Nagamachi and Nomura – the end of the samurai
The district is truly fascinating and probably some of the closest one can get to the feudal era of Japanese history. It remains a residential area though both the samurai and many of their houses have vanished.
What remains however are the beautifully constructed mud walls – some ancient and others restored. The streets are cobblestoned and the oldest of Kanazawa’s canals the Onosho canal criss-crosses the area establishing a beautiful scenery.
Some of the samurai houses which used to claim this area were rather big, indicating the high rank of their owners. One of them was Nomura-ke, the Nomura family residence which was assigned to Nomura Denbei Nobusada a senior official in the service of the first feudal lord of the Kaga domain, Toshiie Maeda.
The house remained in the Nomura family for 12 generations until the Meiji Restoration of 1868, which brought along reforms that destroyed the samurai social class. Along with other samurai families, the Nomura family lost their status in society, their estate and their means of income. With the changes many samurai residences and entire districts across Japan were destroyed – lost for future generations. But in Nagamachi some remain, making it a unique residential area whispering of a time long forgotten.
With a full schedule for the day we were a bit unsure as to whether we should spend time on visiting the Nomura-ke, but finally gave in for a quick visit. What greets you is a well preserved samurai uniform, which immediately made me think of the hardship of crawling up the stairs of Matsumotojo. To think that men wearing that uniform had been running up such narrow stairs.
Though originally a samurai residence the house was left to crumble until it came into the hands of an anonymous new owner in 1941, who restored the garden and reassemble part of a house built in 1841 for a prosperous merchant and shipowner by the name of Hikobei Kubo. The tea house was added at the same time.
It is by all means the garden which makes Nomura-ke worth a visit. I am still flabbergasted at how Japanese can recreate such dramatic nature in such a small space. Complete with its own waterfall and clear winding stream as well as a bridge of cherry granite, various kinds of lanterns, and many-storied towers. Adding to this is a four hundred year old myrica. The garden is made in Enshu style, though not claimed to be a work of the master himself, Kobori Enshu (1579-1647).
Fresh fish, geisha and forgotten tickets
While the small garden of Nomura-ke is beautiful, Kanazawa is known for a much larger garden, namely Kenrokuen. but before heading towards that must-see garden we took a trip to the lively Omisho Market in Kanazawa.
Apart from their very fresh fish, the Omisho market also offered a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as the mandatory sushi joint. We ended up at our first running sushi with monitors for the customers to order.
It is both efficient and very detached. I wouldn’t enjoy such style of eating out if I was back home, but with so many other things in Japan, it was a pretty awesome experience.
After lunch we made our way towards the geisha district Higashi Chaya. Chaya means tea house and is the traditional type of restaurant where geisha entertained their guests.
During the Edo period Kanazawa centre was full of Chaya houses, but these were moved to four districts in the outskirts in 1820. The largest of these is Higashi Chaya, one of the largest remaining geisha districts in Japan.
When we arrived I was burning hot due to the humidity and much of our visit we congregated in the souvenir shops in order to get away from the burning midday sun. One of the shops we visited was Hakuza, renowned for its golden leaf production. Kanazawa produces 99 % of Japans golden leaves.
A gold leaf is made by beating gold into an extremely thin sheet with a thickness of 0.1 to 0.125 millionths of a meter. It is so thin that it will disappear when you rub it with your fingers.
We had been in Kanazawa for one and a half day and I was dying to shop some of their many beautiful crafts, but it was impossible to choose between the wonderful creations.
Souvenir running and Kenrokuen Garden
At our arrival we had bought tickets for a Noh theater show, but perhaps whatever hangover I’d had in the morning from synthetic manga drinks had been the reason that I forgot the tickets at home and had to return to retrieve them.
Therefore, we ended up splitting up after visiting the geisha district. My boyfriend was to return by foot and enjoy some more of the city, while I was getting on a bus relaxing my feet for a short while.
We were to meet up again by Kenrokuen Garden. On my way there, tickets in hand, I had a look through the shops lining the entrance. I completely forgot all about the heat as I was mesmerized with all the beautiful porcelain in the shops.
It was now or never if I wanted a reminder from Kanazawa and I spent a long time running between two shops attempting to compare two different options. One was a beautiful baby blue porcelain bowl with silk and gold leaves. But it was pricey, and for some reason I was caught on the idea of buying six.
Finally I headed to the meet-up with my boyfriend to ask his advice before running back in the destructive heat to purchase my bowls. I’m pretty sure my I must have looked like a mess to the people in the shop.
The time had finally come to visit Kenrokuen Garden.
At 11.4 hectares Kenrokuen Garden is a rather large garden in Japanese standards and probably the largest we will see. For generations it was the private garden of the Maeda, the daimyo, who ruled the Kaga clan and were the feudal lords of such samurai as the Nomura family.
The garden is a strolling-style landscape garden with the characteristics of a typical landscape garden of the Edo period. It was developed between the 1620’s and the 1840’s and opened to the public in 1874 with end of the Edo period.
It is massive and not an entirely pleasant visit during the height of summer as shadow is sparse. But we managed to find a small shop selling soba noddles with the fantastic addition of a vending machine for ice-cream.
After the blazing heat in Kenrokuen Garden I was more than ready for a few hours in a theatre hall.
The nights performance
Noh is one of Japan’s most traditional arts. Its primary characteristic is its lyricism. Noh reached its heights during The Tokugawa shogunate Goverment (1603-1867).
During this time , the feudal lords of the Kaga clan enthusiastically encouraged and supported Noh drama. As a result, Kanazawa remains a center of Noh drama. There are five schools of Noh: Kanze, Hosho, Konparu, Kongo and Kita. Kanazawa specializes in the Hosho School.
In a traditional performance, five Noh plays are presented in one day. To relieve the serious and sometimes tragic atmosphere, Kyogen is performed between the Noh plays.
Kyogen has taken the elements of laughter, parodies and speech, while Noh has assumed the characteristics of song and dance. Most characters in Kyogen are amiable people such as farmers, foolish thieves, stingy masters or cunning servants.
We were to watch two plays that evening. The first was a Kyogen play and the second a Noh. As it was all in Japanese, I was pleasantly surprised when we were handed out each our English pamphlet with a resumé of the plays.
I absolutely preferred the Kyogen. Particularly because of one of the characters who had an absolutely hilarious way of portraying the master of the house. Even without understanding what was said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Noh play was beautiful but strange and dragged out for quite sometime.
Noh is an ancient art form reaching back to the 14th century and being widely popular and supported by the government during the Edo period. Thus, also Noh managed to experience a decline after the Meiji Restoration, but fortunately it has received imperial support later and gained some legal standing when it was announced Important Intangible Cultural Property by the government in 1957.
Famous last words
I have been more than pleasantly surprised by how much Kanazawa has to offer both as a large Japanese metropolis and as a culturally rich city. If I ever return to Japan I will attempt to return to Kanazawa too and spend a lot more time in this magical city.
See you in Kyoto