Behind the walls that line the alleys of the Nagamachi district, centuries of history are hidden and tell fascinating family stories and the deeds of the warriors who inhabited these elegant residences. Walking here you will get the feeling of slipping back in time, returning to the Edo period, when powerful samurai families resided in this area. The atmosphere has remained the traditional one of the time, away from the traffic and noise of the city, with the cobbled paths that make their way between the high walls and the sweet sound of the water of the Onosho canal.
Nagamachi district is little visited by tourists. It is a place you absolutely cannot miss, not only because it represents one of the best preserved legacies of the golden age of the samurai, but also because it offers suggestive views and a peaceful atmosphere ideal for a relaxing walk.
In the Edo period, Kanazawa was the fourth largest city in Japan, and one of the richest, thanks largely to the enormous power of the Maeda clan, which reigned over the city. For this reason many samurai resided in Kanazawa. Among them, there was the Nomura family, acting in the service of the Maeda, who was one of the most influential and wealthy families of the time: wealth was reflected in the sumptuousness of their home, now open to visitors.
The Nomura family home still retains extraordinary treasures and the intense restoration work has restored this place to its former glory. The refined architectural style and the walls decorated with beautiful paintings fascinate anyone who enters this wooden house. Room after room, anecdotes and habits of the family are revealed through many exhibits, including an armor placed next to the entrance and many objects of daily life.
One of the most interesting parts is undoubtedly the small garden (the third most beautiful garden in Japan) where you can walk around the carp pond and admire very well-kept plants and trees; in the background the cascading of waterfalls makes the environment even more relaxed.
In ancient times, the center of Kanazawa was dotted with many houses chaya, characteristic buildings where parties and shows were held. Within the walls of these houses the geisha interpreted dances and songs and enjoyed playing traditional Japanese instruments. In 1820 the chaya houses were moved from the city center and enriched the outlying districts of Kanazawa. If you want to take a trip back in time and breathe a little of the lively and authentic atmosphere that reigned in the old quarters, go to Higashi Chaya, the largest chaya neighborhood in Kanazawa. Walking through the maze of winding streets of the neighborhood you will have the impression of getting lost in a maze. Crossing this tangle of streets you can admire the exterior of the ancient chaya houses, with their characteristic grating motif, the so-called kimusuko. The houses are all in wood and develop on two floors. Downstairs the geishas dedicated themselves to art and entertained guests with dances and songs, while upstairs there were guest rooms. Among the houses in the Higashi Chaya district there is an ancient residence, which was built about 180 years ago: it is possible to visit its interior and stroll through its rooms rich in history.
On the hills, in the central area of the city
of Kanazawa, there is one of the natural wonders of Japan. Considered one of
the three most beautiful gardens in the country the Kenroku-en garden
represents one of those places that you absolutely can't miss during yours visit
In any season you decide to visit, it offers a unique and evocative setting: in spring you will reach the entrance to the garden through a avenue of blooming cherry trees that will envelop you with their perfumes and their colors; in summer the garden turns into an oasis of peace immersed in the green vegetation and represents the perfect place to take refuge far from the noise of the city; in winter, the landscape becomes almost fairy-tale with the snow that covers the entire area and the yukitsuri (a system that protects the pines from the snow) that cover the trees.
Next to the Kenroku-en gardens is the impressive Kanazawa castle, among whose walls you can travel back to time retracing the history of the Maeda dynasty who lived and ruled in this place for over 200 years. The castle stands right in the heart of the city between the Sai and Asano rivers. The strategic location of this fortress guaranteed, in the past, greater protection from possible attacks. The buildings that can be admired today are the ruins of the original castle, which was partly destroyed by wars and fires. They are part of the actual park of Kanazawa's Castle.
The history of Kanazawa Castle is strongly intertwined with the history of the Maeda family who reigned for a long time in the area of Kaga, where the city of Kanazawa was located. In the sixteenth century Japan was divided into fiefs and each landed estate was governed by a nobleman, called daimyo, who although he had to submit to the rules of the shogun, played its role independently, autonomously deciding on the organization of his fiefdom. Toshiie Maeda became daimyo in the late 1500s and, under his government, the city of Kanazawa developed and lived its heyday. The population increased and Toshiie Maeda tried to attract artisans and merchants into the city guaranteeing them excellent conditions for their businesses. The castle was repeatedly damaged and even destroyed by fires and wars in course of history, losing many of its components. Originally the castle was surrounded by a wide moat and high walls that were used to defend themselves from any enemy attacks. One of the distinctives features of the castle are the white tiles that cover the roof: they were made of lead so that they could withstand fire although many legends tell us that during the attacks these tiles were merged to make bullets.
Even today, as in the past, many people are seen going to the Oyama Shrine to pray and ask to fulfill their desires, of love or success, expressed on small wooden plates (ema) that are hung in front of the figure of Toshiie Maeda, the most powerful daimyo of the Maeda clan to whom we owe the expansion and wealth of the city of Kanazawa. Located a few steps from the park of Kanazawa, the Oyama shrine is composed of a series of structures immersed in greenery and a small, but charming garden that contributes in making the atmosphere of this place even more peaceful and relaxed. Located on the road between the Omicho market and the Kenroku-en gardens, the sanctuary is an excellent alternative to take a break and spend time visiting a sacred place, where time seems to have stopped in the Edo period. The visit takes little time, in total about 30 minutes, but it is indeed a time well spent. I advise you, if possible, to opt for the evening hours of sunset when the rays of the burning sun shine on the tower that marks the access to the sanctuary, giving an exciting show.
The access door is the most particular and surprising element of this sacred place: spread over three masonry arches, which give the impression of being in front of the porch of a church. It is overlooked from a tower decorated with stained glass windows on all four sides. A typically western style, therefore, that mixes with Chinese and Japanese architectural elements. A mix of influences that comes form the mind of the Dutch architect Holtman, who designed this door in 1875, giving life to a rather innovative structure for the time. But actually this door was not intended for the sanctuary: before it was transferred in front of the sanctuary, it towered over the hills of the city and served as a lighthouse. It appears that this profile originally appeared strange and little appreciated by the citizens, but today the tower has become the main attraction of the sanctuary and stands fair on the top of a stone staircase, capturing the attention of photographers and architecture enthusiasts: preceded by a torii door at the base of the staircase, presents elements typical of the Chinese tradition, such as the wood inlays that decorate the arches, the ornaments of the roof and the doors on the second floor and many other decorative details. The beauty and value of this building have consecrated it as an important part of the cultural heritage of the country. Entering in the complex of the sanctuary we find ourselves in front of the prayer room, the haiden, a wooden structure that has a traditional japanese architectural style, with the sloping tiled roof rich in decorative details. Here you can admire the statue of Maeda Toshiie, depicted riding a horse, as was used with adults warriors of the past. In the middle of the garden there is a lovely pond with the the form of a Japanese lute and crossed by a stone bridge; many small islets emerge from the water, while plants grow all around luxuriant, with a deliberately wild appearance, which add a touch of mystery to the atmosphere. To complete the landscape there are lanterns, rocks and other stone monuments scattered here and there in the garden.