Maeda Toshiie and Kanazawa

May 17th, 2010

A look at the rise of the richest feudal clan of Edo Japan and the city they built

First of all, apologies for the massive delay. The end of the financial year is always very busy, and as of April I have also been teaching an Introduction to Japanese History class at Kanazawa University, which keeps me busier than I expected.
Some of the comments I have received have let me know that I might have jumped in at the deep end, as it were, with too much detail and Kanazawa and the Maeda clan, and left some readers wondering what exactly I was on about. So over the next couple of weeks I hope this time to be able to give you some idea of how the city came to be, with a special focus on just who these Maeda guys were anyway.

     Kanazawa, as I have mentioned, is a castle town, the type of city that dominated the Edo period. These were the local government centre and home of the regional daimyo, or lord. The word daimyo literally means “Great Name.”

     The centre of the castle town is, naturally, the castle. Kanazawa Castle dates back to the fifteenth century, when it was the centre of power for the Ikko Ikki, which was a Buddhist sect that had overthrown the old regional governor and established what is called “The Peasant’s Kingdom” in the district of Kaga – which is the southern part of Ishikawa Prefecture. So let’s look at this a little more.

     During the fifteenth century, the powers of the central Shoguns in Kyoto was waning, and their regional governors were assuming even greater powers, carving out their own little fiefs and passing them on to their sons. In the domain of Kaga, which covers the southern half of what is now Ishikawa Prefecture, the priest Rennyo, of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism, arrived to proselytise. Rennyo’s brand of Buddhism quickly spread among the samurai and peasants. The followers of Rennyo were directly under the control of the fortress-like Ishiyama Honganji temple in Osaka, and were known as the Ikko sect, the “Single-Minded” sect. At the time, due to the diminishing power of the hereditary regional governors of Kaga, the Togashi family, central control over the region was weak. This allowed groups of Rennyo converts to increase their political ambitions, leading to the end of the rule of the Togashi governors in 1488.

Oyama Gobo and the Peasant’s Kingdom

     For the next hundred years, Kaga was ruled by the Ikko peasants, who created a kind of republic known by history as “The Peasant’s Kingdom”. Their principle stronghold was the basilica of Oyama Gobo, on the tip of the Kodatsuno ridge. Backed by high hills and flanked on two sides by rivers, it was a natural fortress, and the eventual home of the Maeda lords. Around the basilica, in what is now the second and third baileys, the first proper town grew, with priestly residences and other religious buildings as its core, and around them came the merchant areas. Many of these districts have survived to the present day, in name if nothing else. This type of town, peculiar to the Warring States Period, was a fortified temple town, and in its basic structure bears a great deal of resemblance to mediaeval European towns, with the temple or church in the centre and the entire town enclosed in some form of fortification, usually a high wall surrounded by a moat, often dry.

The End of the Peasant’s Kingdom

     In the year 1580, a general under the warlord Oda Nobunaga named Sakuma Morimasa attacked the Peasant’s Kingdom, and succeeded in overthrowing the Ikko, while Nobunaga finished dealing with the Ishiyama Honganji. Granted an income of 50,000 koku (bushels of rice) from Nobunaga, Sakuma proceeded to recreate the town as a military base. However his rule was short-lived: in 1583 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, with Lord Maeda Toshiie as his advance guard, invaded, and Toshiie was granted the fief of Kaga in addition to that of the Noto peninsula which he already possessed. So now the long history of the Maedas in Kanazawa begins. Just who was this guy Toshiie anyway? I have mentioned a few things about him before, but now it is time for a general history, which I hope is not too dry. Dry is good, if it’s fine champagne. But history? No excuse for that….

Maeda Toshiie and Kanazawa

     Maeda Toshiie was born in 1537, in the village of Arako in Owari Province (present-day Nagoya: I have shown the rough locations of the old provinces on the map below), the son of Maeda Toshiharu, the lord of Arako Castle. In other words, something like the son of a Baron in England. High ranked, but not amazingly so. In the same year, in the same province, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was born, and three years before that, Oda Nobunaga. And five years later in Mikawa Province next door, Tokugawa Ieyasu was born. Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu are three of the most famous names in Japanese history, and contemporaries of Toshiie. Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu were primarily responsible for the reunification of Japan after 150 years of civil war; however Toshiie’s role has usually been obscured by the Big Three. Nevertheless, Toshiie was a very powerful lord, and the close friend and confidant of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and it was only his death in 1599 that prevented him from playing a larger role in the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

     After his father died in 1569, Toshiie found himself the head of the Maeda Clan, and the lord of Arako Castle with its fairly minor income. He was already known as a formidable warrior: in 1551, the fifteen-year-old Toshiie won his first victory at the Battle of Kayazu. He took his first head in that battle, and in another battle in 1556 he defeated a man known for his ferocity, earning the praise of Nobunaga. Toshiie’s income was tripled, and due to his courage he was given a position directly serving Nobunaga. In 1573, Toshiie was given 100,000 koku in Nibu, in the south of Echizen Province, and thus, at the age of 39, became a daimyo, or domain lord. A steady but not flashy rise to power. But he wasn’t finished.


A Portrait of Maeda Toshiie


Locations of Provinces Connected with Maeda Toshiie
Click on an image to see a larger version.

     In 1581, the 45-year-old Toshiie was granted the 230,000 koku fief of Noto, the peninsula sticking out into the Sea of Japan north of Kanazawa, and became the lord of an entire province. Now he had to start playing for keeps, since he had a lot more to keep. In the Battle of Shizugatake (1583) between Hideyoshi and the powerful lord Shibata Katsuie, Toshiie took a neutral position. At first he had set out with the Shibata forces, but withdrew part-way, retreating to Fuchu Castle and going over to Hideyoshi. Toshiie’s position was delicate: Katsuie had his third daughter, Ma’a, as hostage, but two more of his daughters had been adopted into Hideyoshi’s family. This sort of thing happened all the time back in the day. However, for the preservation of his clan, Toshiie had to make the most politically wise choice, so he sided with Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi’s forces were victorious, as they usually were, and although Toshiie pleaded with Hideyoshi to spare Katsuie’s life, it was to no avail: Shibata Katsuie committed suicide in the flames of his castle.

     By 1590 Toyotomi Hideyoshi had unified Japan, and was the undisputed master of the realm. However he was not eligible for the coveted title of ‘Shogun’ as he was not of Minamoto descent – by this time it had become customary that the Shogun was a member of the house of Minamoto, the first Shogunate house, but Hideyoshi, being of low peasant stock, couldn’t even pretend to be connected (like everyone else did). So he had to be contented with the lesser title of Taiko, Grand Regent.

     Hideyoshi was anxious about his young son Hideyori’s future, and in 1595 asked Toshiie to be his guardian. In his Will, Hideyoshi wrote “I have known Toshiie for many years, and his uprightness is well known. I wish to install him as Hideyori’s guardian.” However Hideyoshi was argued out of leaving Toshiie as sole regent, largely by Toshiie himself, and so a council of regents was set up to govern until Hideyori would be of age.

     In 1595, Toshiie, along with Tokugawa Ieyasu and three others, was chosen by Hideyoshi to act as regent. Ieyasu was the most powerful of the daimyo under Hideyoshi, but Toshiie was probably the second-most. Toshiie may not have as high a rank or as many provinces as Ieyasu, but he was much more the distinguished soldier, trusted by Hideyoshi, and was far more popular. The Chief Regent was however, in terms of money, power, and title, Ieyasu. Nevertheless, Toshiie had been asked by Hideyoshi to take full responsibility for Hideyori, which showed that he was actually the one Hideyoshi trusted most. Another reason for this is that Hideyoshi realised that after his death the one who would be the greatest threat to his government would be Ieyasu. Loyal Toyotomi generals like Ishida Mitsunari didn’t get along with Ieyasu, and this lead to a confrontation, with Toshiie as the only one who could prevent a war as Hideyoshi had foreseen. Hideyoshi died in 1598, after his final aborted attempt at conquering China through Korea had failed, and thus the political succession became every so slightly highly unstable. Anyone who has seen or read James Clavell’s “Shogun” knows what happens next: cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war….

     The close relationship between Toshiie and Hideyoshi is well known; however Toshiie’s wife Matsu and Hideyoshi’s wife Nene had perhaps an even closer relationship. When they had lived in Kiyosu while their husbands were young soldiers under Nobunaga they had been neighbours, and had even put a gate in their fence to allow easy access, to borrow soy sauce or so. Even when Hideyoshi had conquered the entire country, they still remained friends. At the flower-viewing festival at the Daigoji Temple in 1598, Toshiie and Matsu were the only guests who came as a couple, and Matsu was treated as a member of the Toyotomi family. In her later years she visited Nene in Kyoto after she was released from her hostage duties in Edo. Matsu herself was to spend much of the rest of her life as a hostage in Edo to ensure the loyalty of the Maedas, finally retiring to Kyoto when her position as hostage was taken over by Toshinaga’s widow.

     After Toshiie’s death in April 1599, his son Toshinaga had enshrined him at Utatsu-Hachimangu Shrine (now called the Utasu Shrine) at the foot of Utatsuyama in Kanazawa, and made it a duty of the samurai to secretly pay their respects, since the Tokugawas would not permit open veneration. When feudalism was abolished and the fiefs disbanded after the Meiji Revolution, former samurai built Oyama Shrine on the site of the Kanaya Palace, once part of the castle. I showed you the shrine gate in the very first blog entry.

     In summary, Toshiie was a powerful warlord and close friend of the ruler of all Japan; however his early death opened the way for Ieyasu to take control of the country. It is possible that if Toshiie had lived long enough for Hideyori to come of age, the Tokugawa Shogunate would never have been formed. Thus, Toshiie’s life – or rather, his death – was a pivotal moment in Japanese history.

Toshinaga and Toshitsune

     Toshiie’s oldest son, Toshinaga, was born in 1562, when Toshiie was 26. At twenty he married Nobunaga’s daughter Ei, and from being lord of Fuchu Castle in Echizen, he went on to successively govern three smaller castles before inheriting stewardship of the Maeda Clan in 1598. At the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, he sided with Tokugawa Ieyasu and thus was able to further enlarge the lands left him by his father to an incredible 1.2 million koku, by far the largest domain outside the Shogun himself. He succeeded his father’s position as one of the Five Regents that Hideyoshi had appointed to govern while his son was a minor, though Toshinaga kept his ears to the ground and was careful to protect his lands against Tokugawa pressure. He died in 1614 after retiring to Toyama Castle.

     Toshie’s younger son Toshitsune, the third lord, is generally credited with ensuring the Maedas’ dominance, by his alliances by marriage with the Tokugawa and the care he took to avoid any pretence of military ambition. Instead the vast wealth of the Maedas was channelled into arts and crafts, many of which are still nationally renowned. The “Million-koku Culture” bloomed as a result of the vast wealth of the region. As both a large domain and an “Outer Lord” (daimyo who submitted to Ieyasu only after he won the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600) the eyes of the Shogunate were constantly on Kaga, and to keep it at bay, the Maedas poured their efforts into cultural rather than military pursuits. The third Lord Maeda, Toshitsune, formed the Kaga Workmanship Office and promoted lacquer and gold-and-lacquer-work; and the fifth lord, Tsunanori, collected works of art and artisans from all over the country. The roots of this cultural flowering go back to the days of Toshiie and Toshinaga, when Kaga gold-leaf, inlaid work, and calligraphy were well-known even then.

     Although reduced later, when the third lord split his domain up between his three sons, Kaga still provided an income in excess of a million ‘koku’. This is the famous ‘Kaga Hyakumangoku’ that you will encounter no doubt at some stage in the tourist literature. A ‘koku’ was the unit of income for samurai in the feudal period, and is about 150kg of rice. At current Japanese prices, that makes a million-koku income the equivalent of more than thirty billion yen, or an income of US$300,000,000 per year.

     On the 14th of April 1631, fire broke out near the Sai Bridge. It consumed much of the city, including the castle. In 1632 Toshitsune ordered the construction of a canal to bring water from the upper Sai River to the castle to alleviate the water shortage problem in the castle. A bold plan was drawn up: water would be drawn from far upstream, and channelled through kilometres of canals and pipes down to the castle. The pipes were carefully laid at a 750:1 slope for about 3.3 kilometres along the Kodatsuno ridge. The water was fed to the castle under the moat that lay between it and what is now Kenrokuen by an artesian well, and the large lake, Kasumi-ga-Ike, in Kenrokuen acted as an emergency supply. Rumour has it that the lake in fact has a plug, which could be pulled to suddenly increase the water in the moats.

     In the Meiji Period, castles were now the property of the central government, and in their infinite short-sightedness they tore most of them down. In Kanazawa’s case the castle became the base for the Ninth Division of the Imperial Army, and those buildings which were in the way were torn down, and most of the rest perished in a fire in 1888. The Army occupied the castle until after WW2, when it was disbanded, and in 1949 the site became the new home of Kanazawa University, which stayed there until about ten years ago when it moved to its big new campus in the hills. Now the site is a park, and finally is open to all who visit.

     In Part Two, which should be posted at the same time, I will give a brief overview of the urban landscape.

View Historical Walking Guide to Kanazawa in a larger map

An Edo Dinner

February 16th, 2010

In conjunction with the “Kanazawa Machi-Haku” (Machi-Haku meaning “town expo”) showcase of Kanazawa for tourism over summer 2009, the Amane Project organized a special dinner a few months back, recreating some of the dishes of the Edo period from the Umeda diaries. So in a break from wandering around the city, I would like to briefly talk about the food that was served, and how it differs – or does not differ – from modern Japanese cuisine.

The inspiration for this evening was in the detailed diaries of Noto-ya Jinsaburo, later known as Umeda Jinsaku, a low-ranking official who lived in Kanazawa at the close of the Edo period, when Japan was on the cusp of one of the greatest transformations in history; when, in the space of a generation, it changed from an isolated feudal nation to one that ranked with the Imperialist powers of the West and humiliated Russia in war. However this is not the main reason why the Umeda Diaries are of such historical interest: their sheer rarity makes them of note. Very few commoner diaries from this period are extant, and the Umeda Diaries thus give us an invaluable glimpse into the lives of ordinary people a hundred and fifty years ago.

Just as an aside, the name “Umeda Diaries” was the one given to the collection by Professor Wakabayashi of Kanazawa University, who was the first to treat them academically. However the surname Umeda itself was not adopted by Jinsaburo until the Meiji period, when commoners were permitted – and required – to have surnames. Prior to that he was known as “Noto-ya Jinsaburo,” “Noto-ya” referring to the name of the shop his family ran. Hence in this entry I will use “Jinsaburo” to refer to the man himself, and “Umeda” when referring to his diaries. Other names ending with “ya” mentioned here are also shop names rather than proper family names; however to all intents and purposes they can be thought of as surnames. A similar example in Europe is the German Geschäftsname. Apparently—I am not an expert on German….

Anyway, following an interesting afternoon retracing some of the old haunts of Jinsaburo, mainly around the Higashiyama area, we convened at the Waraiya restaurant in downtown Kanazawa. Incidentally, if you’re in town, downtown Kanazawa these days is the Korinbo-Katamachi area, on the south side of the castle, but in Jinsaburo’s time Owaricho, on the north, front, side of the castle was where the action was. The centre moved over in and around the 1920s with the development of the Taisho-era café culture catering to the educated middle class from the Fourth Upper High School and the City and Prefectural offices – a change which means that Owari-cho these days preserves quite a decent amount of its pre-war atmosphere.

The meal was organised by a “food coordinator,” Tsuguma Takako – all Japanese names in this blog are given in the Japanese order of “surname, given name.” I think it silly that in English we refer to the Chinese in the correct order but flip it around for Japanese – who gave us a brief talk on it, as did Nagayama Naoharu, a former specialist with the Kanazawa City Administration. The theme, not surprisingly since this was August, was “summer foods,” based on dishes mentioned in the Umeda Diaries.

The dishes offered were taken from diary entries from the year 1864, covering June to August of the old lunar calendar (to convert, very roughly, add a month. Thus June in the lunar calendar is July in the solar Gregorian calendar. This, incidentally, is why the O-Bon festival of the dead is in usually in August rather than July, where it was in the lunar calendar).

There were a total of seven dishes offered, although unfortunately my photos did not all come out that well – to avoid the flat, washed-out look of flash photography, I tried to use the existing light as much as possible. Trouble is, it was not that bright and I did not have a tripod. So there are not as many photos here as I would have liked.

We started off with the four in the photo below.


Click on any image to see a larger version.

From left to right, they are Two Fillets of Tai (Snapper or Sea Bream) Namba-Yaki (Chilli Fry), Grilled Nasu (Eggplant) and Karei (Flounder), a simple Ebi (Prawn) Boiled in Stock, and Sekihan (Red Rice) balls. The next photo shows Kayaku-Soba, Mixed Noodles. The two photos that did not come out are for Tofu and the Amazake (Sweet Sake) dessert.

The snapper dish is made with chilli, which is interesting. Chilli is not, of course, native to Japan. They are in fact American. We can blame Columbus, indirectly, for this. He was one of the first European explorers to encounter them, and brought them back to Europe. It is not certain exactly how chilli got to Asia – it was either via Mexico to the Philippines and then up into East Asian, or via Spain to India (Goa) and East Asia. They make their first appearance in Japanese history in 1552, offered by a Portuguese missionary to one of the powerful daimyo or domain lords of Kyushu. Initially, it seems, they were used for decorative purposes rather than for eating, similar to how the tomato was received in parts of Europe. Now of course the chilli is an essential part of East Asian cuisine, and Korean in particular. And as in India, spicy dishes were thought to stimulate the appetite, dulled by the torpid heat of summer. The restaurant we had this at was thoroughly air-conditioned, of course, which kind of dulled the impact.

So how was this consumed in the Edo period? Umeda’s diary gives us a hint. He mentions this dish on the 21st of June 1864 by the lunar calendar, or the 24th of July 1864 (from here on, I shall give dates in the Gregorian calendar). His diary for that day talks about the food as follows:

“A day to celebrate, as construction began on our house. Today, I served lunch to the two workers, the carpenter Shuzaemon and one day labourer assistant, of rice and side dishes with seaweed miso soup, with Kaga gourds and a piece of yellowtail cut in two, and served on a plate. The evening work wrapped up, and we broke for dinner, having two fillets of snapper ‘shoulder’ done with chilli as one dish, and on another dish, a square of tofu.”

Interestingly, we can tell that the carpenters had a square of tofu from the name, yakko tofu. “Yakko” does not mean anything as prosaic as “square,” however. The word “yakko” was originally written as, literally, “house-boy” or “ya-tsu-ko,” which then became “yakko.” They were the lowest rank of menial serving a samurai household, using coming from peasant or commoner families. The yakko would pack luggage, run errands, and generally be the dogsbody and gofer. They would wear overcoats (hanten) with a large square on them, so they would not be immediately associated with a particular house (when it came time for the biennial march to Edo, for example, a lot of temp yakko were hired as porters). Thus the word “yakko” came to be associated with squares, and square food. Hence the yakko tofu here, or the popular summer dish of hiyayakko (chilled square tofu).


Tofu itself of course, then and now, was a cheap and popular food for the masses. A recipe book published in 1782 listed a hundred ways to prepare tofu, from common or garden dishes that any household might make, such as ganmodoki (a tofu and vegetable loaf or dengaku (tofu coated in miso and fried), to elite dishes. It has even been translated into modern Japanese and published.

The eggplant and flounder dish is another one Jinsaburo prepared for the carpenters, a few days later. Jinsaburo writes:

“I returned from the office [where he worked as an under-assistant to a rural commissioner] to assist the carpenters, and on removing some old nails, I missed and fell back, onto some nails that were still in the holes, on their heads, catching my right index finger, tearing two holes in the back of it, a most unfortunate incident.
Today three carpenters came, and for lunch I served them eggplant and flounder, grilled, but two of the carpenters took their lunch at their own homes, including Suzaemon.
I served an evening meal to the three, yakko tofu and prawns, boiled and served on two dishes.
   [29 July 1864]”

Personally I am not a great fan of eggplant, but it is popular in the Kanazawa region, especially in summer as it is thought to cool the body down. Would chilli eggplant thus be the ideal summer food? Anyway, this brings us onto the prawns. Jinsaburo wasn’t specific about what sort of prawns he served, but we were given ama-ebi, “sweet prawns,” the most common type. This was one dish that was not remotely exotic in terms of any sense of “depths of history coming alive,” as it is so common even in the 21st century. We were urged to pretend like we were carpenters in the late Edo period feasting on these dishes, but that was pretty well impossible of course. Not in a modern air-conditioned restaurant sitting at tables.

Red rice is a staple for celebrations and congratulatory occasions in Japan even now. It is made from mochi rice, which is more glutinous and sticky than normal rice, with red beans (azuki: a popular sweet flavour in Japan for reasons passing understanding), though there are regional variations – in the Kanto region around Tokyo, for example, red beans are above as they tend to develop a slit along the belly when steamed, and a slit belly is not an auspicious sign…. Red has long been considered a colour for warding off evil in East Asia – hence its still common use for shrine gateways (torii) and bridges. Red rice (sekihan) is now eaten at New Years and at festivals, as well as other commemorative occasions. However it is also served at more normal times. Jinsaburo had it, for example, on 25 September 1864, as his diary shows:

“After the office, I went to the Tai Tenmangu Shrine, and then dropped in at Etchu-ya Kichibei where I had business, and was offered red rice at that time, which I ate and then left, looking in on Mr Shirogane-ya Yaroku as I had not seen him in some time, before returning home in the evening.”


Soba is another staple of Japan. There was nothing overly strange about this dish, as it is still popular today – though, admittedly, this was a rather nice one. In my experience, soba (and in fact Japanese food as a whole) really shows a major difference in terms of quality between the high and low ends. Maybe this is as it is harder to disguise cheap ingredients and poor food with rich sauces, but if there is some Japanese food you have had and not thought much of, give it another go from a better quality place. Waraiya, where we had this meal, was rather good. In my case, I am not a soba fan, as the cheap stuff is pretty appalling. However good soba has a much richer flavour and firmer, more varied, texture, and I recommend it. Soba itself is always translated as “buckwheat” noodles, but I have no idea what “buckwheat” is, as the only times I ever come across the word are when “soba” is translated. The noodles are usually either served chilled with a thin soy-based sauce for dipping, or hot in a thin soup, as here. While the chilled form (known as “zaru-soba” for the drain tray the noodles are served on), we were given the hot form, to clear our palettes before the dessert.

Jinsaburo had kayaku-soba (mixed soba, referring to the other things in the soup), the day after his red rice, on the 26th of September, as his diary notes:

“In the evening I went with Inami-ya Toshichi to the bathhouse, and on our return we dropped in at a kayaku soba place in Kazue-machi, and there we had a jug of sake, and returned home at the fifth hour [8:00 pm], then with Toshichi’s wife and [my wife] Shina, we went out to that soba place to eat.”

The final item on the menu was amazake, which is a sweet drink made from fermented rice that has been popular in Japan for, oh, about its entire recorded history. Traditionally it was a summer drink, as we find it here in the Umeda Diaries, though now it is very much a winter drink, associated strongly with the first visit to a shrine at the New Year, where it is offered to parishioners (usually for free) to keep them warm on what can be a rather chilly night. Despite the name sake, which is famous as rice wine, there is almost no alcohol in amazake,
Jinsaburo mentioned amazake in passing in his diary a few days later, on 30 September:

“Made some amazake.
Used one and a half slabs of koji [the special mould spores used to ferment sake] to five cups of new rice.”

However our chef for tonight, Nishimura Yutaka, felt that plain old amazake was a little dull, so he got a little creative and came up with an amazing amazake sherbet which, while not remotely historically authentic, was astoundingly good – it was the one dish that all the participants agreed was one we would have liked a second helping of. In fact many suggested it be added as a permanent menu item.

However, while the food was very good, all in all I felt somewhat let down by this “recreated Edo food,” for the simple reason that it is really not significantly different to contemporary Japanese food. Or, in other words, modern Japanese food is remarkably close to its roots – though I should stress that this is something that is dependent on the type of dish, as some of the most famous, such as sukiyaki, did not exist at the time. But most foods eaten in the Edo period would be familiar to people now; if not in the precise details, certainly in the overall outline.

Next post, we are back on the road, taking a look at some of the things out there the casual tourist might not even notice….

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January 7th, 2010

One summer day, as part of the Kanazawa Machi-Haku (Town Expo) project, the Amane Project organized a walking tour of the Higashiyama area, to the north of the city by the Asano River. I joined in, and after a lengthy lecture at the old Terashima samurai house, we headed up to the Higashiyama area to check out some of the sites that the Umeda Diaries mention. The Umeda Diaries were written by a man named Notoya Jinsaburo, who later took the surname Umeda, at the close of the Edo period, and a valuable and verbose resource for understanding normal civilian life at the twilight of the Shogunate. Later entries will deal with the diary in more detail, however. At the moment I would like to talk a bit about the Eastern Geisha District in Higashiyama that we strolled around.

This is currently one of Kanazawa’s preeminent tourist traps – I mean spots – and has, over the time I have been living in this city, been prettified up very nicely into a somewhat Disney version of itself. Nevertheless, despite the faux “Taisho-Romance” look to it, the Eastern Geisha District is still a very interesting place to wander around.

But, as always, it helps a lot to know just what you are looking at. While a complete history of the area would take a small book (or even a large one, depending on how many illustrations there were), we can still get a decent idea in a few paragraphs.

Yuna and the Bath Girls

Back in the early 17th century, pleasure girls (or “yuna” in Japanese, written with the characters for “play” and “woman” – they didn’t beat around the bush then; another way to write it was “bath [hot water] woman” which was not much of a euphemism either) were recorded as plying their trade along the banks of the river, but it wasn’t until 1820, two hundred years later, that the daimyo administration finally got around to bowing to the irrepressible (and in the interests of boosting the local economy) by setting up a special area to contain and control the more sensual pleasures. Edo had set aside the Yoshiwara back in 1617, with five rules that were strictly enforced: 1, no overnight guests; 2, no selling of people; 3, to cooperate with arresting criminals; 4, no plying their trade outside the area; and 5, no excessive ornamentation of teahouse or clothing.

As the Japanese word for pleasure quarter, yukaku (written with the characters for “play” and “compound”), suggests, these areas were in fact physically set off from the rest of the city. They were walled in, with gates, for control, both to keep people in and to keep people out. The black-lacquered gate can be seen in the following image.

Higashi shinchi

Higashi Shinchi Ezu
Click on any image to see a larger version.

The regulations for setting up the pleasure districts were as follows:

“At this time, in the Sai River Ishizaka area, and the Utatsu Teahouse area, teahouses are being built, with girls placed within them, and both areas shall be enclosed with walls, with wooden gates in two or three locations, and inside those gates, patrol officials and town officials, as well as those that wear the sword, shall not be permitted any entry whatsoever, and this shall be relayed to the gate sentry.
  Issued this 6th day of the 9th month of the 3rd Bunsei year (1820)”

There were always two to three sentries at the gate, not to mention a cell for holding those that broke the regulations.

The Eastern Geisha District was some 3500 tsubo (11,570 sq km) in size, and when it was developed, the layout was made totally different to the existing streets, as can be seen on the following two maps:


Kaga Koku Kanazawa no Ezu , circa 1668


Kanazawa Sou-ezu, circa 1854

The Higashiyama district was divided into three streets, exactly as it is today, and like today, the middle one was the main one. These roads were termed Upper Street, Middle Street, and Lower Street, moving away from the castle, which was always Up. The streets were not of course the neat flagstones they are now, but gravel and dirt. In fact the streets were never flagstones: they were either unpaved, or, in the 20th century, tarmac. Thus the paving here and in the Nagamachi samurai area is as about authentic as Disneyland and done for the same reasons.

When the Kaga domain finally got around to authorizing the pleasure quarters in Kanazawa, they chose two sites, both suitably far enough away from the castle. One was to the south, on the far side of the Sai River, known as the Western, or Ishizuka, and the other was to the north, on the far side of the Asano River, was known as the Eastern. It is often said that the reason temples were placed on the outskirts of castle towns was defensive: their wide compounds and high boundary walls were perfect for troops to gather. I have often wondered if having the pleasure quarters at the entries to the city too might not have been defensive: distract the invaders, perhaps….

Regulating Pleasure

It is well known that the feudal governments considered the pleasure quarters not somewhere that persons of breeding or standing should go, and forbade entry to “those carrying swords,” which in the Edo period meant the samurai class. This was, it seems, a rule made to be broken, especially considering the number of times it had to be issued. Although there was another pragmatic reason—to prevent fights from getting deadly, and, in some cases, to prevent the girls, who were sometimes there against their will, from committing suicide. The other group that was forbidden was “those in cassocks” (a necessarily loose translation), referring to priests.

The regulations regarding this and other matters were posted on a board at the entrance. These boards were common throughout the Edo period cities for public notices—generally a list of things that were forbidden. The following is a translation of a part of the regulations on the pleasure quarters:

- Since the teahouses were first constructed, they have become gaudy, and this is counter to how they should be. Therefore, in future, a frugal manner is to be required.
- [cut]
- The prohibition of the girls from leaving the gate is, as announced each time, something that must be respected.
- The clothing of the girls is to be as it was previously. Nevertheless, there are those that wear luxurious designs, and thus in the future as simple a taste as possible is to be used, and gorgeousness is in no way to be permitted.
- [cut]
- As of this leap eleventh month of the 12th Bunsei year (1829)

The price for one girl for one Edo-period hour (two modern hours) was 10 momme (a silver coin) between two pm and two am, and half that between two am and two pm. According to the guide to the pleasure quarters issued very promptly after they reopened, the “Kiku-Kurabe”, there were 90 establishments in the Western Geisha District, and 56 geigi, 101 shougi, 6 kaburo, and 31 “dispatch” geigi. While certain tourist information would have the visitor believe that geisha, contrary to their clichéd image of prostitutes, were in fact semi-virginal entertainers and nothing more, the careful dividing of this listing contradicts that: roughly speaking, the geigi were the entertainers, but the shougi were the ones you slept with.

It did not take long, however, for more conservative elements in the Kaga administration to get their way: a scant 11 years after they were authorized, the pleasure quarters were banned. The reason was their deleterious effect on public morals. People were having fun, you see:

“It is announced that henceforth the teahouse areas of both locations shall be suppressed. In the future, no location whatsoever shall be permitted to engage in houses of assignation.
The above is to be communicated throughout the town.
   21st day of the 8th month (of 1831)”

A later edict required the removal of the gates, opening up the district and absorbing it into the rest of the city. While the “houses of assignation” were forbidden, some businesses did carry on with it on the sly until 1846 when the area was renamed (as Atago) and the houses forcibly converted into normal residential use. That year, an edict decreed that:

“The prohibition of houses of assignation is even now, we hear, not obeyed by certain people, and in the future, should we continue to hear this, the houses naturally, and also the names of the men and women who meet shall be taken down, and each of them shall be severely warned. Additionally, the houses of the teahouse and Ishizaka areas are tall, and have second floors or are of sizes that are not appropriate to the position of their owners, and these should be modified to be normal houses. This should be done as soon as possible, so that all the work is complete by next spring.
   12th month, 3rd year of Kouka (1846)”

Just to confuse matters even more, in 1867 pleasure quarters were permitted again, only to have the selling of humans banned by the new Meiji government in 1871. But this was only a temporary setback: this time as legally free women, the geigi and shougi continued to ply their trade until 1958, when prostitution was finally banned. There are still some genuine geisha houses in the district however: very discrete, very proper, and very hard to get into without an introduction.

However the Shima house is open to anyone willing to part with the moderate entrance fee. It is well worth it, and very interesting to look around—the garden and kitchen area is particularly interesting, I find, but my personal favourite room is the second-floor one over the “hanare,” or rear wing, and its vestibule. Don’t forget to take note of the massive wooden door at the entrance to the house: this used to be standard for all town houses, though nowadays 99.9% of them have been replaced with double-sided sliding doors.

For dinner we were to have a meal created from dishes mentioned Umeda’s diary. And that will be the topic of the next entry.

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December 8th, 2009

Kanazawa is a castle town. Most of Japan’s major cities – and a number of its minor ones – have developed from castle towns. So what exactly is a castle town? As the name implies, it is a town with a castle (or at least a site where there once was a castle). But a Japanese castle town, or “jouka-machi” (literally, town under a castle) implies much more than that bland description. The castle town, which reached its zenith during the Edo Period (1603-1867), was the centre of government for feudal Japanese domains under their lords, the daimyo. Or, in the case of Edo (renamed Tokyo, or Eastern Capital, after it became the Emperor’s residence), the centre of government for the entire country under the shoguns.

Trying to find a place to start introducing the history and culture of Kanazawa is not easy. Where to begin? The founding of the city? The traditional centre of the city, the castle? Kenrokuen Gardens, the centre of the tourist circuit, perhaps? I think perhaps a good place to start, if we are going to let the voices of the past be our guide, is with the streets. In particular, with maps of the city.

Maps are some of the most powerful historical documents created, because they show where things are, how they are laid out, and how to get to them. They are in a sense the ultimate panopticon of power, with the gaze unfettered and free to roam. Which is precisely why they were so controlled and censored by the feudal government in Japan. Maps of Kanazawa were created largely for two people: the local lord, or the shogun, and never for the common folk. This affected what they showed, and in how much detail. Most extant maps of the castle town from the Edo period are conspicuously missing the castle itself: for military reasons, the defences – the walls and towers and gates – are left blank. However they are often wonderfully detailed when we look at the streets and neighbourhoods.

The second thing to notice about maps of cities in the Edo period (aside from how big they were: some maps are several metres on a side) is that while some areas, a majority, are shown as divided up into housing, other areas are just left blank. But in this case it is not military censorship at fault: these blank areas are where the townsfolk, the commoners, lived, and the areas where the samurai lived.

Kanazawa is one of the easiest cities in Japan to navigate using period maps. One major reason for this is that it avoided being plastered by American bombs during World War 2, while its neighbours of Fukui and Toyama were both hit. This is the reason most commonly given for the survival of the old road layout, but it is somewhat disingenuous in that even though peoples houses got destroyed, their property rights remained, and so rebuilding did have to take that into account. In other words, even with cities like Osaka and Tokyo, it is still easy to trace the old roads. With Kanazawa, however, another factor comes into play: unlike Tokyo and Osaka, rather than having grown steadily over the past century and a half since the Edo period ended and the Emperor Meiji came to the throne, it has in fact gradually but steadily declined in rank. And there is nothing like decline to preserve urban spaces.

So, with map in hand (not an original, preferably), we are free to wander the roads, much as people did in the Edo period only with somewhat more traffic.

The best maps are from the later Edo period. Earlier ones are rather less accurate. This one, showing the castle and the area around it shortly after the start of the Edo period, is not the best guide to modern Kanazawa. However we can see that areas that are now the lower baileys of the castle were once residential, with the castle confined to the higher areas.

But if we take a later map, from the last century of the Edo Period, the castle area looks a lot more like its present form, and we can use it as a guide to stroll around the area.

Since the castle is off-limits, at least on the map, the first place to start is the wide road leading out from the front gate to Owaricho. The roads around this area are much as they were in feudal times, though the main road was widened before the war to accommodate the tram. Photos from a hundred years ago give a good impression of what it was like in its heyday. This was the commercial centre of the city, where the richest and highest ranked merchants, those with the Kaga Domain equivalent of the Royal Warrant, lived. These “mombatsu tokken shounin” supplied the highest ranks of Kanazawa society with their daily needs. Some of these families grew rather wealthy indeed—when the Emperor Meiji visited Kanazawa, he did not stay at the former residence of one of the elite samurai, but in a merchant home (albeit one with a new wing constructed specially for him). The highest ranks of all were the “iegara chōnin,” the Household Townsmen, who were permitted retainers and estates, along with the waiving of their normal taxes and the right to be in the presence of the lord (a right many of the lower samurai did not have). These elite families, only 15 in 1860, were those who had come over with Maeda Toshiie and served as town elders (machi toshiyori) and as “ginza-yaku,” minting coins and controlling weights and measures[1].

Modern Owaricho is no longer the commercial centre of Kanazawa—that role was taken over by the Korinbo and Katamachi areas starting from around the 1920s, when the proximity of the Fourth Upper High School, the Town Hall, and the Prefectural Office drove the rise in café culture centring on the area where the distinctive 109 building stands. For this reason, it still retains many shop-houses in the traditional style, especially along the back street towards the river.


Owaricho in 1914. Note the stones used on the roofs rather than tiles.
Click on any image to see a larger version.

The Temple Areas

There are three main temple areas in Kanazawa, the largest of which is the aptly named Teramachi, or Temple Town, lying near the southern entrance to the city, across the river from the castle. Long walls line much of the main street, and temples are also dotted around the side streets, making this a very pleasant place for a stroll.


Kinpu Daiezu, circa 1848

Looking at old maps of the area, some dating from the middle of the 17th century, the area has a long line of temples marching along the road that leads to the hill of Nodayama, as well as clustered around the road out to the town of Tsurugi (the road heading past the red-shaded Gyokusenji on this map). The majority of those temples are still there, though even a quick glance will show that for the most part they are greatly reduced in size. We can actually trace this decline in site size by looking at a series of maps and illustrations of the area. In the 17th century, aside from a few scattered residences next to the Saihoji and the Myoryuji (the suffix “ji” designates a temple in Japanese, as does “tera” or “dera”: hence, referring to Kyoto’s famous Honganji Temple literally means the “Original Vow Temple Temple”). While this area was largely temples and townsmen, a 1668 map shows some areas that are marked on the 1667 one as townsmen areas as “ashigaru,” or foot soldier (the lowest rank of samurai). On the 1668 map, for example, we find the notation, “Eleven or twelve foot soldier [households], one of which is the headman”.

A few years later, we find more samurai areas mingled in with the townsmen areas. This, incidentally, flies in the face of the standard Edo period urban planning concept, which was to rigidly separate them. However, like many concepts, this was far from absolute (a good way to get an idea of this sort of thing is to look at the many times the Shogunate passed conspicuous consumption laws – this is not (just) the Shogunate being draconian and Puritan, but reflects the wide extent to which these laws were flouted, since they had to keep repeating themselves).

A century later, in the mid 18th century, we see a number of townsmen houses (shown in grey on this map from around 1854) along the north side of the large Gyokusenji (outlined in red below). The area of townhouses around the temple, incidentally, was called “Gyokusenji Monzen.” This refers to the “monzen-machi,” literally the “town in front of the [temple] gates.” These residential areas were different from the standard townsmen areas in that they were administered by the Temples and Shrines Magistrate (jishabugyou), rather than the Town Magistrate (machibugyou).


Kanazawa Souezu, circa 1854

The Gyokusenji, incidentally, was one of the largest temples in Kanazawa. It was founded to pay honour to the spirit of the Lady Ei, known as Gyokusen (literally, Jade Fountain) later in life, and as such had a direct connection to the Maeda lords who ruled the city. Ei was the wife of the second Lord Maeda, Toshinaga, and the daughter of Oda Nobunaga. The wife of the third lord, Toshitsune, was the daughter of the Shogun and the granddaughter of Tokugawa Ieyasu, and her temple, Tentokuin, was in terms of sheer area the biggest in the entire city. These political marriages give some idea of the importance of the Maedas, However Gyokusenji is now a shadow of its former glory, and what remains of its rather shabby grounds are little more than a hunting ground for stray cats. Interestingly, however, the current temple site is not quite the original, though the location is the same. In the Edo period, the boundaries between Buddhism and Shinto were blurred, and the Izumino Sugawara Shrine was attached to the Gyokusenji. However in the Meiji Period, following the abolition of the old feudal system and the return to (more or less) direct monarchical rule, Buddhism and Shinto were split apart as part of the efforts to re-establish Shinto as the premier religion of the land—largely as it was what gave the Emperor his right to rule, as descended from the Sun Goddess. So the shrine was sent packing. However a fire at the temple only a few years later forced the Gyokusenji to use the old shrine building for its main hall. And when in 1872 the shrine was allowed to return, it was built on the old temple hall site. So, in essence, the temple and the shrine that we can see today have literally swapped places.

By the early 19th century, townsmen residential areas have sprung up in front of most temples. This points to a gradual decline in the fortunes of the temples in line with the gradual collapse of the feudal system, which was struggling to survive and prosper as forms of proto-capitalism were developing, and samurai found themselves, in many cases, in debt to the merchants. While the sale of land was forbidden, these maps show that nevertheless, the old rigid boundaries were already giving way long before Perry came on the scene and acted as the catalyst to sweep the system aside. So the temple areas we see today, while still impressive, were once far more impressive, with long high walls lining the road, broken only by their gates.

[1] Kanazawa City History, Tsushi-hen, Vol 2 Kinsei, p. 395.

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November 1st, 2009

Kanazawa. The Golden Stream is perhaps the most poetic way of translating that. Certainly better than “golden swamp,” which it often gets translated as. A “sawa,” according to the Daijirin dictionary of the Japanese language, is “a shallow pool, with reeds and other grasses,” or “a mountain valley stream; a flow close to its source.” As I am writing this blog, I shall choose which meaning to use. Also, the founding legend of Kanazawa talks of Imohori Togoro washing his potatoes in a “sawa” (from which came gold, the “kana” part of the name) and people don’t usually wash their food in swamps…

This series of blog entries is going to be a sort of historical guide to Kanazawa for travellers and tourists—well, the former especially. It is for those people that figure that since they are going to visit a country with a long and rich history, very different to that of Europe and its former colonial offshoots, they might as well have a decent idea of what they are looking at and how it fits into the history and culture of the country.

I have lived in and studied the castle town of Kanazawa for almost two decades, and through this series of blog entries, and with the help of other researchers on Kanazawa and the Kaga Domain at the Amane Project, I shall try and bring its history and urban traditions to life using period documents, maps, diaries, and illustrations. These mini-guides are aimed at tourists and visitors to Kanazawa, but hopefully will be of interest to armchair travellers as well.

During the Edo period, which last from 1603 to 1867, and may be thought of as the culmination of traditional Japanese culture, Japan was still intensely rural. The proportion of urban dwellers remained below 50% until the 1960s in fact. However the cities were the focus of government, trade, and culture in a way that the poorer rural areas couldn’t imitate. While rural cultural traditions still survive, the urban ones are generally more accessible to the foreign tourist. Hence the domination of cities in any itinerary of Japan.

The type of city that dominated the Edo period was the Castle Town, the local government centre and home of the regional daimyo, or lord. While Tokyo was originally a castle town, there is very little of the original city left, thanks to its role as the nation’s capital. On the other hand, Kanazawa is famed throughout Japan as a relatively well preserved castle town, thanks partially to the fact it wasn’t bombed in WW2, and largely to the fact that it has suffered serious decline since its heyday. During the Edo period, Kanazawa was in fact one of the largest cities in Japan, at least as large as Nagoya. Now it’s way down at number 37 or something. This decline has saved it from some of the worst ravages of modernisation, and allows us to glimpse something of the original urban landscape even today.

Hence, these blog entries are designed to help give you an appreciation of what you might see as you wander the streets, allowing you to get a feel for how the classical Japanese city was laid out. Of course, being such a large city even back in the Edo period means that Kanazawa is not completely typical, but most of the features are shared with other castle towns.


Hokuriku Meisho Zue
The following images are the same.
Click on any image to see a larger version.

When some of us from the Amane Project were perusing the contents of the Pre-Modern Historical Archive at the city library for interesting period documents to use in explaining Kanazawa, we came across a series of woodblock prints from 1897, showing, in glorious colour, some of the tourist sights of the city and region as they were back around the turn of the previous century. This strikes me as an excellent place to start our travels around the city. For each 1897 print, I have included a 2009 photograph of the same area taken from the same angle—or as close to the same angle as we could get, bearing in mind the changes in the area around each place as well as a certain artistic licence with regard to angles and perspective and the like.

The first image is the cover, with the title written in elegant cursive script down the middle. Most modern Japanese would find it hard to read, in fact. It says, from the top down, Hokuriku Meisho Zue, or Collection of Famous Hokuriku Places. “Hokuriku,” by the way, is the name given to the area of Japan north of Kyoto—literally, it means “northland,” and covers the modern prefectures of Fukui, Ishikawa, Toyama, and sometimes Niigata, though increasingly less so since the Joetsu bullet train line was opened up and Niigata became more associated with the area around Tokyo. So we’ll leave Niigata out of things. This also makes Kanazawa the largest city in the Hokuriku region, so is no bad thing.


Kenrokuen Photo

The first picture is called “Scene of the Great Cherry Tree in the Park.” The park in Kanazawa means Kenrokuen. Most guidebooks will tell you that the name Ken-roku-en means Garden of the Combined Six [Ideal Attributes of a Garden]. And so it does. But these are not why the garden is famous. Actually my own opinion is that the garden is terribly over-rated, though it does have some nice corners. The oldest part, not coincidentally. Kenrokuen is what is known as a strolling garden, as opposed to the sort which you viewed from afar, and I usually think the latter are nicer (though I highly recommend the garden at the Katsura Detached Palace in Kyoto). The part shown here is the “Flying Wild Geese Bridge,” which is made up of segments of Tomuro stone cut up into the shape of turtle-shells. Both of these are symbols of long life, so crossing the bridge was considered to bring you long life. Alas, the general age and condition of the bridge mean that it is off-limits now, along with the bridge the people in the foreground are on, so the angle is slightly different. The massive great cherry tree, known as the Morning Cherry (Asahi-sakura) has gone as well. Up until it died in 1927 it, rather than the current Kotoji Lantern, was the main symbol of Kenrokuen.

Kenrokuen itself started out as the pleasure-gardens of the Maeda family, the clan that ruled a vast swathe of the this area throughout the Tokugawa Period: they controlled almost all of present-day Ishikawa and Toyama Prefectures, for a total income in rice of over a million “koku,” or bushels. The land Kenrokuen stands on was originally set aside for the mansions of some of the most important retainers of the Maedas, situated in a place of honour beside the castle, and in the line of attack from anyone charging down the mountains. The gardens started out in the Renchi area of the park (“renchi” means “lotus pond”) and at the end of the seventeenth century the chief retainers were booted out, and the land taken over by the Maedas for their personal amusement. In 1822, a palace was built here for the 12th Lord Maeda to retire to, and its garden was named by Matsudaira Sadanobu (who may never have actually seen it, and it certainly didn’t look like it does now) as “Kenrokuen.” This name was derived from the “Chronicles of the Famous Luoyang Gardens”, a book by the Sung-dynasty Chinese poet Li Gefei, and stands for the six mutually-contradictory attributes of a perfect landscape: spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, waterways, and panoramas. While Kenrokuen does have those, the name is probably more a reference to its perceived degree of perfection than a simple listing. With the fall of the ancien régime, Kenrokuen was opened to the plebs in 1871, and was swiftly—in two years, in fact—listed as a nationally-renowned garden. Kenrokuen’s status as the centrepiece of Kanazawa tourism has been steady every since.

There are a number of interesting stories connected with Kenrokuen. One, recounted in “Post War 50 Years in Ishikawa,” (p.367) tells of how, in October 1945, when the American occupying forces were in Kanazawa, a certain Lieutenant Colonel Haycock was visiting the garden when he noticed the statue of Yamato Takeru, standing tall with a sword in his hand. This being the time immediately after the war when Japan was being methodically expunged of anything that reeked of militarism and martial valour, Haycock looked at this statue and demanded that it be removed immediately, since it was clearly an armed soldier. Oh no, he was reassured by his hosts, this was a young maiden dancing the Sword Dance, and in fact was a symbol of peace. And thus one of the oldest outdoor bronze statues in Japan remains standing to this day. And incidentally, that Lieutenant Colonel was right: in the foundation myths of Japan, Yamato Takeru-no-Mikoto (whose very name literally means “Honour” “Fight” “Japan”) was an prince of Japan in the 4th century who fought many wars to expand the empire in Japan, and the statue itself was erected to honour the dead in the South-West War (the Saigo Rebellion) where the last real resistance against imperial rule was crushed (the statue, needless to say, honours the victors: it would be a few more years yet before Saigo’s reputation was redeemed enough to get him his own statue).

One little-known fact about Kenrokuen is that it used to be where the first foreign teachers in Kanazawa were housed. At the foot of the Yamazaki-yama mound, a two-storied house was built for the German teacher of mining, Von Dekken. Kenrokuen, in fact, while it gives the appearance of a timeless classical garden, was treated more as a public square in the early Meiji period, with all manner of public buildings being built. It housed the city’s first museum (and the first permanent museum in the country), a number of schools, the city library, and a children’s playground that was still there when I started living in Kanazawa. So the park—and indeed, much of central Kanazawa—has been slowly taken over by the tourist trade and removed from the daily living sphere of the citizens.

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle
Kanazawa Castle Photo

Facing Kenrokuen, the next picture shows the snow-covered walls of the castle. To the left is the road that runs along the front of the park, while the moat was filled in around 1910 and is now filled with cars. Ishikawa Gate can be seen to the right, and the high area with trees was the main bailey. Most of the buildings of the castle were lost to fire in 1888, but even before then Kanazawa Castle was never one of the more impressive examples in Japan. It occupied a relatively small site, lost its keep in 1599 or so, and its main gate mid-way through the Edo period. But the Maedas didn’t really need an impressive castle: Japan was at peace, their rule was assured, and besides, no other lords were likely to pass through their city on their biennial trip to Edo, so there was no one to impress.

There are a number of legends about the white roofs of the castle, which are made from lead (think sheets of lead beaten over wooden forms, not solid lead tiles). The most common one is that this was done this way so that the lead could be melted and used to make bullets in case of a war. There is no actual historical evidence for this, however. Lightness (tiles are heavy, especially the older style of two-piece tile, and heavier still covered in lots of snow) and aesthetics, plus a nice surplus of lead when the central government took over all money printing are the more realistic reasons.

At the time this picture was made, the castle site was home to the Ninth Division of the Imperial Army, and you can just make out the guard’s sentry-box to the left of the gate. After the war, the national university moved in, and in fact for 18 months after I arrived I used this gate to go to classes before the campus finally moved. It is now a rather sterile park, though with some interesting reconstructions of some of the original buildings. I hope to get into the castle in more detail in later posts. The photo, rather unfortunately badly backlit, but with some nice lens effects, is not taken from quite the same location as, thanks to trees, signboards, and artistic licence, it is not in fact possible to see the view in the original print.

Oyama Shrine

Oyamashrine photo

The next picture, in geographical order as we head north, is the main gate of Oyama Shrine. This gate is quite unique in Japan, looking like nothing else in the country. The shrine is dedicated to the founder of the Maeda clan, Lord Maeda Toshiie (Japanese names are given surname first, just like Chinese ones), and was founded a few years after the end of the Maeda’s rule over Kanazawa to give the people a focus for civic pride and hope as their world was rebuilt around them.

The gate was built in 1875, and is remarkable for including stained glass windows, at the topmost level, and also a lightning rod, clearly shown in this picture. It represents, thus, both the forward direction of the new Japan, with its new windows, radical design, and use of science, and at the same time, as the gate to where the founder of the Maedas is enshrined, serves as a reassurance that the old ways will not be forgotten. While the front gate gets all the tourist attention at Oyama Shrine, the rear gate is well worth a look as well, as it is the only remaining part of the Maeda’s palace. The rest of the place burned down—well, it burned down several times over its history.

Satue of Maeda Toshiie

I coloured the horo red in this photo to give a better idea.

Inside the grounds is a recent statue of Maeda Toshiie, with what looks for all the world like a rather large pumpkin on his back. This is in fact a shield, known as a “horo” in Japanese, which protected a warrior’s rear from arrows, and was made of bamboo or whalebone and covered with cloth. In 1568, Toshiie was chosen as one of Lord Oda Nobunaga’s Red Shield Force, which, together with the Black Shield Force, was the chosen elite of Nobunaga’s Household Cavalry, and their duties were to relay the orders of the commander to the officers. So if this was a colour statue, then the horo would be red, and Toshiie would look even more like he was piggy-backing a pumpkin….

This is yet another one where artistic licence and the intervening years (in this case, the growth of trees rather than buildings) mean it is impossible to replicate the composition. In addition, the torii gateway in front of the shrine gate, which a photo from 1899 clearly shows as present, is missing—or rather, is behind the shrine—a scant two years earlier. While it is perfectly possible the torii was moved, the general level of accuracy of these prints leads me to suspect the artist just Got It Wrong.

Asano River

Asano River
Asano River Photo

Here we are crossing the Asano River. The caption reads “Looking from the Great Asano River Bridge towards Mt. Over-There,” “Mt. Over-There,” or “Mukaiyama,” being an alternative name for Utatsuyama. Utatsuyama is the hill to the north of Kanazawa, across the river from the city and the castle, and the name also refers to its location: in the U and Tatsu direction from the castle. “U” is the “rabbit” in the Chinese zodiac, and also means the East direction, whereas “Tatsu,” the dragon,” points East-South-East.

The pedestrians are on the old wooden Asano Bridge, which was replaced with a stone one about twenty years after this print was made. Since the Asano is not that prone to devastating floods, that bridge still remains today. There was a similar one over the Sai River, on the other side of the city, but that was washed away and eventually replaced a few years later with the steel one that now spans the river without actually touching it. While the modern Asano Bridge is stone and concrete, replicas of the old wooden bridge have been built a little way both upstream and downstream. This gives a good idea of what the original view was like. Note, too, the overhead wires lovingly included as a symbol of progress. Many old photos of Japan almost seem to go out of their way to show wires, which is quite at odds with our modern sensibilities.

Eastern Teahouse District

Higashiyama Photo

The next print is called “Autumn View of the Eastern [Pleasure] Quarter.” Interestingly, but aptly for the subject, this is a night scene, with rakish young dandies in kimonos and top hats out on the town. The Eastern Pleasure Quarter, or the Eastern Teahouse District as it is now known, has changed in external appearance less than any other part of the city: it still looks essentially as it did in its heyday at the close of the Edo period. As a result, it is now one of the city’s premiere tourist areas, and despite the overly-prettied up look it now has, it is still worth a stroll (though I personally prefer the back streets, which have a far more lived-in feel, for the simple reason that they are far more lived in).

Comparing the drawing from around 1900 with the photo taken over a century later, it is clear that little has changed. The row of trees down the middle—since this is autumn, they are probably maples—certainly is no longer there, and the “gas” lamps are modern replicas, but the houses still remain. The steepness of the roofs, by the way, is artistic licence: at no stage were they ever that steep. I am going to get into the Higashiyama area in a later post, so this is just a quick introduction.

Daijoji Temple

Daijoji Photo

Finally, we have the Red Gate of Daijoji temple. While off the main tourist trail of modern Kanazawa, due to its relatively remote location at the foot of the Nodayama hill, this was quite an important temple in Kanazawa, and is still a wonderfully still and green area with moss carpeting the ground. I recommend a visit for this, if no other reason. And in a bonus to impecunious travellers who may be feeling the yen’s pinch, it’s free.

The Daijoji was in the Honda-machi area of Kanazawa, near Kenrokuen, for the first hundred years of the Edo period before being moved out to the foot of Nodayama, where the Maedas had their family graveyard. Nodayama is also home to the largest cemetery in the city, sprawling up the hillside.

It is one place where it is relatively easy to experience zazen, the mystical Buddhist meditation rite that involves sitting very uncomfortably and staring at a wall while being whacked across the shoulders. It is also possible to stay there a few nights, living the life of a zen monk.

The view shown in the print here is somewhat imaginative, as the roof of the gate is shingle rather than tile, as is the main gate which can be seen to the bottom left but which in reality could never be seen like this. The perspective is completely screwed up as well. You tend to notice these things when trying to replicate compositions.

Incidentally, it’s interesting to note what is NOT shown in this series of prints. The Nagamachi area, one of modern Kanazawa’s most famous tourist spots, is not shown. This is because back in 1897, what Nagamachi has to offer was not remotely rare in Kanazawa. However I shall deal with Nagamachi and the problems of the “Samurai District,” in an upcoming post.

In the next post, I shall take a look at some old maps of the city, which are still quite good guides to the city layout even today….

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