If you haven’t been to Kanazawa, prepare to be delighted. I’ve long had this city on my to-go list mostly due to Kenrokuen, one of the top three gardens in Japan, but it turns out that Kanazawa offers a whole lot more to the average visitor. Having been spared from the bombing raids of World War II, there are still pockets of the city sporting architecture that dates back hundreds of years. One of those areas is the Nagamachi Samurai District (or the Nagamachi Bukeyashiki).
Nagamachi sits to the south of the city center, at what would have been the foot of the old fortifications of Kanazawa Castle. Visually, it’s a photogenic area, with cobbled streets and the earthen walls of the old warrior residences. Some of the lanes are quite narrow and off-limits to vehicles. The Onosho canal, the oldest of Kanazawa’s fifty canals, crisscrosses the neighborhood and stately entrance gates still stand in their original glory to mark the (former) wealth of the retainers of the ruling Maeda clan.
You could spend a leisurely hour just strolling the streets of Nagamachi but here are a few sights you may to take some additional time to see:
Nomura House (Nomura-ke) – The Nomura family were one of Kanazawa’s wealthiest samurai family, though the fortune was lost when the Edo Period ended and the power of the samurai declined. Over the years, however, their home has been tastefully restored, and what greets guest is a small collection of artifacts (such as a full suit of armor in the entrance hall) in a lovely old wooden villa. Most impressive in my opinion was the small garden on the property. It may have occupied a minimal amount of space but every angle held a different, unique view. It’s also worth climbing up the polished stone steps on the rear of the property to the tiny teahouse, where you can pay extra for a cup of green tea and a traditional sweet.
Ashigaru Shiroykan Museum – For a look at how the other half lived, check out these buildings on the western edge of the Nagamachi District. Ashigaru were foot soldiers, the lowest ranked soldiers of the elite samurai class. They lived in groups in unadorned residences, and you are free to explore these two restored examples from their sleeping quarters to their rather rough kitchens. There are a few possessions on view, though you’ll quickly note how simple they seem when compared to the property of the Nomura family.
Kaga Yuzenkan – Nothing remains of the samurai house that used to stand on this property but you’ll still find beauty aplenty inside the modern building. This site houses a workshop dedicated to Kaga yuzen kimono dying, Kaga being the former name of the Kanazawa domain. Due to the patronage of the Maeda family, the arts flourished in Kanazawa in the Edo Period and that legacy is still alive and well today. For a small fee, you can tour the workshop and witness the creation of Kanazawa’s stunning kaga yuzen kimono. Artists are often at work on new commissions and you can take pictures of absolutely anything on display. It’s a good introduction to one of the region’s most beautiful crafts.
When you’re finished with your explorations, retrace your steps to the Katamachi area (the main hub for shopping and dining) along the canal that runs alongside the Nagamachi district (closest to the castle). There are a number of cool-looking shops and cafes, including a chocolaterie that served me an amazing chocolate-dipped macaroon. A great way to end the day, in my opinion!