Kanazawa still feels like a castle town. It is the site of a castle as well as many samurai houses. In addition, the romantic teahouse streets have not changed at all.
Nishi Teahouse Street is to the south of the Sai River, and is synonymous with Kanazawa. In the third year of the Bunsei period, the Kaga Domain had the street built along with Higashi Teahouse Street.
Even today, Japanese-style restaurants and geisha-girl delivery stores produce items of great elegance. After dark, the sounds of the shamisen can be heard, lending the streets further charm.
In olden times, most teahouses used to refuse first-time customers. This was the case with Higashi Street, but now there are Japanese-style hotels, souvenir shops and cafes lining its sides. It is most enjoyable to walk down the street.
Nishi Teahouse Museum is located in the building where Seijiro Shimada, a writer born in Mikawa, Ishikawa prefecture, lived when young and there are items exhibited here describing his early life.
As part of the restoration of the once grand and prestigious Kanazawa Castle, the Gojikken Armory was reconstructed in July 2001.
The Gojikken Armory connects the Hashizume Gate Suzuki Turret to the Hishi Turret, and is two storeys high. These structures were originally built for defending the Ninomaru (Second Building) during wars, which is why they are lined with 'sea cucumber' tiles and white-washed plaster, which help in defence. Additionally, the barred windows had openings for muskets to be fired from, and there were trapdoors in the floor for dropping boulders onto the enemy below.
The Gojikken Armory was used for storing weapons at that time. The building covers a total area of 1894.25m2 and is the largest wooden castle structure in Japan to be built after the Meiji period. Including the time used for research, the whole reconstruction took no less than 3 years and 4 months to complete.
The Hishi Turret was built to guard the front and back gates of Kanazawa Castle. 'Yagura', the word here for turret, can also mean 'arrow storage', like an armory, although the turret was used more as a guard tower.
Rising from a 11.7m-high stone wall, the Hishi Turret itself is close to 17m high, giving the whole structure an intimidating total height of 30m.
The name Hishi (Diamond) Turret, is derived from the diamond shape of the horizontal plane surface of the turret. The inner angles of the diamond's four corners are 80 degrees and 100 degrees respectively. The 100 or so wooden internal beams and pillars are likewise all diamond-shaped, hinting at the advanced skill required to construct the building. The structure connecting the Hishi Turret and the Hashizume Turret is the Gojikken Armory.
Located inside the grounds of the garden of Kenrokuen, Seisonkaku Villa was built in 1863. It was originally named 'Tatsumi-goten' and was built by the 13th lord of the Kaga Domain, Nariyasu Maeda, as a retreat for his mother Takako (wife of the 12th lord Narinaga Maeda).
Seisonkaku Villa is located in the southeast section ('tatsumi') of Kanazawa Castle, hence its original name Tatsumi-goten. Additionally, the name derives from the Tatsumiden built by the Takatsuka clan in Kyoto.
The building is two storeys high, with the first floor built in Shoin-style architecture and the second floor in Sukiya-style architecture. It is designated as an Important National Cultural Asset and is also a representative example of late-Edo architecture.
The elegant interior decoration indicates great consideration by the architect. Instead of walls made of earthen elements, paper is used flamboyantly, along with crimson lacquer for the first floor. On top of this, mica and gold are used for designs and ornaments. On the whole, rich decoration is a dominant characteristic of Seisonkaku Villa.
Tobizuruen, the garden of the villa, is also designated as a national scenic spot. Seisonkaku Villa is currently a historical museum.
Inside Kanazawa Castle grounds near the old castle keep are the remains of a 'sanjikken-nagaya' warehouse. This two-storey building is 65m long and 5.5m wide, and was originally built for military purposes. It is said that it had been first used for storing rice, then for storing muskets.
The building is a single structure with the entrance on the south side. The roof is made of lead tiles and the hips of the white-washed walls are decorated with 'sea cucumber' tiles. Across the hip of the wall of the second storey lies a keel of lead tiles.
It is said that there were once 14 warehouses in all inside the grounds of Kanazawa Castle including the one above, so it can be imagined that the view at the time would have been grand.
The single surviving sanjikken-nagaya was rebuilt in Annsei 5 (1858), leaving it and the Ishikawa Gate the only original remains in existence in the castle grounds. The Sanjikken-nagaya was designated as an Important National Cultural Asset in Showa 32.
In the Edo period, Kaga was a castle town. Around Naga Town there still remain houses that middle and low class samurais lived in.
The earthen walls, water drainage channels and stone paved alleys remind you of the old days. In particular, the earthen walls of the samurai houses used Tomuro stone which was also used in the consruction of Kanazawa Castle. These stones add to the atmosphere of the area. People actually live in these houses, too, which makes them seem even more real.
The district of Samurai houses has complicated paved stone alleys and much the same mood as the old castle town. Walking along, you will feel as if you were living in the Edo period.
Among the interesting places to visit are Nomura house, open to everyone, and Saihitsu-an, where you can see demonstrations of Kaga-Yuzen dyeing. Voluntary guides are always stationed at the resting places and they can provide information about the samurai houses and so on.
It is unbelievable that the district is just next to Korinbo, a busy modern shopping street. In comparison, Naga Town gives you a good sense of history.
Teahouses with red-brown lattices line a narrow stone road. The road is next to the Asano and Onna rivers that run down through Kanagawa from Mt. Asano. This is Higashi Teahouse Street.
In the third year of the Bunsei period (1820), the Kaga Domain established this street. Nishi Teahouse Street was built at the same time, and in the second year of the Meiji period (1869), Kazue-machi Teahouse Street was also built.
Higashi Teahouse Street is the most prestigious and grandest of the three streets. In olden times, after nightfall, men went drinking in this town and appreciated artistic accomplishment.
Most teahouses used to refuse first-time customers but now there are many cafes renovated from the old teahouses, and anybody can drop in casually. Even now, after dark, with the lights under the eaves aglow, the sounds of the shamisen and drums can be heard. This is a time when the street looks very attractive.
The street is described in Hiroyuki Itsuki's novel 'Suzaku Grave'. In 2001, the street was designated as a site of Important Traditional Japanese Architecture.