Kanazawa is known for its crafts—from silk painting to sweet pressing—and if you’ve got a bit of free time you can try the techniques yourself.

Sweets making Kanazawa crafts
Traditional rakugan sweet-making at Morihachi | Photo by Lily Crossley-Baxter

The picturesque capital has plenty of sightseeing opportunities, from the famous tea districts to the unusual museums, but sometimes its nice to get involved yourself. In addition to learning a new skill, you can bring home a souvenir unlike any other, so you’re killing two travel birds with one stone! Most activities in Kanazawa are designed perfectly to fit into the busy visitor’s schedule, so you can do most of these Kanazawa crafts workshops in under an hour, with longer options if you have more time.

1. Press rakugan sweets at Morihachi

If you have a sweet tooth and have enjoyed sampling Kanazawa’s culinary treats, then the Morihachi class is the one for you. Taking place at the main Morihachi store close to the Higashiyama Tea District, the class also includes entry to the Sweet Molds Museum. Known as rakugan, the local sweets are made with rice flour, coloring and powdered sugar and are pressed into molds to create seasonal designs. Luckily (for some of us), it doesn’t take much skill, but provides some pretty cute results.

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The classes, held in small groups, will be in Japanese, but they will show you what to do and it’s easy to follow. Afterwards, you get to eat the less-than-perfect ones with some green tea and place the remainder in a box to take with you.

While the classes are held at three of the Kanazawa locations, we suggest the Morihachi main store as entry to the museum is also included.

Time: 40 minutes (arrive early to get your apron, instructions, etc.)
Cost: ¥1,296 per person, including materials and box.
Reservations: Required two days in advance, can be made online (in English)here or over the phone.

2. Gild your own chopsticks at Hakuichi

Known for its high-quality gold leaf, Hakuichi is one of the go-to stores for all things gilded in Kanazawa. Further to selling facemasks, pottery and gold-covered ice cream, Hakuichi also runs gold-leaf workshops at two of its locations: 1) the visitor center Hakukokan and 2) the Asano store in the Higashi Chaya District (close to the corner ice-cream store). While the former has a more extensive class list, the latter is much more accessible and is focused on traditional crafts.

You can choose between the gold leafing ‘apprentice’ or ‘master’ courses (or the intriguingly named ‘wizard’ level at the larger store). The master course involves choosing shapes to apply to items (boxes, small plates, a glass, mirror or tray) and sticking them on, while the apprentice one involves wrapping gold leaf on chopstick handles or postcards.

Prices for the master course range from ¥800 to ¥1,800 and take between 20 and 35 minutes, while chopsticks cost ¥800 and take 20 minutes.

Time: From 10 to 35 minutes
Cost: From ¥500 to ¥1,800
Reservations: You can book a space online here. Spots do fill up quickly on weekends, so be sure to book ahead.
Alternative stores: You can also try this at gold stores in the area, including Hakuza, Sakuda, Tajima and Imai Kinpaku. They all require reservations and most offer a similar range of options.

3. Master fabric-dyeing at the Kaga Yuzen Kimono Center

A center dedicated to the art of Kaga Yuzen fabric dyeing, this is a one-stop shop for kimono rental, workshops and souvenir shopping. The traditional hand-dyeing technique uses five colors known as kaga-gyosen (indigo, crimson, ocher, dark green and royal purple) to create intricate scenes of flowers and landscapes, which are used for kimono and accessories. The unqiue shading style and inclusion of imperfect elements like damaged leaves are key identifiers (and the perfect excuse for any mistakes you might make).

Workshops range from ¥1,650 to ¥2,750 depending on whether you want to try stencil-dyeing (choose from a tote bag or handkerchief), or hand-dyeing (only available for handkerchiefs). We went for hand-dyeing (as seen in the pictures) but suggest possibly the tote bag as being a more useful item—unless you have an elderly relative in need of a handkerchief, in which case, you’ve struck gold.

Given as much time as you need, you get to fill in your design and go through the stages of the process, including applying rice paste, steaming and washing in cold water.

Time: From 20 minutes to 1 hour (depending on your painting speed)
Cost: From ¥1,650 to ¥2,750 depending on material and technique
Reservations: Only required for groups of four or more. Reservations can be made on the day for individuals or smaller groups.

4. Attempt Kutani porcelain painting

Admittedly our experience took place outside of the Kanazawa city center, but there are a few places you can try this in the city as well. We headed out to Yunokuni no Mori craft village during a day trip to the nearby Awazu Onsen town and attempted (poorly, as may be visible in the photos) the art of Kutani porcelain painting. Using the same five colors as kaga-yuzen, the technique also features natural scenes and is a relaxing craft.

The Yunokuni no Mori craft village also has options to try papermaking, echizen bamboo crafting, soba making, stencil dyeing and gold-leaf pasting among others, in case you wanted to try out a few different Kanazawa crafts in one place.

Compared to the other activities we’ve listed, this one requires a little more money as well as more patience. Once you’ve selected and painted your item (and not thrown it out of the window), it will be fired and then sent to you. You have to pay in advance for postage and accept that it can take over a month to arrive, especially if being sent abroad. Prices start from ¥1,100 at Yunokuni no Mori.

Time: From 30 minutes (depending on your talent/lack of)
Cost: From ¥1,100 depending on item, plus postage .
Reservations: Not required, but you must enquire before 4 pm.

Prices for workshops in Kanazawa range from ¥1,300 to ¥5,000 depending on the location. Two good options are:

  • Kutani Kosen-gama: From ¥1,300 to ¥1,300, requires 30–60 minutes and advance reservation.
  • Hokutoh: Visitor classes start from ¥5,000 + firing and postal costs. It takes between 90 and 120 minutes and requires advance reservation. They also run children’s summer classes.

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