Higashi Chaya District is located about 10 minutes by bus from JR Kanazawa Station. It is the largest of the three teahouse districts (Higashi Chaya, Kazue-machi Chaya, and Nishi Chaya) that still remain in Kanazawa, and the old streets that retain the atmosphere of the Edo Period (1600/1603-1868) are collectively designated as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings by Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs. Lined with fashionable cafes and souvenir stores, it is a popular destination for many tourists.
Higashi Chaya District is said to have originated in 1820, when the Kaga Clan gathered teahouses scattered around Kanazawa Castle in the present location and arranged them in an orderly fashion. Although the word "teahouse" may conjure up images of a modern-day café, it was actually a place where geiko (or geisha) entertained guests with their elegant arts, and where first-time visitors were denied entry unless they were introduced by a special person. Although some teahouses in Higashi Chaya are still in business today, the tradition of "no first-time visitors" still remains, and no one is allowed to enter the teahouses without an introduction. If you want to get an idea of what the teahouses are like, "Shima" and "Kaikaro" are open to the public and can be toured inside for an admission fee. Shima is designated as an Important Cultural Property, so it is definitely worth a look-see if you ever find yourself in the Higashi Chaya District.
In the Higashi Chaya District, visitors can enjoy unique Kanazawa gourmet, such as Kintsuba, a typical Japanese sweet found in Kanazawa, Jibuni, a local delicacy, and Oshizushi, a type of pressed sushi. Hakuichi is a store said to be the first-ever to sell "Kinpaku (Gold Leaf) Kagayaki Ice Cream," which features a very large piece of gold leaf on top of the ice cream, offering visitors a "true taste" of Kanazawa as Japan's largest gold leaf producer. The golden soft-serve ice cream is so photogenic that many tourists get a snapshot before devouring this special treat. Other unique stores include a wine bar run by a former Geiko and proprietress of a teahouse that is still in business today.
Visitors to Higashi Chaya can enjoy a variety of experiences such as strolling around the streets dressed in a kimono, partaking in a tea ceremony, or applying gold leaf, but the "O-zashiki play experience" is a particularly memorable highlight. Normally, it is difficult to enter a Kanazawa teahouse because of the custom of "no first-time visitors" however, with the aim of passing on the culture of the teahouse, the O-zashiki play experience, which includes viewing Geiko dancing and O-zashiki drumming, is open to the public on set dates. Anyone can participate, so please check the dates in advance and take part in this unforgettable experience.
Getting there and around
■From Kanazawa Station, take the Hokuriku Railroad bus to Hashiba-cho bus stop (about 10 minutes).
■From Kanazawa Station, take the Hokuriku Railroad Kanazawa Castle Town Tour Bus to Hashiba-cho bus stop (about 10 minutes).
Higashi Chaya District is around a 10-minute taxi ride from Kanazawa Station.
Shima, located in the center of the Higashi teahouse district, is a teahouse built in 1820. The building is also of great academic value due to the fact that it has remained untouched since its construction in the Edo Period and is designated an Important Cultural Property. Guest rooms are located on the second floor, and the building adopts an elegant structure unique to a teahouse that places a strong emphasis on the performing arts. In an annex called "Kansonan," visitors can enjoy traditional Japanese sweets and matcha while admiring the garden.
Like Shima, Kaikaro is a teahouse built in the Edo Period (1603-1868) and is the largest teahouse in Kanazawa. During the daytime, the interior is open to the public for a fee. Visitors can also enjoy sweet treats in the café space and purchase souvenirs. The ultimate authentic experience can be had by visiting the two teahouses, Shima and Kaikoro, at the same time, as they are right beside each other.
Gold Leaf Craft and Experience
Arts and Crafts
Kanazawa is the largest producer of gold leaf in Japan; as such it is also home to an abundance of handicraft featuring gold leaf. The gorgeous and extravagant-looking crafts using gold leaf dazzle onlookers. "gold leaf application" is an activity available to the public, and involves applying gold leaf to small boxes, plates, etc., to create one-of-a-kind, original, gold leaf crafts.
Kaga Yuzen and Experience
Arts and Crafts
Kaga Yuzen is a kimono made in the Kanazawa area and is designated as a traditional Japanese craft. It is based on colors known as "Kaga Gosai" (the five colors of Kaga), which are indigo, dark crimson, yellow ocher, grass green, and ancient purple, and was once used as ceremonial dress for women of samurai families and wealthy families. At the "Kaga Yuzen Dyeing Experience," visitors can dye handkerchiefs and tote bags with flower patterns, etc.
Corn is often seen hanging from the eaves of traditional houses in Higashi Chaya District. This stems from the custom prevalent in the city's Higashiyama neighborhood, where Higashi Chaya District is located, of hanging corn on the doorstep as a good-luck charm. In addition to warding off bad luck, corn is also used as a talisman to ward off lightning (Ishikawa Prefecture has Japan's highest number of lightning bolts), and its bushy corn silk is believed to lead to profits.
Travel Advice and Tips
Near the entrance to Higashi Chaya District, there is a rest area called Higashi Chaya District Rest House, which can be accessed free of charge. The facility is a restored machiya (traditional townhouse) built in the Edo Period where visitors can gain a true sense of how life was back in those times. This rest house offers tourist information pamphlets (Japanese language only), therefore serves as a convenient place to gather information.
Established in September 1906, Kagaya was initially a modest inn with 12 rooms that could accommodate approximately 30 people. With 117 years of history, Kagaya is known as one of the largest luxury hot spring inns not only in the Wakura Onsen area, ....