Kanazawa (金沢) is located in Ishikawa prefecture in the Hokuriku region of Japan, which is situated along the west coast of the main island facing the Sea of Japan. Like Kyoto, Kanazawa is a city of modernity with reminiscence of history that can be traced quite far back in history. Not many people mention nor visit Kanazawa because it is too hard to access from all the major international airports. There is currently no Shinkansen that runs to the Hokuriku region either until late 2015, but that is what makes this place a true hidden gem of Japan.
People might ask what Kanazawa means? Well "Kana(金)" means gold while the last part "Zawa(沢)" means swamp or marsh. This area was ruled during the Sengoku era by the Maeda clan, and the most notable of them all was Maeda Toshiie, who was the founder of the Kaga domain. As told by native Kanazawans, there is a legend to the name Kanazawa. It was said that there was once a potato farmer named Togoro and one day he found a sack full of gold flakes. While he was on his way to buy food and clothing he came along this rice paddy where a flock of wild goose were and tried to find a rock to throw at them to scare them off. Unfortunately he couldn't find any and threw his sack full of gold flakes. When he got back he was scolded by his wife Wago, but said in defense that "we can make it back or maybe even more by selling our potatoes." After that they went to their field to harvest some potatoes, and while washing them at a near by fountain, a stream of gold flakes came out instead and became rich. This route is recognized by the Kaga clan and a well with in Kenrokuen (one of the 3 famous landscape gardens in Japan) called "Kinjo Reitaku" was created to commemorate this event.
Even though the Kaga province does no exist anymore, the cuisine which they have had back then still remains. Things they would eat are dishes like 'jibuni' (治部煮) which is a soup dish with duck meat. The duck is covered in flour before it is cooked in a pot with a sukiyaki like soup base. Other things they would add to the dish are vegetables and jibuni meatballs. Jibuni meat balls are made from the remaining bones and meat still stuck on the bones and grinding them in to a fine paste. Then they form them into balls and cook them in the sukiyaki soup. Other dishes they will serve along side are all made with local vegetables and seafood.
Aside from traditional cuisine, Kanazawa has created many modern gourmet food items which are currently only available within Kanazawa while some are spreading all around Japan and the world. One of these item is Kanazawa Curry. The thing which makes Kanazawa Curry so different from the other curries around Japan is that the sauce is much more thick and brown like gravy. They also like to serve cabbage as a topping along with the curry. The taste is much richer and because the curry is too thick, they prepare a fork for you to eat instead of a spoon.
Other special creations you can find within the city are Melon pan Ice and Coronette Ice. Melon-pan Ice is where they put two of Japan's favourite desserts together as one. Melon-pan is a round-shaped bread with a crusted layer on the top covered in sugar with patterns made to imitate a melon. They will cut it in half and put either vanilla or chocolate ice cream inside, kind of like the modern day classic Ice Cream sandwich in the west. If you have a tooth for sweet-things, this is a must try when you head to Kanazawa. The other one is called Coronette Ice and it looks just like a swirl of ice cream on top of a freshly baked Coronette.
There are plenty of sightseeing places just within the city of Kanazawa alone, both modern and traditional. What beats getting off of the train at a station and already being at one of those famous sightseeing spots within the city? Kanazawa is just that. After you get off the train at Kanazawa station you are greeted by the 2 newly finished structures of Omotenashi Dome and Tsuzumimon (both finished in 2005). Omotenashi Dome is a huge glassed-roof complex which also holds a stage for various events to take place. If you walk further down to the main street you will see a huge bronze coloured wooden gate like object called Tsuzumimon. This may look like a gate but the concept was for it to be made like a 'tsuzumi' which is a type of single-handed drum used in Noh plays. Since Noh drama is deeply rooted into Kanazawan culture, they made the choice of using it as a greeting symbol to receive travelers and visitors.
Right in the heart of the city is where Kanazawa Castle once stood before it was burnt down in 1888. There is a reconstruction project going on but however only part of it has been restored up to this date. Beside the castle ruins is a huge Japanese style landscape garden called Kenrokuen. This is one of the three most famous Japanese gardens in Japan along with Korakuen in Okayama and Kairakuen in Mito. You can walk along the same paths during different times of the season and have a totally different experience and feel. During the winter time they have illuminations and also coils called 'yukitsuri' wrapped around the trunks and branches to prevent the snow from damaging the trees.
What is a trip to Japan without visiting samurai districts? This 'bukeyashiki' (samurai district) within the Nagamachi district is well preserved and you can really feel that you are actually walking back in time when it was still feudal Japan. You can see many of the mud and stone walls and 'komo' or straw mats that act like covers to shelter the walls from being worn away by snow in the winter.
The city of Kanazawa has grown in popularity since 2011 since the anime 'Hanasaku Iroha' came out. Since then, many more Japanese as well as people from all around the world come to visit the city and see the anime sites. The story of 'Hanasaku Iroha' takes place in a nearby hot springs town called 'Yuwaku' where a 16 year old girl try to live a new life working for her grandmother's 'ryokan' (Japanese styled inn) called 'Kissuiso'. While Kissuiso does not really exist, many of the other structures, buildings and scenery are actually drawn from real life. The most recognizable will be the welcome sign to Yuwaku Hotsprings with all the different 'ryokan' names written under it. Other recognizable spots are the samurai district, Tsuzumimon and the Shiinoki Cultural Complex building of Ishikawa Prefecture.
There is a festival called 'Bonbori matsuri' which takes place around the 2nd week of October to commemorate the anime. The festival itself actually developed within the anime. For this festival, people will write their wishes on wooden boards and then they put it in to a wooden cart and sends them off for it to come true in the near future. During the festival there will also be paper lanterns lighted up with wishes written on them being sailed off in a river nearby. If you are interested in anime or want to see something amazing and spectacular, I would recommend at least coming to see this once.