The side of Japan’s main island that faces the Sea of Japan is less populated than the side that faces the Pacific Ocean, and it’s rather off the beaten path. I’ve only made two trips over the mountains to the other side. One was to Matsue, a couple weeks ago, and the other was to Kanazawa, at the end of August (image from http://www.japan-guide.com).

Kanazawa Map

The city of Kanazawa has an unusual history. During the warring states period, a group of monks and peasants ousted the lord of the area and established a “Peasant’s Kingdom.” They successfully ruled themselves for about one hundred years, from the late 15th century to the late 16th century, until Japan’s reunification under the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Under the new lord sent by the shogun, Kanazawa, already wealthy from its considerable agricultural output, became a major producer of gold leaf, and it developed into an important center of art and craftsmanship. Around the end of the 17th century, the shogunate made gold leaf a government monopoly, and its manufacture was restricted to Edo (which became Tokyo). Kanazawa however, continued to make gold leaf in secret, and after the Meiji Restoration it resumed open production. Kanazawa craftsmen created the first mechanized gold leaf press/hammer and today, Kanazawa accounts for more than 95% of Japan’s gold leaf production.

One symbol of Kanazawa’s wealth and culture is Kenroku-en, an expansive garden adjacent to Kanazawa Castle. Kenroku-en was originally the lord’s garden, but it was opened to the public in 1874. This long-legged lantern is the garden’s most iconic feature.

Kanazawa Kenroku-en Lantern

A teahouse.

Kanazawa Kenroku-en Boat

Not many flowers were blooming in late August, but the garden was filled with wild birds.

Kanazawa Kenroku-en Heron

Appropriately enough, the heron – a symbol of longevity – was resting on an island meant to represent the legendary Horai, the island of immortals.

In addition to the garden, the highlights of my visit were Seison-kaku and the former Nomura residence.

Seison-kaku was the villa of the lord’s wife. It’s gorgeous and has some fascinating European touches, like stained glass from Holland and some rooms with vividly painted walls. No pictures allowed, but you can see a little at the website.

Moving down the ladder of social hierarchy, the Nomuras were the lords’ chief retainers, and their old residence is a beautiful example of a high-ranking samurai’s house. It’s not mansion-sized, but the building is handsome, the garden is very good, and every sliding door is a work of art employing Kanazawa gold.

This is a typical room.

Kanazawa Nomura Tokonoma

Tatami matting, bare walls, and an alcove displaying calligraphy and flowers.

The aforementioned doors had protective covers, making it hard to take pictures without glare and reflections, but this shot isn’t too bad.

Kanazawa Nomura Fusuma

A suit of armor was on display in the entryway.

Kanazawa Nomura Armor

Additional treasures were shown in a small, single-room museum attached to the house (in the place of an old storehouse, I think).

Things like these swords . . .

Kanazawa Nomura Swords

. . . and this lacquered box.

Kanazawa Nomura Box


Next time: Thailand.



Trees in Japanese gardens are often pruned into bonsai-like shapes, and sometimes they been made to grow too horizontally to support their own weight.  Poles are used to keep such trees from breaking or falling over. This pine at Kenroku-en is probably the most extreme example I’ve seen.

Kanazawa Kenroku-en Pine


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4 Responses to “Kanazawa”

  1. Doug Says:

    You can count on me to dive into the most mundane detail, but I can’t help asking about the photograph of the tea house. I’m looking at the horizontal poles that run along the ridgeline. Do you know if those are just external roof supports or do they serve another purpose? Is that a common architectural element in Japanese construction? I really like the picture of the heron on the rock.

  2. Patrick Says:

    I find the poles holding the tree up out of the water interesting. It seems they took a lot of time and care in placing them to protect the tree. Why didn’t they didn’t they just transplant or trim it down a bit I wonder. Good stuff as always.

  3. kevinjames Says:

    As far as I know, the poles on the roof of the tea house are architectural features. I haven’t seen this triple pole style before, but various types of ridge poles can be seen in old Japanese buildings.

    As for the poles used to hold up trees, I added a bit to the end of the post. Basically, trees are pruned with aesthetics in mind, and the structural side of things is pushed pretty far to make things possible.

  4. Nicole Says:

    pretty good eye, there, Patrick! I didn’t notice those poles myself when I first looked at the pictures. Your addendum picture, Kevin, is really something – makes the tree look like something out of a fantasy film (I expect the tree to start walking….).

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