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Japan's Hidden Gem

By Charles Hopkins Published 05/26/2007 | Travel

If you have ever thought of visiting Japan, you may have images in mind of the towering skyscrapers of Shinjuku, Tokyo's business district, or a lonely shrine on a jutting peninsular looking out on the sea crashing on the rocks below. Both images are certainly very common in Japan, but most visitors never get past the bright lights of Tokyo, and the temples of Kyoto, and they think they have visited the real Japan. If you visit Japan but you neglect a visit to Kanazawa, you are missing one of the unspoiled gems that encompasses all that is traditionally Japanese.

Kanazawa is located on the Noto Peninsular, on the Sea of Japan coast, a rugged and naturally beautiful place. This makes it ideal for fishing, so if you love seafood, you simply cannot go wrong with the array of fresh fish and shellfish to choose from. Crab is particularly delicious in these areas.

Kanazawa also boasts it's own traditional food, known as Kaga cuisine, named after another town in the prefecture, Kaga. It uses traditional cooking methods and vegetables unique to the area.

One of Japan's most beautiful gardens, Kenroku-en, is located in the center of Kanazawa. Every year, thousands of visitors flock to this oasis of nature and beauty. In winter, Kanazawa typically enjoys a very heavy snowfall, which means special care has to be taken of the many trees that live in the garden. All around Kanazawa, trees are ties up with ropes in a cone shape, to protect the branches from breaking. These cones are used to advantage, and are adorned with lights around Christmas time.

Kanazawa is steeped in history. Every year a parade featuring Samurai warriors, called the Hyakumangoku Festival, takes place, culminating in a spectacle of traditional Japanese drumming and dancing, and a death-defying performance by Kanazawa's fire fighters, who perform acrobatics on the tops of their ladders. This event takes place in the grounds of Kanazawa castle, which has been restored to its former glory in recent years. Also worth a visit is the preserved Samurai district.

If you go to Japan, try not to limit your Japanese experience to Kyoto, Tokyo and Hiroshima. You will see so much more of Japan and the traditional spirit of Japan in places less frequented by tourists.

Kanazawa's gold leaf work is particularly exquisite, and would make an excellent souvenir of your trip. In fact, Kanazawa still produces most of Japan's gold leaf, and if you visit Kyoto's most famous temple, Kinkakuji, you will be looking at a temple covered in gold leaf made in Kanazawa.

Although Kanazawa is not located on a bullet train route, it is easily accessible by express train from Osaka and Tokyo. There are plenty of cheap places to stay in the city, ranging from about 4000 yen, which is about 20 dollars per night.