Kanazawa Castle (金沢城) was the residence of the powerful lords of the Maeda clan (前田氏), who ruled over the Kaga/Kanazawa Domain (加賀藩). Until the end of the Edo period, the Maeda clan had great power and wealth, second only to the Tokugawa clan. Along with the adjacent Kenrokuen Garden (兼六園), it is now one of the major sightseeing spots representing Kanazawa.
Unfortunately, most of the castle was destroyed by several fire hazards in the past. But it was rebuilt in the Heisei period (1989 – 2009). In 1996, with the completion of the reconstruction, the castle was opened to the public as Kanazawa Castle Park (金沢城址公園).
Originally the castle did have a castle keep. But just 20 years after the first lord of the Maeda clan – Maeda Toshiie (前田 利家), moved into the castle, it was burnt down after it was stroke by lighting in 1602. 160 years after that, after most of the castle was lost due to a great fire hazard in Kanazawa, instead of the core of the castle (本丸), only the second quarter of the castle (二の丸) was restored as it was where most of the castle’s functions were located.
A List of Attractions in Kanazawa Castle
- Ishikawa Gate (石川門)
- Kahoku Gate (河北門)
- Hashizume Gate (橋爪門)
- Gojūkken Nagaya (五十間長屋)
- Hishi Yagura (菱櫓) – The Diamond Turret
- Gyokusen’inmaru Garden (玉泉院丸庭園)
- Nezumita Gate and Bridge (鼠多門・鼠多門橋)
Click HERE to skip to Kanazawa Castle’s map, opening hours, admission fees, and guided tours.
Ishikawa Gate (石川門)
If you are coming from Kenrokuen Garden like us, the easiest way to access the castle is by crossing the Ishikawa Bridge (石川橋) that is in front of the Ishikawa Gate (石川門) of the castle. This gate is not just any castle gate in Japan but is actually a designated Important Cultural Property of the country!
While the fire hazards have destroyed most of Kanazawa Castle, this gate remained standing since its restoration in 1788.
Observe closely when you enter the castle from this gate. Once you pass through the gate, you will be in a rectangular space that is surrounded by castle walls. To enter the castle, you have to pass through another gate.
The Japanese call this kind of structure – “Masugata (枡形),” meaning boxed shape. Because once the two gates are closed, the enemy will be literally inside a box created by the castle wall, making it really easy for the samurais of Kanazawa Castle to defend themselves.
If you have been to Osaka Castle, you might have seen this type of gate already, but the gate in Osaka Castle was only restored more recently. If you want a gate that was built in the Edo period, you have got to come to Kanazawa Castle!
Kahoku Gate (河北門)
The Kahoku Gate, which is close to Ishikawa Gate, is another gate that has existed since the Edo period. Being restored in 1772, it is even older than the Ishikawa Gate!
It is another example of a Matsugata-style gate. One has to enter through the bigger gate on the right in the photo before entering the castle’s ground through the smaller gate on the left.
Together with the Ishikawa Gate and the Hashizume Gate that we will introduce next, they are known as the Kanazawa Castle’s Three Major Gates.
Hashizume Gate (橋爪門)
Hashizume Gate is the main gate of the second quarter (二の丸) of Kanazawa Castle. This most prestigious gate in the whole castle was only restored in 2015 after it was burnt down in 1881.
As the second quarter of the castle used to be where most of the functions of the castle took place, the guardhouse in the Hashizume Tsuzuki Yagura or Hashizume Tsuzuki Turret (橋爪門続櫓) is the biggest amongst the whole castle.
A Museum of Stone Walls
Another special thing about Kanazawa Castle is that you will find various stone walls here. Picking the Ishikawa Gate as an example, the castle walls inside the gate were already constructed by two different stacking methods.
Almost all kinds of stone walls with different stacking methods and materials can be found at Kanazawa Castle, which is why the castle is nicknamed the Museum of Stone Walls!
Also, you will find more than 200 marks carved onto the stone walls’ stones, another characteristic of Kanazawa Castle.
As you pass through the second gate of Ishikawa Gate (石川門), a wide area of lawn called Sanomaru Square (三の丸広場) spreads right in front of you. At the far end, a Japanese castle-style tenement that stretches as long as 90 meters had provided accommodation to the attendants in the castle and was also where weapons and food were stored. At the same time, it serves as the castle wall to protect the core part of the castle.
Gojūkken Nagaya (五十間長屋)
The Gojūkken Nagaya was only restored for the first time in 120 years in 2001. When you are there, if you look closely at the roof tiles, you should see some white color on the tiles. In winter, you might conclude the white bit of the tiles must be snow. But even in warmer seasons, the white thing you thought was snow is still there!
The underlying reason is actually to do with the material that was used to make the tiles. Kanazawa is a place that receives a lot of snow in winter. To lighten up the weight on the roof in winter, lead was used as one of the materials to make the roof tiles in the castle. Not only these kinds of tiles are lighter, but the tiles’ lifespan is also extended.
When those tiles that contain lead are exposed to rain and snow, the surface of the tiles is whitened by a chemical reaction caused by the rain or snow. This is commonly known as the bleaching phenomenon. Some also say that the tiles can be melted down and used for weaponry in case the castle is attacked.
Inside the Gojūkken Nagaya
The interior of most parts of the castle is accessible by visitors. But just note you will need to take off your shoes to protect the wooden flooring. Plastic bags will be provided for you to put your shoes in to minimize the inconvenience caused by this rule.
Hishi Yagura (菱櫓) – The Diamond Turret
At the north of Gojūkken Nagaya, this turret called Hishi serves as the cornerstone of the castle’s defense system. If you can see the turret from above, you will notice it has a rhombus or diamond shape, which is why it is called “Hishi”.
Apparently, an extremely advanced construction skill is required to build a turret this way. This is because the feudal lord wanted the building to look bigger from the outside, possibly to deter the potential enemy.
Furthermore, those squired tiles on the castle’s white wall can be destroyed from the inside, and the hole on the wall will become the perfect place to fire firearms. The enemy wouldn’t know where they would be attacked from as they would never know which tile would be destroyed by the samurais inside the castle!
Gyokusen’inmaru Garden (玉泉院丸庭園)
Only restored in 2015, the Gyokusen’inmaru Garden, which made great use of the height difference of the terrain, has a pond at its center. It is relatively a small garden but provides a variety of views from different places in the garden.
It is said that the garden built by the third lord of the Kaga Domain used to be the walking course of successive feudal lords in the morning and evening.
Tea House – Gyokusen-an (玉泉庵)
On one side of the Gyokusen’inmaru Garden, matcha with a premium Japanese sweet is served for 730 yen at the tea house,Gyokusen-an, from 9 am to 4:30 pm daily except the 29th of December to the 3rd of January.
Note the last admission is at 4 pm. And between 12 to 1 pm is when cleaning is scheduled. So the tea house won’t take on any guests during the hour.
Nezumita Gate and Bridge (鼠多門・鼠多門橋)
Nezumita-mon Bridge connects the Nezumita Gate of the Kanazawa Castle with Oyama Shrine (尾山神社).
This gate that survived the big fire that destroyed most parts of the castle in 1759 was still unfortunately lost to the fire hazard in 1884. Also, its bridge was removed due to aging a bit earlier in 1877.
In 2020, just before the pandemic, the gate and the bridge finally regained their former glory and are now one of the most popular photo spots at Kanazawa Castle!
Kanazawa Castle Map, Opening Hours, and Admission Fees
For the castle map, please refer to Ishikawa Prefecture’s website HERE. It will also provide you with information about all the attractions in the castle.
Regarding the castle’s opening hours and admission fees, please refer to their website HERE for more details. Like Kenrokuen Garden, the castle is opened to the public for free in the early morning each day. But note you need to leave 15 minutes before the castle’s usual opening hours that visitors have to pay for their entry.
Kanazawa Castle’s Nighttime Light-Up
Every day at Kanazawa Castle, the light is up as the sun goes down. And what is even better is from sunset to 9 pm, it is free to enter the castle! At Gyokusen’inmaru Garden, according to the season, a 7 minutes lighting show is on with the approximate starting time below.
- Spring (March to May): between 6 pm to 7 pm
- Summer (June to August): around 7 pm
- Autumn (September to November): between 5 pm to 6 pm
- Winter (December to February): between 5 pm to 5:30 pm
Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen Garden Free Guided Tour
Inside the Ishikawa-mon Gate, volunteered guides are stationed daily from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm to provide its visitors with a free guided castle and garden tour. This is why you want to enter the castle from Ishikawa-mon Gate! And don’t worry, some guides can speak English (^_-)-☆.
Tip: If you are alone, the tour is limited to Kanazawa Castle only. So we recommend you wait for a second guest to show up so that both of you can enjoy this free service at both Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen Garden.
Kanazawa Castle Mobile App
Like Kenrokuen, Kanazawa Castle has its own mobile app to provide you with a detailed guide when you are at the castle. Once the app is downloaded, the app’s language should automatically change to the language you set for your phone.
Cherry Blossom and Autumn Foliage at Kanazawa Castle
The cherry blossom and autumn foliage season at Kanazawa Castle is the same as its garden Kenrokuen. So please refer to our Kenrokuen article for this information.
How to Get to Kanazawa Castle
The access information is the same as Kenrokuen. So please refer to our article about the garden HERE.
Discover Other Fascinating Attractions in Kanazawa City
While Kanazawa Castle is certainly one of the landmarks 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!