JSPS Quarterly
No.53 2015 Autumn

Introducing Japan: Kanazawa

Dr. Jorge Luis Espinoza Calderon

Kanazawa city is located in Ishikawa Prefecture about 400 kilometers west of Tokyo. As did Kyoto, Kanazawa was spared the air raids of World War II, allowing the city to preserve its traditional architecture, notably influenced by the past residence of samurai and their lifestyle. Narrow streets, lined in the old Geisha District with vintage wooden tea houses, and the Kanazawa Castle coexist in harmony with city’s modern buildings. With the recently opened Hokuriku Shinkansen (bullet train) Line, travel from Tokyo to Kanazawa takes only 2.5 hours. Once in the city, it offers many unique attractions such as the Kenroku-en Garden, Kanazawa Castle, and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.

I would first of all recommend visiting the Kenroku-en Garden, which is said with great confidence to be one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. Its fascinating design includes waterfalls, ponds, flower fields and a koto (Japanese harp) shaped stone lantern that is the symbol of the garden. Seasonal beauty is another of the garden’s lures. I particularly like going there in the spring to view the cherry blossoms and in the late fall to see the leaves changing color. Winter is also a nice season to visit the garden, when ropes are strung from above its tree in a conical array to protect their branches from breaking under the weight of heavy snow. In early November, about 500 workers put up these conical arrays of rope called yukizuri (“snow hangings”) on around 800 trees and shrubs. Over the winter months, this spectacle of yukizuri is lit up in the evening.

Next to the Kenroku-en Garden is the Kanazawa Castle, built in the 16th century as a fortress by the Maeda family, who, by the way, cultivated the garden while ruling the Kanazawa domain during Edo Period. Repeatedly restored over time, the castle contains unique vestiges of Japanese carpentry, such as the complex web of pillars and beams within its watch tower, white roof of weathered lead tiles, whitemortar, double-earthen walls, and distinctive stonework. The 3-story watch tower commands an incredible view of the surrounding park set against a beautiful backdrop of snowy mountains.

Then, there is also the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, which, with its round shape, glass walls and doors opening in all directions, is itself a work of architectural art. It exhibits works by acclaimed contemporary artists, some designed to be interactive with the visitor, who can have fun touching and even sitting on them. Thus, the museum offers an enjoyable experience for the whole family.

Old Geisha District

Old Geisha District

Kanazawa is also a mecca for traditional crafts. It boasts a 400-year history of producing gold leaf (just 1/10,000 mm in thickness) and is now the only place in Japan where gold leaf is still made. At the Kanko Bussankan (local product center), you can try your hand at creating your own traditional art-and-craft souvenirs, even at making traditional Japanese sweets!

These and many other interesting attractions make Kanazawa a fascinating place to work or visit.

Kanazawa on the map of Japan

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JSPS Quarterly No.53 2015