Japan: Kanazawa & Samurai Heartland

Kenrouken is one of Japan's best known landscape gardens.
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Kanazawa is Japan’s largest castle town, an easy two-hour train ride from Kyoto. In the 16th century, its feudal rulers drove the development of a sophisticated, traditional culture. Because Kanazawa avoided destruction during the war, the city’s core still retains the layout of the temples, samurai warriors, and townsfolk for nearly five centuries. 
 
While Japan’s aristocratic court culture developed in Kyoto, in Kanazawa it was the samurai warrior class that influenced the culture’s values. Kanazawa became known for hard work and refined beauty, especially in the utilization of gold leaf, because this region produces over 95 percent of the country’s gold leaf. You’ll see it in the exceptional ceramics and lacquerware products, as well as enjoy it wrapped around your soft ice cream cone.
 
As a result, Kanazawa is an interesting city to visit. At the heart of the city stands Kanazawa Castle and the adjacent Kenrokuen Garden, considered the 3rd best landscape garden in Japan. Nearby is Nagamachi, the district that was inhabited by the samurai, and the merchant area of Owari-cho. It’s a delight to visit a geisha house, a samurai house, and the elegant Siesonkaku Villa, built as a retirement residence for the lord’s mother.
 
Of special note is Myoryuji Temple, commonly referred to as the Ninja temple. This is a fascinating architectural 23-room marvel full of trap doors, hidden corridors, secret tunnels, 29 staircases, ritual suicide chamber, and more. The tour here is only given in Japanese, but a handy guide in English makes it easy to follow along.
 
There are many opportunities to enjoy Kanazawa’s fine products or participate hands-on in the production. There are some three dozen types of crafts Kanazawa is known for, and examples of all can be viewed at the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Traditional Arts and Crafts. For art enthusiasts, the city’s 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art will be a must to visit.
 
Kanazawa is also known for its fresh seafood and Kaga cuisine.