Kanazawa feels like a "light" version of Kyoto - it has temples, gardens, a geisha district, and plenty of restaurants. Since it's off the Shinkansen route and thus slightly more difficult to reach it's a lot "lighter" with tourists too. The city center is east of the train station and relatively compact although you'll be exhausted at the end of the day if you don't take advantage of the two tourist bus loops that stop at all points of interests. A day pass costs 500Y; a single ride costs 200Y. The city's proximity to the Sea of Japan means there's excellent seafood yet the local specialty is a stewed duck, which like the local beef is wondrously fatty. Most izakayas should have small portions of both on their menu.
The "Not a Ninja" Ninja Temple. There are secret doors and stairwells; lookout locations, escape routes, a Seppuku (suicide) room, and pitfall; even the offering box converts to a trap door...but it's not a Ninja Temple. In the 1600s Kanazawa's local lord built Myoryuji for religious purposes and also as a safe haven for samurai. If the town were ever under attack the samurai would be well protected. The temple is located in the Teramachi District - there's about ten other temples in this area but none have the cache of the Ninja Temple. Staff conducts a group tour every half hour (reservations are required but can be made on arrival) that takes you through the entire temple. The tour lasts forty minutes and is entirely in Japanese - English speakers are given a pamphlet that provides background on the secret locations and their purpose.
Sadly no photos are allowed inside the temple but it would be very difficult to convey in images how a secret escape door operates.
Considered one of the top three gardens in Japan. I think we are a bit spoiled in the US as San Francisco's Japanese Garden has a stronger wow factor even if it may lack authenticity compared to the native Japanese gardens which feel more park-like.
HIGASHI CHAYA (GEISHA) DISTRICT
Kanazawa's Geisha district is a slightly smaller area than Kyoto's, however, it has the benefit of a house that allows visitors to see Geisha operations. Shima House offers a glimpse of Geisha life - the house is a two story building with three upper floor rooms dedicated to a waiting area and a larger room where the Geisha would perform for her patrons. Performances consisted of singing, playing musical instruments, and reciting haiku's. The lower floor contained the proprietress's room and a changing room. After the walkthrough you could order a cup of tea in the tea garden out back.
For additional Kanazawa photos see FLICKR ALBUM.