Garden in winter

Japan: Kanazawa

Kanazawa located in the Ishikawa prefecture, is a historic capital city where the samurai, merchants, geisha, and lords have all left their mark. It is perhaps the best preserved Edo-era city in the country and one of the most overlooked treasures in Japan with regard to foreign visitors.  The city’s relatively remote location has perhaps unfairly contributed to this phenomenon.

Due to its location, Kanazawa cuisine, particularly its seafood, is renown throughout Japan. Crab is a local favorite, either served cold with light vinegar or in nabe style hot pots. Sushi made with fish caught fresh in the neighboring sea is popular as well, as is the amaebi (sweet shrimp).

Assorted fresh sashimi

Assorted fresh sashimi

Fresh crab

Fresh crab

Typical dinner served at a Ryokan (Traditional Japanese Inn popular during the Edo period)

Typical dinner served at a Ryokan (Traditional Japanese Inn popular during the Edo period)

The most famous attraction in Kanazawa is the Kenrokuen Garden (Garden of Six Attributes).  Constructed by the ruling Maeda family over a period of nearly two centuries, it was once the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle. The garden was opened to the public in 1871 and today ranks as one of Japan’s top three landscape gardens.

Kenrokuen features numerous ponds, streams, waterfalls, bridges, teahouses, trees, stones and flowers. The water supplying streams and rivers of the park is diverted from a distant river by a sophisticated water system that was constructed in 1632.

Garden in May

Garden in May

Garden in winter

Garden in winter

Located on the southwest corner of the garden is the Seisonkaku Villa, one of the most elegant remaining samurai villas in Japan.  Built by a Maeda lord for his mother, the villa is a large two-story structure with a number of expansive tatami rooms. One of the villa’s highlights is the roof which covers its garden viewing deck. It was constructed without supports as not to obstruct the view of the garden in any way.

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Situated next to the Kenrokuen Garden is Kanazawa Castle. Founded in 1583, the castle burnt down numerous times throughout its history.  The most recent fires of 1881 were survived only by the castle’s Ishikawamon Gate, the Sanjikken Nagaya and the Tsurumaru Storehouse. The gate, which dates back from 1788, is the main entrance to the park.

For several decades, Kanazawa University occupied the former castle grounds.  When the campus was relocated in the early 1990s a project to slowly rebuild the historic buildings of the former Kanazawa Castle was undertaken.

The first buildings to be reconstructed were the Hishi Yagura, a turret overlooking the northern part of the castle, the Hashizume-mon Tsuzuki Yagura, a turret guarding the entrance to the central area of the castle grounds, and the Gojukken Nagaya, a 90-yard-long storehouse running between the two turrets.

The three buildings were completely restored to their original appearance in the 1850s, using traditional techniques and materials. They were opened to the public in 2001 and contain excellent displays on traditional carpentry and construction methods.

In the spring of 2010, reconstruction of the castle’s former main entrance gate, the Kahoku-mon Gate was completed together with the restoration of a water filled castle moat.

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Photo Credits: Rocky Andoh

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