Vegetarian's Japan Guide

A Quick Introduction to Kanazawa’s Three Chaya Districts

A chaya (茶屋) means tea house in Japanese. Although it is a “tea” house, alcohol is served to its customers. It used to be home to beautiful and talented Geishas (芸者), who are masters of various traditional Japanese arts such as Buyō (舞踊) and Shamisen (三味線), which are the Japanese traditional dance and Japanese guitar.

Similar to Kyoto’s Gion (祇園) district, Kanazawa has its geisha district, with Higashi Chaya (ひがし茶屋街) being the most prominent one among the three chaya districts. Together with the Nishi Chaya District, the Higashi Chaya District was first established in 1820. Surviving from the damage of World War II, the traditional houses here are more than 200 years old!

Explore Kanazawa and the Chaya Districts With a Guided Tour

If you prefer a guide to introduce you to Kanazawa’s charms or a photographer to take professional photos for you, how about joining one of the below tours?

The Best Time for a Photography Session at Higashi Chaya District

Ⓒ Kanazawa City Tourism Association

In the early morning and after sunset, the streets in the district may be as empty as in the photo. But it is definitely not the case from late morning to late afternoon!

So if you don’t want many strangers serving as the backdrop of your selfies in this gorgeous district, start your day from Higashi Chaya for your photo sessions. Later, you can return for trendy cafes, restaurants, art galleries, Japanese craft stores, and cultural experiences such as tea ceremonies!

Strolling around the maze-liked small alleys in the district was what we enjoyed the most, apart from Kenrokuen Garden. As the day gets darker, you might be able to spot the Geisha and Maiko (apprentice Geisha), who are on their way to one of the banquets hosted by one of the tea houses.

It can be even harder to snap a decent photo of them here because, unlike in Kyoto, there are no traffic lights that can stop them from their unusually fast steps (´▽`*). On the other hand, if you just want to enjoy the sound of their musical performances, take a walk at night here, and you will have a good chance to be one of their unintended guests!

How to Get to Higashi Chaya District

  • If you take Kanazawa Loop Bus (城下まち金沢周遊バス) or West Japan JR Bus ( 西日本JRバス), get off at Hashibachō (橋場町) stop. The district is then just a 5-minute walk.
  • If you take the Machi Bus (まちバス), the closest bus stop is Musashigatsuji Ōmichōichiba (武蔵ヶ辻・近江町市場). The district is a 15-minute walk away from that bus stop.

For more information about bus services in Kanazawa, please refer to the Transportation Options in Kanazawa City Center section in our article on Kanazawa.

A Couple of Attractions in Higashi Chaya District

Higashi Chaya District’s Infomation Center – Higashi Chaya Kyūkei-Kan Rest House (ひがし茶屋休憩館)

Ⓒ Kanazawa City Tourism Association

Close to the entrance of the Higashi Chaya District, you will find the information center, Higashi Chaya Kyūkei-Kan Rest House, which was renovated from an old house. On top of sourcing useful tourist information, it is there for anyone who wants a peek at the interior of a house back in the Edo period (1603 – 1867).

If it rains, they also have umbrellas that you can borrow. This is also where volunteer tour guides are stationed. While currently, it seems like the approximately one-hour guided tour is only operated in Japanese, things can always change. So don’t be afraid to check with them when you get there!

Lastly, if you are traveling with someone less mobile, you can rent one of the two wheelchairs for free from them.

  • Entry is free
  • The opening hours are from 9 am to 5 pm daily
    • From the 1st of December to the 15th of March, it opens later, at 9:30 am.

Tip: If you ever need a toilet during your time in Higashi Chaya District, visit Higashi Chaya District’s Infomation Center!

Ochaya Shima (金沢ひがし廓 志摩)

Shima was a high-ranked tea house back in the Edo period. Being designated as one of the National Important Cultural properties, it is now open to the public.

The interior of the tea house is decorated gracefully with traditional scrolls on the wall and various instruments on the floor. It is exactly one of those settings you might have seen in one of the Japanese historical TV dramas and the perfect place for a glimpse of the stylish adult social gathering at the time.

The tea house also has a tea room, Kanson-an (寒村庵), with a small Japanese garden in front of it. A bowl of matcha green tea with a piece of traditional sweet is probably the best way to enjoy Ochaya Shima. There are two kinds of Japanese sweets that you can choose from that come with different price tags.

  • Wet confectionary (生菓子): usually made with sugar, gluten rice powder, and red and/or white bean paste
    • 700 yen
  • Dry confectionary (干菓子): usually made with sugar of the best quality
    • 500 yen

Ochaya Shima’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • It opens from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm normally but closes early at 5 pm from December to February.
  • The admission fee is
    • 500 yen for adults
    • 300 yen for primary and middle school students

Hakuichi Higashiyama (箔一 東山店)

When it comes to gold leaf, the Japanese think of Kanazawa. Among all the shops selling gold leaf-related products, Hakuichi (箔一) is probably the most famous. And what you don’t want to miss out on is the gold leaf soft serve ice cream. Yes, you will literally be eating GOLD!

This luxurious local specialty was meant to be a one-off thing to commemorate the newly opened bullet train line – Hokuriku Shinkansen (北陸新幹線), in March 2015.

The idea was to give this wonderful surprise to the first 1,000 customers an unforgettable experience of witnessing the moment of transferring the gold leaf to the ice cream. Thanks to all the media promoting the gold leaf ice cream that attracted hundreds and thousands of customers at the time, nowadays, anyone who visits Kanazawa gets to enjoy a few moments of luxury when they visit one of Kinpaku’s shops.

Apparently, as experienced as the staff of Kinpaku are, they are as nervous as us customers when they perform this craftsmanship!

How Much Does the Gold Leaf Ice Cream Cost

The price of the ice cream is 891 yen because the number can be pronounced as “Hakuichi” which is the same as the shop’s name (≧▽≦). And just in case you are wondering if the soft golden serve tastes any different from the regular ones, the answer is, unfortunately, “NO”. The gold leaf is really just there to allow you to experience what it is like to be rich (´▽`*).

Of course, the gold leaf ice cream isn’t the only thing the shop sells. Everything in the shop has a golden element, from chopsticks and plates to cosmetics. Whether it is the gold powder in the toner or the intricately gold leaf attached to one of the lacquerware, if you have bought something from the shop, you won’t be leaving without carrying some amount of the precious metal with you!

Hakuichi Higashiyama’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • The shop is open from 9 am to 6 pm.
  • The café corner closes earlier at 5 pm.
  • It is a 5-minute walk from the bus stop – Hashibachō (橋場町).

Kazuemachi Chaya District (主計町茶屋街)

Ishikawa Prefectural Tourism League

If you find yourself buried in a crowd of people in the Higashi Chaya District and can’t have a proper photo with the lovely old streets, cross the Asano River (浅野川) to Kazuemachi Chayagai.

Mainly consisting of high-class restaurants and tea houses, this third tea house district in Kanazawa is best for those who just want a quiet stroll along the river with traditional housing on one side.

The best part about this Chaya district is probably the different faces it will show depending on which part of the day you visit it. Located in a hilly area, the district has many small alleys, and parts of it will still be dark during the day. And after sunset, when street lights mostly light up the Higashi Chaya District, the Kazuemachi Chaya District will have a fantasy kind of atmosphere with the lighting leaking from the windows of the tea houses.

This is why if you don’t have any other plans at night, leaving Kazuemachi Chaya District to the last is advisable!

How to Get to Kazuemachi Chaya District

It is a 5-minute walk from the bus stop – Hashibachō (橋場町).

For more information about bus services in Kanazawa, please refer to the Transportation Options in Kanazawa City Center section in our article on Kanazawa.

Nishi Chaya District (にし茶屋街)

Ⓒ Kanazawa City Tourism Association

Although built at the same time as Higashi Chaya District back in 1820, the Nishi Chaya District’s scale is much smaller. With a lot fewer tourists visiting this district, it doesn’t mean it will be a waste of your time to come here. In fact, it can be the opposite, depending on where your interest lies.

Amongst the three Chaya districts in Kanazawa, Nichi Chaya District is the one that has the most Geisha stationed at. In fact, during our visit, we actually saw a couple of them going into a tea house for some training sessions!

How to Get to Nishi Chaya District

It is a 3-minute walk from the bus stop – Hirokōji (広小路).

For more information about bus services in Kanazawa, please refer to the Transportation Options in Kanazawa City Center section in our article on Kanazawa.

A Couple of Attractions in Nishi Chaya District

Kanazawa-shi Nishichaya Museum (金沢市西茶屋資料館)

On the second floor of Kanazawa-shi Nishichaya Museum, the traditional red wall tea house is reproduced here, giving you plenty of room to imagine what it could be like to be entertained at one of the tea houses back in the Edo period!

  • The museum is open from 9:30 am to 5 pm.
  • Entry to the museum is free.

If you have a level of understanding of the Japanese language, volunteered guides on the first floor will give you a brief introduction to this part of Kanazawa.

Moroeya Nishi Chaya Karyo (落雁諸江屋 にし茶屋菓寮)

If you are a sweet tooth, you won’t want to miss out on Nishi Chaya District either.

The district is famous for its Japanese and western sweets shops and cafes. It is also where you buy the Kanazawa local specialty – Rakugan (落雁), from one of the shops such as Moroeya Nishi Chaya Karyo (落雁諸江屋 にし茶屋菓寮), that have been making it since the Edo period!

Ⓒ Kanazawa City Tourism Association

At night, you will get the greatest chance to spot the fully dressed-up Geishas walking on the historical streets and/or enjoy a free musical performance by them by standing close to one of the tea houses!

Rakugan is a type of dry Japanese confection special to Kanazawa. It is made by mixing rice, soy, or barley flour with sugar, then pressed into a pattern.

Moroeya Nishi Chaya Karyo’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • The shop is open from 10 am to 6 pm daily except for Thursdays.
    • From November to February, it closes early at 5:30 pm on weekdays.
    • If Thursday is a public holiday, it will close on the next business day.

Nakatani Tofu (中谷とうふ)

For all the tofu lovers, Nakatani Tofu which is just opposite Kanazawa-shi Nishichaya Museum is a tofu shop that the locals love!

From April to October, grabbing one of their seasonal special – soy milk soft served ice cream (豆乳ソフトクリーム) is highly recommended. The amount of soybeans that the shop uses to make the soy milk that was then transformed into the ice cream is two or three times more than the usual soy milk! So you are guaranteed a thick and rich tofu flavor when you hand over the 350 yen.

In fact, instead of the “soy milk” flavor, you might have expected, the ice cream tastes more like “tofu”! With the sugar level adjusted according to the season, soy sauce goes nicely with this ice cream!

Another popular product of the shop is its tofu gelato (とうふアイスクリーム). The gelato is available throughout the year is made from handmade silk tofu and can again match perfectly with soy sauce.

As a tofu shop, you can also find various types of soybean products in their small display fridge. As a tourist, the number of choices is limited, but there are certainly other readily edible menus that are sold in small portions for you to enjoy on the wooden bench outside the shop!

If you come in late morning, you might be able to grab a few freshly made thick, deep-fried tofu (=゚ω゚)ノ.

The shop is open from 10 am to 5:30 pm daily except Sundays.

Discover Other Fascinating Attractions in Kanazawa City

Click the photo for more information about the attractions in Kanazawa City!

While the Chaya districts are certainly the symbol of Kanazawa, the city has many other attractions that you won’t want to miss out on.

Refer to our Kanazawa article for more awesome attractions, including where to meet the Geishas and an amazing art museum!

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