From a Japanese garden built by a famous general, to modern art


The opening of the Hokuriku shinkansen line in March 2015 has turned a trip to Kanazawa from the popular ski area of Nagano to a quick one-hour ride. Kanazawa is a city popular for its historical atmosphere filled with culture from the halcyon days.


Kanazawa began to prosper approximately 400 years ago when Toshiie Maeda, a famous general with an enormous fortune, constructed a castle. The town sprawling from the grounds of the castle was of a scale to rival the big cities of Edo (now Tokyo), Osaka, and Kyoto at the time. There are three different faces to this historical settlement: a samurai town constructed around the castle, a merchant town full of life, and a temple town built to protect the area around the castle. It is a beautiful place known for its plentiful culture from the good old-fashioned days.

Visitors to Kanazawa should definitely stop by the three historical townscapes known as the “Chaya Districts”. The tea-house buildings lining these streets with their delicate latticework are both stylish and gorgeous. Don’t forget to also drop by at night to see the beautiful sight of them lit up. Over in the Nomura Clan Samurai Home you can get a glimpse of how the middle-class samurai of the Kaga domain once lived in these stretches of stone pavements and mud walls.


An absolute must-go spot is the Kenrokuen, one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. Kenroku-en has taken shape over many long years as a prominent garden of the Edo period. Visitors from all around the world flock to this garden at the heart of Kanazawa to see the magnificent views on offer all seasons of the year. The increase of tourists to the city has ledto the offering of a variety of programs to experience old Japanese culture, from kimonodressing, and chopstick-making using gold foil, to the viewing of Noh, a traditional form of Japanese entertainment.

A trip to Kanazawa wouldn’t be complete without filling up your belly with the vast seafood options in the area. If I had to pick one food to recommended, it would be the nodoguro fish (doederleinia berycoides). The deliciously fatty white flesh of this fish is hard to match, so make sure you have a taste while you’re there!







Located approximately 70 km south of Osaka in the Kinki region of Japan lies, Wakayama Prefecture, a land of beautiful ocean and mountain scenery. Here you can not only enjoy all that the local sights, hot springs, and local cuisine have to offer, you can also find a land that offers a hint a mystery in the shrines and Buddhist temples and the principles of enlightenment they espouse passed on through the ages. Stretched out over a long oblong-shaped piece of land from North to South, Wakayama Prefecture is home to six key areas – Wakayama City, Koyasan, the Kii Peninsula, Kumano, Shirahama and Kushimoto.

Wakayama City is host to a range of historic sites such as Wakayama Castle, and to the Waka-no-Ura Bay, one of the picturesque sites extolled in Japan’s oldest collection of poems, the “Manyoshu”. The port towns facing the Kii Channel, entryway to the Seto Inland Sea, are also famous spots for surf fishing, swimming beaches and other marine resorts, and also offer a taste of fresh seafood.


Koyasan is a holy city and World Heritage Site set atop the mountains that is home to temples and historic sites densely packed into an area of an approximately 1.5 km radius. Its solemn atmosphere and beautiful natural surroundings make for an unforgettable experience. Making your way along the pilgrim trail, the Koyasan Stone Marker Path, from the towns at the foothills of the mountains to the peaks and the 117 temples on top is a true highlight. Half of those temples also offer the shukubo style of temple accommodation, where a stay offers a glimpse of traditional Japanese architecture and lets you experience the history and culture of not just Koyasan itself, but Japan as a whole. The tatami rooms, beautiful paintings on traditional sliding doors, ancient furnishings, and the traditional vegetarian temple food eaten by monks known as shojin ryori all build a sacred atmosphere that draws visitors from inside and outside Japan all year long.

The Kii Peninsula is the largest peninsula in apan, and an area that perfectly expresses the mix of ocean and mountains in Wakayama with its ample fishing grounds and beautiful coastline matched with incredible views that peek out through the mountain ranges. There are many famous spots such as the Shirasaki Coast, which is known as the Aegean Sea of the Orient for its contrast of azure ocean that stretches out to the horizon with white limestone. The Kii Peninsula was also selected as one of the top 10 regions to visit in 2018 by the guidebook Lonely Planet, used by travellers the world over.

Kumano in the southern part of the Kii Peninsula has long been considered a holy site and home to the gods, revered for its stunning and mysterious natural surrounds. The Kumano Kodo trail, designated a World Heritage Site in 2004 along with Koyasan, is a holy trail that has existed since the ancient Heian Era as a pilgrimage trail to those of faith in the three grand Kumano shrines, and is well worn by the footsteps of those in search of prayer for over 1,000 years. Here you can go trekking amidst this ancient backdrop, and this trail, which ties together the three grand shrines of the Hayatama Taisha, Hongu Taisha, and Nachi Taisha, offers a variety of terrain depending on the route you take, capturing the imaginations of visitors even to this day. The Nakahechi Route in particular is said to have been walked by retired emperors and other nobles, making it the most significant in terms of Japanese history. Accommodation can also be found along this route, together with famous hot springs such as the Kawayu, Yumine, Wataze, and Katsuura.

Shirahama is home to one of Japan’s three largest hot springs and a location long known as a site for hot springs, Shirahama Onsen, and Adventure World, a theme park based on the concept of bringing together people, animals, and nature that is loved by young and old alike.

In Kushimoto, the town at the southernmost point of Japan’s main island, the coast has been registered and designated as a marine park under the Ramsar Convention for its great coral communities. It is also popular for incredible sights such as Engetsu Island and the Sandanbeki Doukutsu Cave, and the vast rias-style coastline.



It is precisely because Wakayama has long been known as a land of great forests since ancient times that it is also a region of bountiful, clear waters conditioned by those very same forests. The water of Wakayama, long revered for its magnificent environment, is said to hold a mysterious power. It was the heavy rainfall over the Kii Mountain Ranges that gave birth to the forests in the depths of the mountains, and the water conditioned by those forests that then turned into grand rivers and waterfalls that have been deified since times of old.

The world of Koyasan and Kumano, both a part of the World Heritage Site listing, is a special one created by the sheer power of this water over the years, and is home to holy waters that bind together the grand natural surrounds with people, and people with their faith. A quiet walk on one of these ancient trails steeped in nature and faith is sure to be quite the experience.

Welcome to WAKAYAMA

Even simply enjoying the sights of the water that cleanses the Kii Peninsula and the natural sites its unique topography produces is sure to bring clarity to your mind. From the hot springs that burst forth from the ground, to the rivers that weave their way through the mountains, a trip to see the products of Wakayama’s bountiful water resources cannot be missed.



Wakayama is a prefecture that actively promotes tourism via bicycle, which allows tourists to travel to spots that large busses and trains cannot reach. There are many wonderful places you can visit that cater to beginners and the needs of the more advanced alike, from pottering through beautiful scenery and tourist sites, to hill climbs that promise incredible views at the tops of mountain roads.

Development of cycling roads (blue line) over some 800km is proceeding throughout all of Wakayama Prefecture, and is due for completion during the Japanese 2017 financial year. In addition to these roads, a number of other facilities such as bike racks and benches, toilet access, and cycle stations that allow cyclists to take a break or perform maintenance on their bikes, are also being created. Great care to detail has been made, with loans of air pumps and tools to make temporary repairs on offer, all with the aim of turning Wakayama into a region that can be called a new paradise for cyclists.

Accommodation catering to the needs of cyclists is said to increase along the cycling roads as well. What better way could there be to see Wakayama than going on a bike trip through the prefecture where you can come in close contact with the natural surroundings and the local culture, whilst sometimes taking a break to reward yourself with a spectacular view, and enjoying the local cuisine and seasonal produce?



Words and Photography: Kazuya Baba


During the Edo period, under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, Kanazawa thrived as a castle town under the exceedingly influential Kaga Domain. It was the most populated city after the three large cities of that era (Edo, Osaka and Kyoto) alongside Nagoya. The streets of Kanazawa still largely maintain their historic feel as they were fortunately spared from any American air strikes during World War II.

Despite the many attractions Kanazawa has to offer, its location on the Sea of Japan side of the country meant that international visitors seldom visited the city since many travellers tended to start their adventures from Tokyo or Osaka, on the opposite side.

However, the situation has changed, with the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen in March 2015, improving access to all the major cities along the Sea of Japan side of the country. With the convenience of the city being located only an hour away from Nagano Station – the entry point to holiday resort destinations popular amongst ski-goers such as Hakuba, Nozawa Onsen and Shiga Highlands – Australian skiers, and other foreigners alike, have started to flock to Kanazawa for short trips during their extended stays over in Nagano.


The wonder of Kanazawa can be described in a single sentence; it has all the beauty of historical Japan concentrated into one single place. It is a city with multiple facets of beauty – a samurai town structured around the centrally located castle; a lively town of merchants; and a town of temples to protect the area. Just merely walking through the streets of Kanazawa will give you a sense of how gorgeous the city is.

Alongside Asano River and Saigawa River, which flow through the city, are 3 historical places with well-preserved streets of old known as the Chaya Districts (tea house district). Chaya districts used to refer to red-light districts where geisha and courtesans gathered, however, nowadays it merely notates an area comprising of establishments where geisha experiences can be had. Of the three Chaya Districts, the largest and most glamorous of them all is Higashi Chaya District (East Chaya District). Delicate, lattice-roofed tea houses beautifully line the streets of the district. When night falls, it shows its other enchanting side as the lamps illuminate the streets to bring about a mysterious allure. With an array of stylish cafés and accessory shops scattered around, it can be easy to spend a whole day leisurely shopping and seeing the many sights. Some places also offer geisha experiences aimed at international tourists, which are definitely worth looking into at tourist information centres.

The sight of water flowing freely through the city is another distinctive characteristic of Kanazawa. Water is taken from the upstream flow of Saigawa River and brought down before using the inverted siphon method to funnel it up to the castle. This technology was said to be the highly advanced during its time.

Mud walls and cobblestone streets take you on a trip back in time over at Naga-machi Buke Yashiki District, where middle-class samurai of the Kaga Domain once called home. The district allows you to see how the samurai of the time once lived. A walk down through the samurai town also wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the Tera-machi Temple Area, one of the many temple areas in Kanazawa. As a defensive strategy against farmers rebelling against the ruler of the time, temples were erected in the areas surrounding Saigawa River – giving rise to the birth of Tera-machi Temple Area. In a similar fashion, Utatsuyama Temple Area on the eastern side of Kanazawa Castle, and Kodatsuno Temple Area to the south-east at Kodatsuno were also constructed. Myoryuji Temple, a ninja temple famous for its numerous ninja traps, headlines the list of almost 70 temples in the Tera-machi Temple Area.




Standing proudly alongside Kairaku-en in Mito and Kouraku-en in Okayama, is Kanazawa’s Kenroku-en to make up the Three Great Gardens of Japan. Kenroku-en has rich history as a renowned daimyo tei-en (feudal lord garden) and was constructed throughout many generations of Kaga feudal lords. Located in central Kanazawa, visitors from within and outside of Japan converge on the garden to enjoy the beautiful seasonal scenery.

Kenroku-en is not a “compact style” garden like the ones which are viewable and to be enjoyed from the abbot’s quarters or temples or drawing rooms of castles. Instead, it takes full advantage of the vast area it occupies with a large pond dug into the grounds, tsukiyama (man-made hill), as well as mansions and tea houses dotted around the place. You are able to stroll around to these various attractions in this “go-around-style” garden.

Although the garden was constructed throughout many generations of feudal lords over an extended period of time, the basic vision for the garden stayed consistent all through the years. This was known as the Shinsen Shiso, or the
“Taoist Immortal Vision”. It is the idea to construct a pond to emulate an ocean with an island inside of it to symbolise the immortal island of Taoist belief. The feudal lords were said to have constructed the garden to promote longevity and timelessness.

More details about the origins of Kenroku-en can be found in English on their official website, so it is highly recommended to read up on the history before seeing it in all its glory. The carefully though-out, man-made garden offers a unique sense of charm contrasting with the beauty of Mother Nature’s creations.



The increase of international visitors to Kanazawa in recent times has led to the expansion of various programs for tourists to have cultural experiences relevant to historical Japan. Whilst there are various experiences to be had all over Japan, there are some that are unique to Kanazawa. Noh experiences are one of the more unique ones. The Noh style of Kanazawa was developed from the ceremonial song and dance of the samurai Maeda clan in the Kaga Domain. The style was protected, nurtured and encouraged amongst the masses, leading to the establishment of the Kaga Hosho style. This is why Kanazawa came to be known as, “the town where Noh chants rain from the sky”.

This vast history led to the construction of the Kanazawa Noh Museum to house and display the precious Kaga Hosho Noh masks and costumes. Visitors to the museum can also partake in the actual wearing of a Noh mask during their visit.

Kanazawa is also well renowned for its Kaga Yuzen (Kaga-style dyed textiles) and gold leaf. In fact, almost all of the country’s gold leaf is produced in Kanazawa. Experiences that allow you to don kimono made of dyed fabrics and make your own chopsticks using gold leaf are highly popular. Try out the unique experiences for yourself and take home memories to cherish.
Another spot not to be missed, is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa.
It is one of the few leading ontemporary art museums in Japan and is located right
next to the Kanazawa Noh Museum, so there really is no reason not to go!



Last, but certainly not least, is the deep food culture of Kanazawa. Along with the plethora of Kaga grown vegetables (Kaga yasai), Kanazawa is also known for how distinct its food culture is from the rest of Japan. The seafood found around the area is especially worth bringing to the spotlight. The location of the city on the Sea of Japan side of Japan means that it has access to a variety of seafood which cannot be obtained from the Pacific Ocean side of the country, this also leads to a unique foodie experience to be had. Of the unique produce found in Kanazawa, nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch) is particularly sought after by Japanese and international tourists alike. It is a white fish with generous fatty deposits, making it utterly delectable.

Nodoguro, along with various other delicious types of seafood, can be found by visiting Omi-cho market in central Kanazawa. Locals visit the market for their grocery needs, however, a large number of tourists also drop by in order to experience life as a local and see all the marine produce on offer. The epicure in you will want to jot down this locale as a spot to check out. You can also taste local produce at one of the many izakaya (Japanese-style pub) located all around the city. Drop by the reception desk of your hotel and ask the concierge for recommendations about which izakaya to visit.

It goes without saying that Nagano provides a great central base to visit Kanazawa, however, now that the city is accessible from both Tokyo and Osaka with a single trip on the shinkansen, why not have a little visit over to Kanazawa on your next stay in one of the major cities of Japan?