The distinctive red sculpture at Kanazawa Station

As efforts to boost Japan's struggling domestic tourism industry continue against a backdrop of increasing coronavirus numbers in several of the major cities, I took a trip to the small and very attractive city of Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Having seen very few other visitors on my recent visit to Nikko, I was very interested to see how attractions in a small but usually popular destination like Kanazawa were weathering the situation. Arriving in the morning on a bright and very hot day, I found the city quieter than usual but far from a ghost town.

Omicho Market

My first stop for the day was the Omicho Fish Market, which managed to maintain at least a sense of its usual bustle even with a fraction of the usual customers. Vendors, restaurant staff and customers alike were all wearing masks, and hand sanitizers could be found throughout the market.

Fresh oysters on display

Oyama Shrine

The next location on my list was the Oyama Shrine, located in a leafy, secluded precinct in the heart of the city known for its unusual gate building and small strolling garden. The shrine was perhaps a little quieter than usual, but at least a handful of other visitors came and went as I took a look around.

The Oyama Shrine's distinctive gate combines Japanese, Chinese and Dutch architectural features
View of the main building
The shrine's strolling garden

Kanazawa Castle

From the back of the shrine's sacred precinct, a new wooden bridge led me across the road to Gyokuseninmaru, a small but beautifully formed landscape garden within the grounds of Kanazawa Castle. The bridge allows visitors to enter the garden through an impressive new reconstruction of the Nezumita-mon Gate, built entirely from wood using traditional techniques and completed in July of this year.

The reconstructed Nezumita-mon Gate

Entry to the gate building's interior, requiring a temperature scan and face mask, revealed a beautiful structure of interconnecting beams, still with a strong perfume of new timber.

Interior of the Nezumita-mon Gate
Elaborate beams support the roof
View of Gyokuseninmaru Garden

The garden itself was very quiet, apart from a trickle of visitors making their way down from the inner circle of Kanazawa Castle.

From Gyokuseninmaru I threaded my way through the castle grounds, admiring the reconstructed watchtowers, gates and turrets. To escape the heat, I paused at the Tsurunomaru Rest House, an attractive space with interactive exhibits about the castle and a cafe, where I enjoyed an ice-cream and the panoramic view of an inner courtyard, which I had almost to myself. Altogether, I encountered a few dozen other visitors at the castle, but with that number spread across the extensive grounds it still seemed very quiet.

View of the Tsuzuki Yagura (watchtower)
The Hashizume-mon gate
View from the Tsurunomaru Rest House

Kenrokuen Garden

Leaving the castle through the main Ishikawa-mon Gate, I made my way across a bridge and into Kenrokuen, one of Japan's finest landscape gardens and perhaps the best known of Kanazawa's sightseeing spots. As a wide and open space, I didn't see any signs requesting masks to be worn inside the garden, but hand sanitizer was available to use at the entrance gate and various rest-stops. This was the busiest location of the day, and it was especially nice to see a lot of young couples out and about wearing attractive summer yukata.

The famous Kotojitoro Lantern is a popular symbol of Kanazawa

Higashi Chaya District

After exloring Kenrokuen I made my way to the Higashi Chaya District, one of the city's historic entertainment districts and still known as a center for geisha performances. Wandering along its narrow streets lined with beautiful wooden machiya houses in the Edo Period style, I saw only a few other visitors and many of the area's smaller shops and cafes were shuttered.

Edo-style machiya houses in the Higashi Chaya area
Many of Higashi Chaya's smaller teahouses remain closed
Attractive tsubo-niwa (enclosed garden) in one of Higashi Chaya's gallery spaces

Nishi Chayagai

From there I crossed over to the opposite side of the city center to check out the Nishi Chaya District, another well-known geisha area. Much smaller than its east-side counterpart, the Nishi Chaya District is confined to a single street with rows of the same elegant, wood-latticed buildings on either side. Here I saw just a handful of other visitors taking pictures, and all but two of the street's teahouses were closed for the time being.

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

The final stop on my itinerary was the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, a very attractive circular structure of glass, steel and white concrete set in a grassy area dotted with pieces of interactive sculpture. After Kenrokuen, this was the second busiest attraction I visited in the city, with fairly large groups of visitors enjoying the gallery and its surrounding space. Entry requirements were quite strict, with all visitors temperature scanned, given hand sanitizer and asked to wear masks at all times inside the building.

Visitors to the museum are greeted by a sophisticated-looking screening device
Swimming Pool, a well-known interactive work by Leandro Erlich

By Matt Evans, japan-guide.com

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