Ishikawa Prefecture lies on the west coast of Japan's main island, a part of Hokuriku in the larger Chubu, or "central", region. It is best-known perhaps for its capital city of Kanazawa, an old castle town rich in history and natural beauty and surprisingly compact in size (a good thing -- more on this later). Kanazawa offers a range of sightseeing destinations and cultural experiences -- not to mention the tasty food -- that will delight history buffs and artisans alike.
Ishikawa Prefecture is not just rich in history; it is also historically rich. The prosperous Kaga Domain -- led by the Maeda clan -- which occupied this area during the Edo period precipitated the development of an array of fine arts, crafts, and products. On a recent trip to Kanazawa, I experienced a few highlights including Kanazawa gold leaf, Kutaniyaki porcelain and Ohi-style pottery, and locally brewed sake.
There aren't many flashier ways to show off your wealth than to cover everything you can get your hands on with gold, and that's pretty much what the Meada clan decided to do back in the day. Thus, Kanazawa's traditional gold leafing (gilding) was born. The craft is still practiced today, and with almost all gold leaf in Japan being produced right here in Kanazawa.
I visited a long-established gold-leafing shop, Sakuda, where I watched prefessionals at work, perused a sea of glimmering items, and took a workshop to gild my very own pair of chopsticks. Call ahead to make a reservation for a workshop.
Kutani ware ("Kutaniyaki" in Japanese) is a well-known traditional style of ceramics. The Maedas were responsible for bringing this art to Kaga as well, after rich deposits of clay were discovered, with the production method and colorful designs influenced heavily by Arita in Saga Prefecture, where a Maeda lord sent a member of the clan to study that region's ware. Kutani is of course still in production today, and many places around Kanazawa proudly use the locally produced porcelain every day, so keep your eyes peeled the next time you're offered a cup of tea!
Pottery also thrived in Kaga, with a very heavy link to the tea ceremony. The Maeda clan was also responsible for cultivating this art, which is named after the Ohi family who has historically produced it, the first master potter of which took the name Chozaemon. The pottery is created entirely by hand (i.e., no wheel) and, having been originated specifically to create vessels for the tea ceremony, consists mainly of chawan tea bowls.
Chozaemon's descendents, including Chozaemon X and his son Toshio, are in Kanazawa creating hand-made Ohi masterpieces to this very day. Their family home and gallery, as well as the Ohi Museum, can be visited for a unique glimpse at living history.
The Ohi family also offers tea ceremony experiences which can be arranged by calling ahead. English is spoken very well here, so there is no need to worry about a language barrier. For more information, please visit their official website below.
Visiting a local sake brewery is an absolute must for fans of the libation on a trip to anywhere, really, and Kanazawa is certainly no exception. A personal recommendation is the Yachiya Brewery which produces the fine Kaga Tsuru line of sake and liqueurs. Besides sampling their delicious products, Yachiya offers tours of their brewery (JPY 300/person, calling ahead recommended). To get the most out of your time there, a winter visit is recommended as that is when the sake is actually in production. Either way, the brewery is a charming old building, and the fruits of Yachiya's labor were quite possibly this author's favorite souvenirs from the journey.
This high-rise hotel located just outside Kanazawa Station is the top-rated hotel in Kanazawa on TripAdvisor.com (as of April 2012). It goes without saying that the hotel offers great access, but it also offers a variety of quality accommodations to choose from at reasonable rates, and the higher floors offer spectacular views of the city. Enjoy the night view from the hotel's restaurant on the 30th floor, or venture out to one of the local restaurants or pubs in the area!
Coming in at number 2 on TripAdvisor.com right on the heels of Hotel Nikko (as of April 2012), Dormy Inn Kanazawa is a perennial favorite for its extreme proximity to Kanazawa Station coupled with its functional, stylishly designed and very affordable rooms. It is also one of the only hotels in Kanazawa offering natural hot spring spas and the only one this close to the station. Besides the other establishments in the area, the shopping mall across the street offers a number of dining options.
If visiting Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen is at the top of your list, Hakuchoro Hotel just might be the perfect place to stay. Located right next to the park, and with a loop bus stop in the area, getting around to other Kanazawa destinations is a breeze. Popular spots like Higashi Chaya and the 21st Century Museum are just a 10-minute walk away. Hakuchoro also offers natural hot spring facilities. It offers spacious rooms and a quaintly nostalgic design mixing European furnishings with Japanese motifs a la the Taisho period (1912 - 1926).