Written by John Lee
Freewheeling the Sights of Kanazawa
Discover the charms of Kanazawa city on bicycle! Machi-nori, Kanazawa's public bicycle share system, is a convenient and low-cost option for visitors looking to tour the city's sights on two wheels.
Kanazawa, the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture, is often also regarded as the cultural heart of the Hokuriku region. With the preservation of its tangible and intangible cultural heritage, such as its historic districts and vibrant craft industry, Kanazawa offers visitors an experience in a modern and globalized Japanese city, steeped in history and traditional culture.
But first, how to get around the city. Hmmm...
As far as public transportation is concerned, there are buses and taxis, but no subway. Taxis are certainly convenient albeit depending on one’s travel budget, and the buses are very reliable if not a bit too crowded at times. There's always walking, and then there is also one more option which combines the best of the above, offering mobility without the cost or crowds, and a very close-up and personalized tour of the city, Machi-nori - Kanazawa's public bicycle share system.
Machi-nori: Explore Kanazawa on a Bicycle!
Machi-nori (town riding) is Kanazawa’s public bicycle share system. It’s comprised of 21 docking stations (CyclePort), which are located throughout the central part of the city, and close to all major sightseeing spots. A map found in the bicycle’s basket shows the location of all 21 CyclePorts and the nearby respective tourist sights. English, Chinese, and Korean versions are available on the Machi-nori homepage or at its main office, and at a few CyclePorts.
If using a credit card or IC Card, a bicycle can be obtained directly from any CyclePort. Using a credit card, I paid the initial 200 yen fee at the touch panel kiosk, and received a passcode. The passcode entitles users to a full day’s access, and is needed to remove the bicycle from the CyclePort. The share concept is simple: 1. Remove the bicycle from the CyclePort, 2. Ride it to your next destination, and 3. On arriving, return it to the CyclePort.
As long as the time from when a bicycle is removed from one CyclePort and returned to another does not exceed 30 minutes, there are no additional fees. In other words, if you keep your ride intervals to under 30 minutes each, there are no additional charges. If the ride interval exceeds 30 minutes, there's a 200 yen charge for every additional 30 minutes. However, with 20 CyclePort locations and a little planning, I used mine for the full day for only 200 Yen. Hard to beat!
As with many visitors, if you've arrived in Kanazawa through Kanazawa Station, then stow your luggage in a locker there, and head over to the CyclePort located close to the East entrance. Before dashing off though on your wheeling adventures, be sure to take a few moments to admire the soaring Omotenashi Dome (or "Hospitality Dome"), and the traditional Japanese drum inspired Tsuzumi-mon Gate, located in front of the station.
Higashi Chaya-gai (East Teahouse District)
Leading away from Kanazawa Station, I pedalled along the thoroughfare past Omicho Market, then down through the Edo period (1603-1868) merchant district of Owari-cho, and over Asano River, before arriving at the largest of Kanazawa's historic teahouse districts, Higashi Chaya-gai. The cobblestone streets and wooden latticed row houses of the preserved district, evoke the scenic charms of feudal Japan during its Edo period. After wandering the shops along the main street, I slipped into a narrow back alleyway to see what I might discover.
Early pit stop for soy sauce flavored soft serve ice cream. Yum!
Machi-nori bicycles come standard with three gears, so be forewarned as you approach one of Kanazawa's most popular sightseeing spots, Kenrokuen Garden. It’s at the top of a hill with souvenir shops lining the road leading up, which I made a good excuse of as I walked it while peeking into the storefronts. Development of Kenrokuen Garden was started during the early part of the Edo period, and today it’s counted as one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan.
Directly across from the Katsurazaka entrance of Kenrokuen Garden, stands Ishikawa-mon Gate through which visitors pass as they enter upon the interior of Kanazawa Castle and Kanazawa Castle Park. It was during the Edo period of Japan that the then ruling Maeda clan had started the development of the castle, as well as the adjacent Kenrokuen Garden, which at the time was enjoyed exclusively by the castle residents.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa
Leaving the feudal castle high on the hill, I cycled down to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa. Established in 2004, it features a collection of contemporary works from around the world. If social media hashtags are any measure, it would seem that it’s best known for the work, The Swimming Pool. On a sunny day however, the museum is as equally enjoyed outdoors, as students on a class trip proved while delighting in the public artwork.
And, in case you didn't believe me about the pool!
As I was nearing the end of the day, I rolled through the hustle and bustle of the Korinbo and Katamachi shopping districts, before retreating into the quiet cobbled streets of the Naga-machi district. It was here during Japan’s feudal Edo period that the then military officer caste, Samurai, had resided. The earthen walls, wooden gates, alleyways and canals, all combine to evoke an atmosphere of the period.
As I rolled my way to a final CyclePort, I looked back on the day’s adventures. On my trusty Machi-nori bicycles I had crisscrossed the city, climbing hills, crossing bridges, and observing all traffic laws. I’d also taken a number of detours off the main roads, discovering new places for the very first time. It was a wonderful way of seeing Kanazawa, and a perfect balance in enjoying its main sights together with the crowds, and then also finding a quiet corner or two to call my own, if only for a little while.
An old book store in Kanazawa
When in Kanazawa, do try to explore the city using the Machi-nori bicycles. Enjoy your ride!