Japan’s Ancient Samurai Town ———– Kanazawa ———- is located between the Sea of Japan and the Japanese Alps in western Japan and is considered one of the country’s best places to learn about SAMURAI HISTORY.
Kanazawa’s historical Higashi Chaya district is a row of old latticed tea-houses in a town that’s convoluted in both its layout and history. The town was spared from destruction during World War — 2 and remains one of the best-preserved castle towns of the EDO PERIOD. It is one of the only cities in Japan to still have a SAMURAI DISTRICT. Of course, Samurai were abolished in the late 19th century as Japan modernised, so you can’t find Samurai here today. But, much of their world remains.
Making the 473 km trip from Tokyo to Kanazawa used to take about 5hrs and required changing trains. But the trip just got much easier. Starting March 14, 2015, the new direct HOKURIKU SHINKANSEN (Bullet Train), run by West Japan Railway Company cut the travel time in half. And like the slower trains, it arrives at KANAZAWA STATION, often listed as one of the “world’s most beautiful.”
Jenna Scatena writes, “I’d always been fascinated by Samurai, those warriors who were inhumanly stoic and ever willing to fall on their swords for their masters or slay anyone showing disrespect. At least, that was how I’d imagined Samurai to be, thanks to films like “The Last Samurai” & “13 Assassins”. I was about to learn there was more to their story.”
She continues, ” On my first morning in Kanazawa, I made a beeline for the neighbourhood of Higashi Chaya and met Kiyoe Nagashima, a 6th generation resident and a Kanazawa Excursion Guide. The pounding of a TAIKO DRUM, in a nearby Temple, filled the air, summoning the feeling I often have when in a foreign place : of following the city’s beating pulse.”
” Kanazawa is not a place for “theme parks”, but a place for living”, said Kiyoe, her face beaming with pride. ” In fact, for the most part, the city is a modern metropolis dotted with luxury shops such as Louis Vuitton.”
“Following Kiyoe into the labyrinth of tea-houses, temples and restored Samurai houses, I felt like Alice slipping into the rabbit hole. We walked along the row of beautiful latticed buildings and turned down a narrow street lined with “Gingko Trees”. Then we careened up a steep path, that was so slender and discreet, I thought we were trespassing in a private driveway. When we arrived at the top, however, the path branched out into a more narrow, winding road. Kanazawa’s streets were partly designed to “mislead” and “disorient” outsiders, and I was learning, first-hand, they do so effectively. From the top of the hill, we walked into the neighbourhood of UTATSUYAMA. Samurai once lived in Buddhist Temples here, working as security guards called BOUKAN. The roofs of the stately wood buildings with detailed carvings sprouted from clusters of gingko and maple trees.”
The Samurai who flourished, in this city, during the Edo Period (1603 — 1868) were almost nothing like ferocious warriors. During this peaceful “Golden Age”, the feudal military clan focused most of its energy on scholarly pursuits and craftsmanship. As the highest social caste, during this time, the Samurai built extravagant residences and opulent gardens behind thick earthy walls and you can still see evidence of the walls today. Of course, Samurai in Japan never lived this luxurious peaceful lifestyle. The refined Samurai of Kanazawa were an anomaly, made possible by their rulers’ disinterest in violence and affection for the arts.
Kanazawa’s largest architectural relic of the “Samurai Age” is the stunning white KANAZAWA CASTLE, resting on a hill that offers a 360 degree view of the city. The Castle was built in the 16th century by the MAEDA FAMILY, the beloved rulers of Kanazawa until 1868. During the rule of the Maeda Family, the castle was their fortress, surrounded by a moat and stone wall that still stands today. Adjoining the castle, the KENROKU-en garden is home to plum, cherry and Japanese maple trees and is considered one of Japan’s famous gardens.
Next comes the NAGAMACHI neighbourhood, which was once home to upper and middle-class Samurai. Many of the original houses were torn down during Japan’s Industrial Revolution. Still, the district’s cobblestone streets, towering mud walls and peaceful canals remain and a couple of restored Samurai houses are open to the public, including the NOMURA HOUSE, which contains arty facts from its namesake family. In the Nomura House is a “KOI POND’ and “ZEN FUSUMA”(painted rice paper panels) created by the Maeda Family’s personal artist.
To defend Kanazawa, the Maeda Clan encouraged the Samurais to focus on arts and craftsmanship instead of fighting. That way they did pose a threat to the clan with the highest power and so were not invaded. As a result, there was actually ‘almost no fighting’ in Kanazawa for 400 years. That was the real lesson of Kanazawa’s Samurai. Their greatest weapon was not the sword but their focus on the arts ———– A SLY DEFENCE TACTIC IN DISGUISE.