A Sweet Secret
Having survived the Second World War without a scratch, Kanazawa has retained the layout of the roads and the Edo period architecture that defined the look of feudal Japan. Kanazawa’s mysterious tea districts (read: entertainment districts of geisha) rank among the nation’s most photographed areas for just that reason.
For those who wish to enjoy such settings yet avoid the more tourist-crowded areas, Nishi Chaya Gai is the recommended destination. Though only a single road, the district has maintained its charm.
Along the street are several tea houses run by geiko, west Japan’s word for geisha. Occasionally in the evenings, the lucky visitor can spot them walking to and from their work, or seeing clients off to their taxis.
During the day, Nishi Chaya is enjoyed for its traditional restaurants and cafes. One end of the street hosts a pair of shops featuring locally-produced wares. Around the corner, Kanazawa no Pickles sells jars of pickled regional veggies in a variety of flavors: soy sauce, vinegar, mustard, mint, etc. Jam lovers will find a treasured jar of something sweet here, too.
The first shop in the street proper is a dried sweets shop, Moroe-ya Rakugan. Rakugan comes molded into seasonal shapes and is perfect with hot tea or coffee. Unlike wasanbon, the similarly molded sugar cakes of central Japan, rakugan incorporates rice flour, making the latter a softer, smoother melt-in-your-mouth treat. Beloved for their long shelf-life in the winter months, rakugan make beautiful and delicious omiyage, “food souvenirs.” Visitors can enjoy a sampling of rakugan with matcha tea in a cafe in the back of the shop, overlooking a small garden.
At the street’s opposite end is a free museum, the Nishi Chaya Shiryokan Museum, easily spotted by the lion dance masks in the front window. Its second floor showcases the specially decorated rooms geisha use to entertain guests. The powder blue European-style building next door houses a music school for geisha and maiko (geishas in training). The sounds of taiko drums and shamisen strings often spill out onto the street.
Nishi Chaya Gai makes for a relaxing stopping point before or after the nearby Ninja Temple or painting ceramics at the Kutani Kosen Kiln just a few blocks away, or roaming the Samurai Residence District of Nagamachi.
Half a decade ago Ryann fell off a bus and then fell 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.