Located on the coast of the sea of Japan, about 270 kms NNE of Osaka, lies the city of Kanazawa, famous for the Kenrokuen garden, one of the top three in Japan. If you visit on a weekend or a public holiday, you need only step out of the modern station to the closest bus bay to board the Kenrokuen shuttle, Y100 flat fare. Across the road from the main entrance to the garden is the castle park, though most of the buildings here are modern reconstructions. If you are only interested in the garden, you could make a flying visit to this city, the Lex Thunderbird takes about 2 hours 10 minutes from Kyoto, 30 minutes longer from Osaka.
However, it’s a long way to come just for the garden, which I found a little disappointing compared to the one in Okayama, though this may have been due to visiting in early March. We stayed 3 nights and found some other very interesting sights and experiences.
First, after getting off the train, head into the large tourist information office near the station exit and pick up the sightseeing map, which shows the bus routes for the Kanazawa tour bus (Y200 flat fare or Y500 for an all day pass), and the Kanazawa flat-bus (Y100), which is a community bus that travels via narrow back streets picking up locals around the city. The major tourist spots are listed on the back of the leaflet, with opening hours, closing days, nearest bus stop, and entry fee listed. I have read that Kanazawa is a city best explored on foot, which is misleading because it is not a small town. We found catching the bus across town then wandering around on foot before bussing somewhere else was the way to go, and we are fit/good walkers.
Kanazawa Loop bus (aka tour bus)
Top of the list to visit is the Higashi Chaya District. The Geisha House area is delightful, and some of these have discounted admission for sightseeing bus pass holders, though you can enjoy the area without paying to enter buildings. Close by is the Sakuda Gold and Silver Leaf shop, with a free tour of the workshop and free sampling of gold leaf. The goods on sale are eyecatching and some are inexpensive, though no pressure is applied. Upstairs the golden rest rooms are something to behold.
Another favourite (and free) place to visit is the Omi-cho Market, closed on Sundays, with fresh vegetables, seafood and meats for sale. Three of the small buses mentioned above pass by the market, and with some map reading skills (or asking for directions), you can walk from the market to the Kanazawa castle park, then onto the garden.
Also in the general area of the castle grounds is Oyama jinja, a lovely shrine. The green flat bus passes by, we picked it up outside the garden and did a grand tour three quarters of the way around the circuit (buses only go in one direction), resting our feet and rubber-necking at the town.
We chose to stay in the station precinct, catching the bus downtown each day. The station itself has a lot of restaurants and souvenir shops, though the prices seemed high and the words "tourist trap" were never far from our minds. There is a post-office where we withdrew cash, and the usual bakery and convenience store. Be aware that lots of hotels have the word "castle" in their names, when in fact they are no-where near it.
Luckily we found a supermarket just past our hotel, the Econo Kanazawa Eki-mae, a standard business hotel with complimentary, substantial breakfast, and free internet. This hotel is 5 minutes from the station and bus terminal.