The best free activities in Kanazawa
Onosho canal borders the samurai district
Kanazawa Castle Park castle
Credit: Kimon Berlin
Kenroku-en garden in Kanazawa
Credit: Shoko Muraguchi
Nishi Chaya, one of three tea house districts in Kanazawa
Visit Kanazawa on a budget
Authentic Japan is on offer for visitors to Kanazawa, thanks to its geisha neighborhoods and the old samurai district. The castle, traditional houses, crafts, gardens and museums all make Kanazawa a city to put on your list. The icing on the cake: many of the sites are free. So why not visit the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture?
Historic areas of Kanazawa
Naga-machi and the Ashigaru Shiryokan Historical Museum
This is the old samurai residential area. Remarkably well-preserved, it's surrounded on all sides by Onosho Canal and is a labyrinth of narrow streets lined with ocher-colored walls.
Under its spell, perhaps you'll be tempted to part with a few hundred yen (550 to be precise) to better imagine what the life of a high-grade samurai was like when he was at rest, by visiting the Nomura residence.
Or will you be content to visit - for free this time - Ashigaru Shiryokan Historical Museum. It's actually two houses that belonged to low-class samurai named Shimizu and Kozai. No luxury here, just simple living rooms that give a good idea of the life of ordinary samurai.
- See also: The Nomura residence
Higashi Chaya and Higashi Chaya Kyukeikan
Chaya means tea house, and they are numerous in this district inscribed in the cultural heritage of Japan. Wander its alleys and let yourself be surprised by the sound of a shamisen or a maiko passing by on her way to work.
Go ahead in the evening when the light from the lanterns shines the cobblestones and wooden facades of the traditional houses, carrying the visitor a few centuries back.
And to continue this journey into the past, take a break at Higashi Chaya Kyukeikan, a reproduction of a machiya (merchant's house) from the late nineteenth century. Entry is free, and you can take a break while getting a glimpse of what the houses of that time were like.
- See also: Higashi Chaya district
Nishi Chaya and Nishi Chaya Shiryokan
Nishi Chaya is another neighborhood of tea houses, smaller and less busy than Higashi Chaya.
Here there is Nishi Chaya Shiryokan, a former tea house converted into a small free museum recounting the history of the neighborhood. It has a room recreated to be just like those where guests came to enjoy themselves.
Green spaces in Kanazawa
Kanazawa Castle Park
Some of the castle buildings that belonged to the powerful Maeda clan can be visited for free, as well as the park surrounding the castle. From the top of the hill you have a great view of the city, and the walk in the gardens is most enjoyable, especially when the cherry blossoms are out.
Many events, often free, take place in the castle.
- See also: Kanazawa Castle Park
Located in the southeastern extension of the castle park, Kenroku-en is one of Japan's three most famous gardens. Good news for early risers, the Renchi-mon and Zuishinzaka gates open from 5am from September to October, and 6am from November to February.
Visitors can enter and walk around the garden free of charge until 7.45 am, which is 15 minutes before the regular opening time.
Entry to Kenroku-en is also free after the gates close (at 17.30 from March 1 to October 15 and 16.30 from October 16 to February 28/29) during seasonal illuminations.
These are held in February for the snowy landscape, in April for the sakura and in autumn for the foliage. Kenroku-en then turns into a nighttime fantasy that can be admired until the closing time, at 20:45.
The garden is also free during the Hyakunmangoku festival, which takes place on the first weekend of June, as well as during Obon festival in August and Culture Day on November 3rd.
- Related : Another of Japan's most beautiful gardens, Koraku-en in Okayama.
This small garden located right next to the garden of Daisetzu Suzuki Museum (see below), opens free of charge on sunny days from spring to autumn. Relatively unknown, it's older than Kenroku-en garden and offers shaded areas that are pleasant to walk in the summer.
Free museums in Kanazawa
The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
Kanazawa is full of museums. Let's start with the most famous and most iconic, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.
Created by the famous architecture firm SANAA, the museum, which opened in 2004, attracts visitors as much for its exhibitions as for its architecture and setting. It's a must-visit when in Kanazawa, especially as entrance to the museum and its outdoor areas are free, only temporary exhibitions require payment.
The D.T. Suzuki Museum
Dedicated to the great philosopher and Buddhist monk Daisetzu Suzuki (1870-1966), a native of Kanazawa, this splendid museum invites contemplation.
The museum has a 300 yen entrance fee, but access to the Water Mirror Garden is free. Don't miss it, as the atmosphere there is unique.
The peaceful water of the garden is disturbed from time to time by the water jets of a fountain placed under the water, making the surface of the basin undulate. The sky is reflected as well as the white and red wall located further behind.
Behind this wall is a sculpture reminiscent of the symbolic elements of Zen: a circle, a square and a triangle. If it's open, the door in the wall there leads to Shofukaku garden (mentioned above).
Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art
Every first Monday of the month, the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art opens free of charge to visitors. You can admire ceramics, lacquers and metal objects that belonged to the lords of the Edo period (1603-1868), some of which are classified as National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties.
More recent works by artists from the region are also on display.
If you take a tour, know that at the back of the museum are paths leading to the annex of the museum, Hirosaka Annex, to the Noh Theater, then a little further down to the DT Museum. Suzuki and Shofukaku Garden.
- See also: Important Cultural Properties of Japan
Free guided tour of a Noh theater
During office hours, and provided that there are no rehearsals, it's possible to participate in a free guided tour (in English) of the very famous Ishikawa Prefectural Noh Theater.
It is best to inquire before visiting at (076) 264-2598.