IDEAS

All The Samurai’s Hometown, Nagamachi

The Samurai’s Hometown, Nagamachi

13.12.2017
nagamachi, kanazawa's samurai district

Follow the water along Seseragi Street until you come to the Dutch street lamps with signs pointing to 長町武家屋敷, Nagamachi Buke-yashiki. Literally meaning “the long samurai residence neighborhood,” this samurai district was home to high and mid-ranking samurai soldiers of Edo-era Kanazawa. It’s also an easy walk from both the Tatemachi shopping promenade and the western geisha district.

The tawny stone and mud walls that line the streets make a fortress of the neighborhood itself. Each gate to the residences behind these walls is carefully constructed to close quickly and securely in the event of an attack.

The walls are famously layered with sheets of rice straw in winter, called komogake (薦掛け), to protect the outer coating from harsher snow storms. Their appearance in early December indicates that winter is nearly here.

The gated entrance to the Kaburaki Kutani shop in the samurai district of Kanazawa

The main road changes from asphalt to cobblestone in the longest stretch. A kutani-yaki ceramics shop and restaurant marks the jog in the road. This shop features both artist- and factory-made ceramics in the area’s traditional pottery style. Here you can learn about the various ceramic styles that evolved throughout the craft’s history, enjoy a snack and tea on kutani-ware while overlooking the shop’s private garden, and take home a souvenir to suit any budget.

Both private and public gardens pepper the neighborhood. If the weather is good, some residents open up their private garden areas during daylight hours. Stroll through an old samurai’s backyard and take a peak inside windows at the finely preserved homes.

As the cobblestone street comes to an end, it meets with another moat-lined road running parallel to Seseragi Street. These moats both protected the samurai district and supplied water to Kanazawa Castle from the nearby Sai River. Today, they serve as reservoirs and drains, maintaining the river’s water level to prevent flooding during Hokuriku’s rainier seasons.

Samurai Museums and More

daily life, memorialized

a former traditional Chinese medicine pharmacy turned museum

A minute’s walk south is a preserved 450-year-old Chinese medicine pharmacy, one of the oldest shops in the neighborhood and a museum, the Shinise Memorial Hall. Inside, the museum is a hodgepodge of history and crafts related to the neighborhood. The traditional storefront displays the day-to-day business and where each member of the staff sat per their rank. Traditional medicines occupy bottles to one side. Further in, temari, traditionally sewn handballs for children or young brides-to-be, fill several rooms. Upstairs, antiques from once-neighboring stores and homes are on display alongside traditional Kaga region crafts.

the daimyo’s samurai museum

Maeda family museum in the Samurai District

Just a few steps from the pharmacy is the Maeda Tosanokami-ke Shiryokan Museum, dedicated to the samurai family of the ruling lord’s second son. The family’s artifacts and documents are displayed along two floors. History buffs can find letters written by Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The museum is especially notable for its two sets of uniquely detailed and finely crafted samurai armor.

the two-star garden & samurai museum

Heading north beside the waterway, visitors will come first to the Nomura Samurai Family Residence on the right. Nomura was one of the richest retainers in the Maeda clan’s army, and his wealth is evident throughout the premises. With two Michelin stars, his is one of the top rated private gardens throughout Japan. The cultivated plants, carefully chosen stones, and playful koi fish can be enjoyed from several locations in the house. It’s even viewable from the upstairs, where matcha green tea service is available.

of silk and horses

A little further down the road is the Kyukeikan Resthouse, a restored machiya-style house turned information hub and resting spot. Volunteers at the resthouse can answer questions about the neighborhood and about Kanazawa in general. Beyond that is the remains of the Takada family, a moderately wealthy samurai family home whose horse stables and garden area still stand.

For those interested in kimono fabric and creation, head west along the road next to the Takada Family Remains. About two blocks down on the right is the Nagamachi Yuzen-kan, an old warehouse that houses a gallery on the second floor. The elaborate, multi-step dyeing processes is illustrated near the entrance and a workshop is occasionally open. Kimono rentals are also available here.

the foot soldier’s museums

footsoldier samurai, ashigaru, house entrance

From the Takada Family Remains, continue down the road about two blocks. On the right is the open house Ashigaru Shiryokan Museum. These two preserved houses belonged to lower-class samurai foot soldiers. Both buildings are free to enter. Each houses information and examples of how the soldiers lived and worked. One even includes a map of the pilgrimage the army took on foot each year to offer tribute to the ruling Shogunate.

Ryann
Ryann

Ryann fell off a bus in Kanazawa half a decade ago and has since fallen in love with this traditional-crafts and ice-cream-consuming capital of Japan. Editor and amateur photographer with a penchant for nature and history. Not actually fifty songbirds in a trench coat.