Kanazawa has been the economic and cultural center of the Hokuriku region since the Edo period, during which the feudal lords supported and encouraged the development of culture and handicrafts. Fortunately Kanazawa escaped destruction during World War Two, so parts of the old town remain in good condition today.
Since the old days, traditional Japanese culture has been very much a part of daily life in Kanazawa and Ishikawa Prefecture. Fine arts such as Noh, the tea ceremony, dyeing and gold leaf are handed down to current generations and continue to dazzle.
Noh Designated as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage, Noh is a classical performing art which originated in the Japanese middle ages. A Noh play is far more about conceptualization than many other forms of theatrical art and thus takes some prep-work to understand it.
Kanazawa Noh Museum is a great place to start. Here you can even put on a Noh mask and costume. Noh wonder!
Kanazawa Gold Leaf The making of gold leaf is another flourishing Kanazawa tradition. 99% of Japan’s gold leaf is produced in Kanazawa. At ‘Kanawana Katani’, you can try your hand at gold leaf decoration.
One session lasts about 60 minutes. Price depends on your choice of creation and starts from 900 yen. You get to take your handiwork home of course!
Contemporary Art In Kanazawa you can immerse yourself not only in traditional Japanese culture but also modern art from around the world. Opened in 2004, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is a great example of Kanazawa’s flourishing art and culture. The architecture itself is a breath of fresh air and its collection of modern artworks promises to give you a new perspective on Kanazawa’s rich cultural landscape.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art Hours: 10:00~18:00, closed on Mondays
Admission: 350 yen for permanent exhibitions
Address: 1-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa, Ishikawa
Located on the coast of the Sea of Japan, Ishikawa-ken 石川県, Ishikawa-Prefecture) is in the Chūbu region of Honshū (本州, main island). Surrounded by the Sea of Japan on one side and mountainous regions on the other, Ishikawa is rich in resources and holds numerous treasures for visitors to discover.
Formed in 1872 through the merger of Kaga Province and Noto Province, Ishikawa’s history and tradition is heavily associated with the Maeda-shi (前田氏 ,Maeda clan) who were one of the most powerful samurai families in Japan. Kanazawa, in the then-Kaga province, acted as their headquarters from 1583 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Till this day, Kanazawa serves as Ishikawa’s capital city.
Ishikawa has an abundance of Prefectural and National Historic Sites and many are cultural relics of the Maeda Clan. These include Kanazawa-jō (金沢城, Kanazawa Castle), Kaga han shu Maeda ke bosho (加賀藩主前田家墓所, Kaga Domain Maeda Clan Graves) and Kenroku-en (兼六園, Six Attributes Garden).
Some other sites worth visiting are the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Senmaida (千枚田, 1000 Rice Fields) and Haku-san (白山, Mount Haku) – which is one of Japan’s Sanreizan (三霊山, Three Holy Mountains) and a potentially active volcano.
Due to the Maeda Clan, Ishikawa’s traditional and cultural performance arts and crafts are heavily influenced by traditional samurai lifestyle and culture.
Sadō (茶道, tea ceremony), introduced in the mid 17th century by Kaga’s second lord Maeda Yoshitsune, in particular has left lasting impression on many of Ishikawa’s arts and crafts, including their lacquerware and sense of omotenashi (おもてなし, hospitality and service).
Yamanaka-shikki master Okada-sensei demonstrates how to apply delicate Kanazawa gold leaf to a fine piece of lacquerware at a recent live-demonstration at Isetan.
Introduced to Yamanaka in the 17th century, Yamanaka-shikki (山中漆器, Yamanaka lacquerware) originally used various woodcraft techniques such as sensujiniki (せんすじにき, thousand-line engraving) and komanuri (こまぬり, concentric circles) to create homely everyday items . Designated as a traditional craft in 1975, Yamanaka lacquerware developed into beautiful pieces of art when maki-e (蒔絵, lacquer sprinkled with gold or silver powder/leaf) was introduced to the craft. Since then, Yamanaka has been producing high end products that serve as beautiful souvenirs.
Kagaya, Japan’s top rated ryokan for the past 35 years. Photo Source
Ishikawa is also home to Kagaya Ryokan. Located in Noto (north Ishikawa), Kagaya is a seaside ryokan (旅館, traditional Japanese inn) that has both traditional Japanese rooms and modern western rooms. Well-known for their meticulous care of their customers, Kagaya’s believes in “doing everything as if someone is watching you” and “always doing it the right way”. Their high standard of omotenashi is reflective of the samurai who paid careful attention to every small action they take.
Kagaya’s fastidious service, gourmet menu and elegant rooms have even won the favour of Emperor Akihito, who stayed in a Hamarikyu suite at the top of Setsugekka (Kagaya’s traditional themed wing).
Because Ishikawa is surrounded by sea and mountains on either side, there is an abundance of seafood, farmed and wild vegetables and meats. Japan’s second largest fishery is found in Noto, making Ishikawa one of the best places to enjoy fresh, seasonal seafood no matter where you eat.
One of Ishikawa’s speciality dishes is oshizushi (押し寿司, pressed sushi) featuring seafood such as anago (穴子, salt-water eel) and zuwaigani (ズワイガニ, snow crab). There’s also a pickled turnip and yellowtail version called kabura zushi ( かぶら寿司) that is found only in Ishikawa. Another traditional dish is jibu-ni (じぶ煮), a stew made with flour-coated duck or chicken meat, wheat gluten, vegetables, and mushrooms all simmered together in dashi stock.
Isokurumi, a local Ishikawa side dish is made from a mix of walnuts and small fish and shrimp. It was one of nine foods available at Ishikawa’s booth at Oishii Japan 2015. Other foods included oshizushi, steamed aged yuzu, wagashi (和菓子, traditional Japanese confectionary) and inari (いなり, deep fried tofu skin).
Due to the prefecture’s location, Ishikawa experiences warm, humid summers and cold, snowfall laden winters, giving them the perfect conditions for creating fermented foods such as soy sauce chocolate, pickled fugu ranso (河豚卵巣, puffer fish ovaries), ishiri (いしり, fish soy sauce) and natto (納豆, fermented soy beans).
Ishikawa is so famous for and dedicated to the fermentation process that they even have a Fermented Food College, Hakkou University, that specializes in the study of fermentation. Recently at Oishii Japan 2015, some of the facility came down to Singapore for the first time to conduct a lecture and share their knowledge.
From left to right: Chikuha Noto no Umeshu, Hakuto Brewery Oku-Noto no Shiragiku, Junmai-Ginjo, Sakurada Brewery Special Junmaishu Daikei and Matsunami Brewery Oeyama Fukkokuban Junmai-shu
Like many other Japanese prefectures, Ishikawa also has their own local sakagura (酒蔵, sake brewery). A majority of the breweries are found in Noto and Kaga while the remainder are closer to Kanazawa. Over the years, Ishikawa sake has seen a change in the flavour of their sake. However, despite going from fairly heavy and sweet taste to lighter, drier ones, Ishikawa’s sake remains clean, fragrant, light with deep complex notes. Most of Ishikawa’s sake is made from water running off Haku-san into the Tedorigawa river and 80% the sake is consumed in the prefecture itself.
Have you been to or are planning to go to Ishikawa? Tell us what you’re looking forward to or if you have any tips for visiting this prefecture at our Facebook page or check out our feature on Ishikawa in our latest issues.
How to get to Ishikawa:
From Tokyo to Kanazawa: Hokuriku Shinkansen Kagayaki 2 hours 30 minutes From Osaka to Kanazwa: Limited Express Thunderbird 2hours 30 minutes
The world might have its seven amazing wonders, but Komatsu has them too!
Located in Ishikawa prefecture, this city has many wonders to discover. Besides being famous for kabuki, there are many more interesting things in this city near the ocean.
1) World’s Largest Dump Truck
Komatsu is not only the name of the city, it’s also the name of the famous producer of construction machinery. At Komatsu no Mori you can go on the 930E, the largest piece of riding industrial equipment you will ever see.
2) Gold Snacks
Responsible for 99% of all of Japan’s gold production, Komatsu has plenty of the stuff. So much even that they wrap their ice cream in it and sprinkle it on their cakes. You can buy these gold snacks at Yunokuni no Mori.
3) Amazing Moss Forest
The “Forest of Wisdom” has amazing moss growth that took the locals years to cultivate. Nowhere else will you see such a beautiful green-covered forest.
4) Breathtaking Stone Caves
Actually, they’re stone mines. But that doesn’t make them any less awesome. These caves are carved into the mountain by hand or with special equipment. The stones the excavated were used to build bridges, castles and walls. Walking in these halls makes you feel like an adventurer about to find the legendary sword of Komatsu.
5) A Stone Turtle
According to the legends, this turtle wanted to be near the god of the shrine so bad that he crawled all the way there from the ocean. When he arrived, he turned into stone and is now forever with his beloved god. Even though the ocean is quite close to the shrine, it’s still an amazing feat for a turtle.
6) This Tree
You think we’re running out of wonders, right? Wrong! This fresh tree branch is actually growing from a bona fide pine tree. A completely different type of tree is sprouting from its branches. We can’t wait to see how this will develop. You can find this tree in Rojo Park.
7) Japan’s #1 Chestnut Sweet
This delicious chestnut snack has been crowned the number one of all chestnut sweets in Japan. And in the world of nutty snacks, that counts for something. We have tried it ourselves and can confirm it is indeed very worthy of its title.
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.
The area where an expansion of Komatsu castle used to be is now a beautfiful Japanese style park named “Rojo Park”. The old castle was the residence of the third lord of the Maeda clan’s Kaga Domain, Toshitsune Maeda. For its period the castle was quite unique, the shogunate had a”one castle per domain” policy but Komatsu Castle was allowed to be maintained alongside the domain’s chief castle at Kanazawa.
During the Meiji restoration Komatsu Castle was demolished and its site was sold to a private owner. He wanted to leave the people of Komatsu a vestige of the castle and the area was changed into a park. It is a very popular cherry blossoming viewing spot, with 140 sakura trees in full bloom during spring.
Besides pine trees and sakura this park has some amazing Japanese wisterias of over a hundred years old. These trees have lived so long that one single tree’s branches can cover a whole walkway with beautiful purple wisteria flowers.
Walking through the park you really feel at ease. Japanese gardens excel at blending a man-made garden into the natural environment. They are made so that it seems like nature itself built the garden. A good example of this are big rocks placed in waterways and the creation of hilly areas in the garden.
The park has a beautiful tea house and we were lucky enough to be in the park on the day of a big tea conference. Many people in kimono were in attendance and we got to see real equipment used for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
Before you leave the park, don’t forget to say hello to all the Koi fish swimming in the ponds.
Being established in the year 718 Houshi was once recognized as the oldest hotel in the world before another ryokan in Yamanashi prefecture beat its founding date by 13 years. Still, Houshi has been operated by the same family for forty-six generations giving it an amazing history.
The ryokan’s hot spring is said to be founded by a monk. While he was climbing the holy Mount Hakusan he had a dream where the mountain’s deity told him about a spring with restorative powers and ordered him to find it for the people of Awazu.
It has 100 guest rooms and a ‘Hanare’, a private guest residence. There are two indoor and two same-sex-only outdoor hot spring baths. Two family baths can also be privately reserved by guests. There are a total of four buildings belonging to the Ryokan; Shinshun no Yakata (early spring building), Haru no Yakata (spring building), Natsu no Yakata (summer building), and Aki no Yakata (autumn building).
The entrance to the building is very impressive with a beautiful decorative carpet. When you first arrive, you are welcomed with a cup of matcha and a sweet while looking at the inner garden.
When you stay at a ryokan, food is served in your room and an attendant is there to help you explain the dishes and later to help you make your bed.
After eating you can visit the amazing outdoor and indoor baths for a nice long and relaxing soak. The water is beautiful and it is not difficult to believe the legend that it has special curative powers given by a god.
If you want to be truly luxurious, you can stay in the special VIP room where emperors have stayed before. It is a big complex that is more than just one room. But if that is out of your budget, you can still enjoy the view of the thousand-year old garden.
Other entertainment at Houshi include a bar, occasional Noh plays and a small museum featuring crafts from the region.
Japanese people have always been in touch with nature. This can be seen in the traditional arts and their religion. Both Buddhism and Shinto take lessons from nature and Natadera is a place where both these religions come together in harmony.
About 1300 years ago, the monk Taichou thought that the universe and earth were gods with all living beings at their mercy. This inspired him to build Natadera, to show the harmony between humans and nature. Life is sacred and nature is a paradise, so nature must be held to be as important as human life. The Natadera temple is the head temple of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism.
The thousand-handed Kannon is enshrined in Natadera as well as various other small gods. There is also an old Inari shrine on the temple grounds. All the gods lived together in Natadera until the Meiji period, when there were orders to create a clear distinction between Buddhism and Shinto.
What makes this area quite unique is not only the surrounding nature, but also the strange rock formations that are said to be the remains from ancient undersea volcanic eruptions. An fine layer of moss covers most of the temple area. The water in this area is said to have special properties and drinking it will revitalize your body. The water is so pure that from the plankton in the streams fish were able to grow at lightning speed. Supposedly one of the gods enshrined here was born from the water.
The main shrine is built inside a natural cave and you need to enter through an elevated construction similar to Kiyomizudera in Kyoto.
Just like Yamadera, the famous poet Basho Matsuo had paid a visit here and left behind a haiku:
Whiter far Than the white rocks Of the Rock Temple The autumn wind blows.
After visiting the area you can enjoy a nice meal in a restaurant near the main temple. No matter the season, Natadera always has beautiful sights.
Hours: Open all year from 8:30 – 16:45 (12/1 – 2/28: 8:45 – 16:30)
Admission: Adult 600 yen / Elementary School Student and below 300 yen
Bus: take the bus bound for Natadera Temple from JR Komatsu Station or take the CANBUS from JR Kaga Onsen Station and get off at Natadera Temple. 25 Minutes
Komatsu city in Ishikawa prefecture has a natural forest filled with traditional Japanese houses that let you try all kinds of amazing crafts. Yunokuni no Mori is officially called a “Traditional Handicraft Theme Park”, but it is more than that. Not only do the activities give you the opportunity to make your own unique souvenir, the area in itself is so beautiful that it is worth a visit.
It is very difficult to decide on an activity once you are in the forest. To be honest, you will want to try them all. There are over 50 traditional handicraft experiences at 11 houses such as; pure gold leaf crafts, making ceramics, try making traditional Japanese paper Washi, glassworks and more. Wattention staff tried two activities in the forest, gold leaf crafts and making Kaga Yuzen ( printed silk).
Ishikawa prefecture produces 99% of Japan’s gold leaf. These sheets are worked with until they are 1/10,000th of a millimeter thick. This makes them easier to apply to different surfaces and of course you get more worth for your gold. First you decide on what you want to decorate with gold. This can be everything from a box to mirrors and decorative trays. First you apply glue extracted from a tree and then you can rub on the gold in any design you like. There is always someone to guide you while working on your craft so don’t worry, it will always come out good.
Next we tried making printed silk. Kaga Yuzen is the specific type of printed silk from Ishikawa and it is on par with Japan’s most famous Yuzen from Kyoto. Again, there is someone to help you with the designs and colors but in the end it’s all up to your creativity. Why not paint a nice handkerchief or T-shirt to take home. Traditionally Yuzen had to be washed in a stream, but luckily you can take your work home immediately (And it’s washing machine safe).
After trying out various crafts why not enjoy a secret goodie bag full of cakes and sweets. And if you want to have that luxurious feeling, try a gold-covered ice cream or gold sprinkled sundae. (Yes, real gold)
While strolling through the forest you will see these funny dolls made by the staff. Dont be scared when you suddenly see one sitting on a bench or in the forest.
All the crafts in the forest are an amazing experience for every age, making Yunokuni no Mori a perfect day out for a family or group of friends.
Hours: 9:00 to 16:30
Admission: Adult : 540 yen / Junior High School Student: 440 yen / Child (over four years old) : 330 yen.
By train: 3hr from Tokyo via Hokuriku Shinkansen, Hokuriku Line / 2hr 12min from Osaka / 2hr 27min from Nagoya / 25min from Kanazawa (via limited express)
By car: About 20min by car from Komatsu airport / 50min by car from Kanazawa
By bus: There are buses from JR Kaga Onsen station going to Yunokuni no Mori. The trip takes about 35min.
The actual name for this peculiar place is “Koke no Sato”, or “Moss Village”. This is because the whole area is covered by a fine layer of green moss, cultivated over many years. Hiyou Town has been taking care of this moss, cleaning it every day.
Only 7 families live in Hiyou Town, making it one of the smallest villages in Japan. Moss can only grow in certain conditions making it tough to maintain. The area needs to have enough moisture, not too much light and no stepping all over from humans and animals.
The nearby shrine is beautiful surrounded by the moss. Visitors are advised to stay on the path as to not damage the moss.
The Forest of Wisdom is the perfect place to see the famous, untranslatable word “Komorebi”, the rays of sunlight falling in between the trees.
“The Forest of Wisdom is a place to explore the wisdom along with the eternal culture and nature of Japan.”
The Forest of Wisdom project aims to bring all kinds of culture and wisdom from all over the world together. This mostly happens in the Wisdom House where you can attend workshops and even jazz concerts. The Wisdom House is a refurbished 100-year-old folk house, built using local timber.
From Kanazawa by train: Take an express train from Kanazawa to Komatsu (15 min) and then take a taxi to Koke-no-sato in Hiyo-machi (20 min).
Believe it or not, Komatsu is a Kabuki City. But why? You might ask this question because when people think about attending a Kabuki play they think about the extravagant theaters in Tokyo and Kyoto. But Komatsu in Ishikawa prefecture has more Kabuki than you might expect.
Komatsu City is a castle town founded by Maeda Toshitsune, third lord of the Kaga clan. Toshitsune was knowledgeable about the arts such as the traditional tea ceremony and at the same time protected and promoted the industry. This made Komatsu flourish, both culturally and economically. A lot of this cultural knowledge was invested in children’s Kabuki plays that are still performed every year.
Another very important reason is that Komatsu is the location of Japan’s most famous Kabuki scene from the beloved Kabuki play：Kanjincho. This treasured story is about two warriors, Yoshitsune and Benkei. Even though they are seen as legends now, these two people are actual historical figures who existed.
Yoshitsune was a fierce warrior trained by Tengu and Benkei was a warrior monk, said to have been the size of an ogre with equal strength. They became friends and traveled together.
Yoshitsune’s half-brother Yoritomo, who would become the first Shogun of Japan, started chasing the pair out of fear that Yoshitsune might take away his favorable position. Yoshitsune and Benkei disguised themselves as Buddhist monks and headed for the Ataka no Seki checkpoint, where they would be safe after making it through. Togashi, who was the head of the checkpoint did not believe they were monks and asked them to read from their donation scroll. Quick-witted Benkei started reading from a blank scroll and was able to fool Togashi into believing he had a real donation list. After all, Benkei was a real monk and could easily make up the names. But Togashi came closer and saw the blank list, and the truth was revealed. Luckily, he still praised Benkei’s smarts and let them pass.
Ataka Barrier Ruin facing the Sea of Japan is the setting of this famous Kabuki scene and has statues of Yoshitsune, Benkei and Togashi. Standing in front of these figures really takes you back to the time when this scene actually took place.
The original weapons used by Benkei are kept in the shrine near Ataka, just a short walk from the statues.
Everywhere in Komatsu you can find traces of Benkei and Togashi.
Every year in May children perform Kabuki during the Otabi festival. Eight towns have special floats that look like mini-Kabuki stages. The children are in full makeup and are said to perform brilliantly.
So when you’re in Komatsu, why not try to catch a children’s Kabuki play or visit the local museum about the famous Kabuki play “Kanjincho”.