism is booming.
Kanazawa, in Ishikawa-ken (石川県), is the biggest draw. It was once the power base of the feudal Maeda clan, and this legacy can still be seen in the city's traditional architecture, artisan workshops and famous garden. To the north, the Noto Peninsula has sweeping seascapes and quiet fishing villages.
West is little Fukui-ken (福井県), with one of the world's most influential Zen centres, some pretty towns and fascinating architectural ruins.
Toyama-ken (富山県), at the eastern end, is a culinary and architectural draw. Its bayfront capital city, Toyama, features seafood specialities renowned throughout Japan. Neighbouring Takaoka is home to awesome National Treasure Zuiryū-ji, a fusion of Buddhist architectural traditions.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Kanazawa & the Hokuriku Coast.
One of Japan's National Treasures, the temple of the second generation of feudal lord Maeda Toshinaga's family is rightly famous for its manicured lawns, steep roofs, and all-round aesthetic that marries Indian and Japanese architectural styles. If you come just before 9am, there's every chance you'll have the place to yourself, with the exception of the temple deshi (apprentice), who'll be raking stones and opening shōji (sliding rice-paper-screen doors) before the day's visitors arrive.
This Edo-period garden draws its name ( kenroku means 'combined six') from a renowned Sung-dynasty garden in China that dictated six attributes for perfection: seclusion, spaciousness, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views. Kenroku-en has them all. Arrive before the crowds.
Between Kanazawa Station and Katamachi you'll find this market, reminiscent of Tokyo's old Tsukiji market. A bustling warren of fishmongers, buyers and restaurants, it's a great place to watch everyday people in action or indulge in the freshest sashimi and local produce. The nearest bus stop is Musashi-ga-tsuji.
A low-slung glass cylinder, 113m in diameter, forms the perimeter of this contemporary gallery, which celebrated its 10th birthday in 2014. Museum entry is free, but admission fees are charged for special exhibitions. Inside, galleries are arranged like boxes on a tray. Check the website for event info and fees.
In 1244 the great Zen master Dōgen (1200–53), founder of the Sōtō sect of Zen Buddhism, established Eihei-ji, the 'Temple of Eternal Peace', in a forest outside Fukui. Today it's one of Sōtō's two head temples, a palpably spiritual place amid mountains, mosses and ancient cedars. That said, day trippers visiting the complex of more than 70 buildings might not find the constant buzz of visitors and activities as peaceful as they might desire.
This beautiful temple was established in 1321 as the head of the Sōtō school of Zen but now functions as a branch temple. The site's buildings were damaged by the 2007 Noto earthquake and remain under fastidious reconstruction. Sōji-ji Soin welcomes visitors to experience one hour of zazen (seated meditation; ¥300; 9am to 3pm), serves shōjin-ryōri (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine; ¥2500 to ¥3500) and can accommodate visitors (with two meals ¥6500; single women prohibited). Reserve at least two days ahead.
Adjacent to the Kanazawa Castle Park, this feudal pleasure garden was first constructed in 1634 but abandoned in the Meiji era. Its five-year reconstruction was completed in 2015. Features include a small waterfall, bridges and many traditional elements. While the garden's focal point is the Gyokusen-an Rest House, it's the overall picture of beauty and refinement that impresses most. The garden and teahouse are illuminated spectacularly on Friday and Saturday evenings between sunset and 9pm – have your camera at the ready.
During the Edo period the Kita family administered over 200 villages from Kita-ke, the pivotal crossroads of the Kaga, Etchū and Noto fiefs. Inside this splendid, sprawling family home and museum are displays of weapons, ceramics, farming tools, fine and folk art, and documents. The garden has been called the Moss Temple of Noto.
Founded in 1294 by Nichizō, a disciple of Nichiren's, the imposing Myōjō-ji remains an important temple for the sect. The peaceful grounds comprise 10 Important Cultural Properties, most notably the strikingly elegant five-storey pagoda. The Togi-bound bus from JR Hakui Station can drop you at Myōjō-ji-guchi bus stop (¥430, 18 minutes); from there it's less than 10 minutes' walk.