Enjoy the view from 141 meters above sea level! You will see the Sea of Japan out past Kanazawa’s urban landscape. [Map #1]
140 METERS ABOVE
The word “Utatsuyama” literally means the mountain located in the direction of the rabbit and the dragon. According to ancient Asian cardinal directions, these two animals (rabbit and dragon) from the Earthly Branches indicate the east.
Compared to average mountains, Utatsuyama is not that high - only 140 meters above sea level. In terms of area, Utatsuyama Koen Park officially covers 670,000 square meters. It lies just behind the Higashi Chayagai geisha district, and it’s within walking distance from most tourist sites. One of the roads for driving and walking, called “Utatsuyama Koen Avenue,” starts from Tenjinbashi bridge (map #6) on the Asanogawa River to the east and winds through the woods to the top. Around the Bokodai observatory (map #1) at the top, the avenue gradually changes directions to the north. Another avenue from Oku Utatsuyama in the east is connected to the main avenue near the top. If you want to visit the prefectural sumo wrestling grounds (#8) or the Miharashidai Observatory, choose the route heading east! Everywhere around the avenues are lovely promenades for pedestrians, which lead one to temples, parks, gardens, and even monuments. Walking along the avenue is an easy way to keep from getting lost, but often times passing through a promenade can be a shortcut to the next destination. Plus, these promenades are just more fun! Walking in the woods always provides potential for discovery, while allowing one to feel relaxed away from the urban chaos nearby.
Just so you know, there are also some private residences located within the park where people quietly live. In addition, there is a chance of bumping into some wild (and possibly dangerous) animals out there. Please be aware about it, especially in the dense forest areas!
Depending on the time of year, one should not miss out on the beautiful autumn foliage or spring sakura cherry blossoms. Hanashobuen is also a must-see iris garden in early summer, located about halfway up the hill. All told, this hill is quite enjoyable through the entire year.
Miharashidai Observatory If you want to see in the mountainous, interior direction, stop by this observatory! [Map #2]
It’s been just over 100 years since Utatsuyama Koen Park was officially opened to the public in 1914. During the Edo period, this hill was a strategic point of the Kaga Clan (old Kanazawa). Though history says the Tokugawa era finally brought firm peace to Japan after an age of civil war, every clan was still covertly preparing for the possibility of future battle. For those military reasons, trees and plants on Utatsuyama were cut down at that time, and ordinary people were not allowed to enter the hill. Furthermore, there was allegedly another reason why people couldn’t ascend Utatsuyama. The top of the hill was higher in elevation than the castle where Lord Maeda lived. Who could be allowed to “look down at” their lord from the hill? In those days of strict hierarchy, an unprecedented event in history transpired. Approximately 2000 people trespassed on the hill to make a direct petition to their ruler.
They screamed in the direction of the castle, saying “we are going to starve to death! Please feed us! We need rice!” A prolonged recession coupled with a poor crop caused a drastic and sudden rise in rice prices. Fortunately, the risky protest was successful, and the price of rice returned to previous, more affordable levels. That was in 1858. Yet unfortunately, five leaders who took responsibility for the protest were summarily executed, and two more eventually died in prison. Later, seven Jizo statues, each holding a bunch of ears of rice were dedicated for those who sacrificed their lives, and now the statues are taken care of at Jukyoji Temple in Higashiyama.
Did you know that the Prefectural Zoo “Ishikawa Dobutsuen” was moved from Utatsuyama to Nomi City? The zoo used to belong to the private amusement facility “Kanazawa Sunny Land / Kanazawa Health Center (1958-1993)” located on the hill. They had various amusement park rides, a theater, and a spa as well. It’s hard to visualize that chaos of so many people flocking to the summit of this hill for these activities. Since the zoo was moved, Ishikawa Prefecture has been taking care of the animals in the new Nomi City location. If you happen to walk by the Miharashidai Observatory (map #2), note that this is where the amusement facility was.
Yonkyakunen-no-mori Park [Map #3]
The scene of 250 sakura cherry trees blooming in the park is absolutely gorgeous! Locals come to have lunch or stroll around in the spring. This park has wheelchair access as well.
Hanashobuen Iris Garden [Map #4]
From June to July, the garden is filled with 200,000 shoubu irises of 100 varieties, as well as 2,000 ajisai hydrangeas. One often finds an artist sketching flowers.
Utatsuyama Sanja Shrines [Map #5]
Sanja means three shrines. Atago Jinja, Utatsuyama Tenmangu, and Toyokuni Jinja, congregate behind the iris garden. Even if you are not interested in shrines or architecture, it’s very peaceful to walk along the bamboo thicket or during periods of beautiful autumn foliage.
Well-maintained park with signs
Utatsuyama Koen Park is well maintained with signs or maps as well as public lavatories. You won’t have to prepare so much for hiking the hill. Just pick a pair of well broken in walking shoes, and hike light! If you are the type that often attracts mosquitos, carry insect repellent just in case!
Temples and Scenic View Restaurants
There are some restaurants on the hillside, as well as many temples and shrines. Why not stop by a restaurant for lunch or dinner after your invigorating hill hike? It could be nice to avoid the chaos of downtown and enjoy a relaxing meal from a scenic perch on the hillside. Needless to say, the views from any of these restaurants are breathtaking.
Toyokuni Jinja Shrine [Map #5]
This is one of Utatsuyama Sanja shrines. Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1536–1598), who had been the most powerful daimyo just before the Edo period, was covertly enshrined by the third Lord Maeda, Toshitsune (1594-1658). It goes without saying that the dominant Tokugawa family would not have been happy had they known this!
OTHER LANDMARKS YOU SHOULD KNOW WHEN YOU STROLL THE HILL
Bridge [Map #6]
Tenjinbashi bridge will likely be mentioned when you ask someone how to get to Utatsuyama hill. It’s on the Asanogawa river, and located just at the base of the hill. If you stroll around the hill, we recommend you to start from this bridge.
Kabokuen Azalea Garden [Map #7]
Alongside the promenades on the hillside, 9000 tsutsuji azaleas of 13 varieties are beautifully planted. These are located between Yonhyakunen-no-mori park and the top of the hill, Bokodai observatory.
Prefectural Sumo Wrestling Ground [Map #8]
The national high school sumo wrestling tournament is annually held on these grounds in May. As a matter of fact, Ishikawa prefecture has produced many prominent sumo wrestlers that have made it to the professional league.
Jun-nan Otome-no-zou Statue [Map #8]
This memorial monument behind the sumo wrestling ground was built for 52 girls who were sent from Ishikawa prefecture to a munitions factory in Aichi prefecture, where they were killed by air strikes in 1945.