Beauty and techniques of handicraft inherited in Kanazawa -1-

– the “Saikusho” that produced samurai furnishings –

In Kanazawa, a variety of traditional handicrafts still remain and are rooted in everyday life, helping to boost the cultural and artistic level of the city. We will explore the beauty and roots of the handicrafts that have been passed down in this city.

 


Kanazawa’s roots as a city of traditional handicrafts date back to the Edo period (1603–1868), a time when the samurai reigned.

 

During the Edo period, the Maeda family, who were daimyo (feudal lords), ruled over the Kaga clan with Kanazawa as its capital city. From the time of the first lord, Toshiie, successive lords of the Maeda family maintained a deep interest in cultural projects through tea ceremonies. In particular, the third lord, Toshitsune, was an outstanding cultural lord.

At that time, the extent of the land owned by a clan throughout the country was indicated by the “Kokudaka.” This was a measure of the productivity of the land as expressed by its rice yield. The Kaga clan had a kokudaka of one million, which was the highest in Japan.

The great Kaga clan posed a threat to the Edo shogunate. In order to demonstrate his obedience to the government, as well as to show his family status as Japan’s top daimyo, Toshitsune spent his financial wealth, worth a kokudaka of one million, on arts and crafts, including martial arts.

*Maeda Toshitsune/ quote a photo from wikipedia

 


In Kanazawa Castle, there was a workshop called “Saikusho” as a symbol of the Kaga clan’s cultural incentive measures.

It was originally a place for repairing tools and weapons, but Toshitsune gradually transformed it into a craft studio for creating luxurious daimyo-style furnishings for the Maeda family. Along with this, many skilled craftsmen were invited from different places, such as Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo), as instructors of the Saikusho. This led to the foundation of Kanazawa’s arts and crafts techniques, which have been passed down to the present, including “Kaga Maki-e” and “Kaga Zogan, inlay.”

 

The techniques held by the Saikusho within the castle eventually spread to the studios that were run by the townspeople living in the castle town. This led to the formation of an unprecedented rich bank of craftsmen in Kanazawa. Indeed, the dyed kimono that served as the origin of today’s “Kaga Yuzen” was not created at the Saikusho, but rather by a dyer in the castle town who was patronized by the Kaga clan.

“Kaga Maki-e”

 

The Saikusho was further enhanced and developed by the fifth lord, Tsunanori, in terms of both its organization and roles. It remained as a clan-owned arts and crafts studio right up to the end of the Edo period, which was a rare thing across the whole country.

 


 

If you wish to see the great skills and aesthetics of the artisans from that time, visit the “Seisonkaku” history museum adjacent to Kenrokuen Garden. Nariyasu, the 13th lord of the Kaga clan, built it as his mother’s retirement home, with the craftsmanship of the Kaga clan featuring in both the works inside the building and in the collections on display.

 


 

Seisonkaku Villa

  • Open: 9 am to 5 pm (Visitors must enter by 4:30pm)
  • Closed: Wednesdays (Next day if Wednesday falls on a holiday) and Dec. 29 to Jan. 2
  • Admission fee: 700 yen
  • Address: 1-2 Kenroku-machi
  • Contact: Tel. 076-221-0580
  • WEB: http://www.seisonkaku.com/english

 

Takenoko; a taste of spring

Spring is the time to harvest bamboo shoots, or takenoko.

The bamboo plant used to be an indispensable part of daily life in Japan, being used as a building material or as kitchen utensils in the form of chopsticks, food containers, or colanders. Many bamboo tools have been replaced with plastic ones, while takenoko continues to be widely eaten, loved for its crunchy texture and slightly bitter taste.

Here in Kanazawa, the first moso bamboos were cultivated in 1766 and were introduced into the suburbs of the city. Nowadays, the city certifies 15 types of indigenous vegetables as ‘Kaga Yasai’ branded products, one of which is takenoko.

Takenoko is only harvested when the shoots are very young, just after the green tips poke through the soil, which is why they are called takenoko (lit. means ‘child of bamboo’). Takenoko are used in a wide variety of dishes, while takenoko rice, simmered takenoko, and tempura are traditional favorites. Freshly dug ones can be simply sliced and eaten raw.

Despite the fact that many vegetables are grown in greenhouses nowadays to satisfy year-round demand, takenoko are harvested only once a year. It is said that takenoko will sprout from the ground 7-10 days after the cherry trees start to blossom. Both are eagerly anticipated by Japanese people as signs of spring.

Kanazawa Sake: brewed in the heart of winter using a blend of pure water and premium rice

The coldest part of winter with its dancing snowfall is the busiest time of the year for Kanazawa’s sake distilleries. Around this time, each sakagura (sake brewery) in Kanazawa enters its peak season of sake brewing. Ishikawa Prefecture, with its cold winters and heavy snowfall, is perfectly suited to sake brewing and is said to be one of the leading sake regions in Japan. There are many established sakagura in Kanazawa, taking pride in their time-honoured tradition while seeking new and innovative tastes.

Water and sake-rice are the principal ingredients of sake and are key in determining its quality. The nearby Hakusan Mountain range ensures that Kanazawa has an abundant supply of fresh, pure water which is high in minerals and low in iron, making it ideally suited to the cultivation of yeast. Local sake breweries have long used premium sake-rice called Yamada Nishiki, as well as high quality local sake-rice Gohyakumangoku.

Traditionally, sake brewing is overseen by a chief brewer called toji. The breweries in Kanazawa recruit toji from the Noto Peninsula but from all over country as well, so that they can compete and learn from each other. Also, the rich culinary traditions in Kanazawa have long supported the sake brewing industry.

Sake has been considered a sacred drink and was believed to exorcise evil spirits. That’s why you often see big casks of sake dedicated to Shinto shrines.

Continue reading “Kanazawa Sake: brewed in the heart of winter using a blend of pure water and premium rice”

It’s snow crab season!

For the Japanese, winter is the season of crab feasts. There are a variety of crabs that are enjoyed, but no one denies that the zuwai-gani (snow crab) caught in the Sea of Japan is one of the kings of winter delicacies. The meat of the zuwai-gani has a touch of sweetness and the crab butter is also rich in flavor.

Situated beside the Sea of Japan, Ishikawa Prefecture is blessed to have zuwai-gani as one of its specialty dishes. When the fishing season begins in November, many visitors come to Kanazawa to taste zuwai-gani and Omicho Market comes alive with shoppers.

The most common way of enjoying zuwai-gani among the Japanese is very simple- boil or grill fresh crabs and dip them in sanbaizu sauce (soy sauce mixed with vinegar and sugar). It is also delicious as tempura, sashimi, sushi, in hot pot and with many other styles of cuisine. You will find restaurants around Omicho Market that serve these winter delicacies.

 

“Dojo no Kabayaki”

“Black” Specialties in Summer – Traditional Local Dishes from Kanazawa

One can find two black-colored traditional dishes at Omicho Market during summer. The Omicho Market is also known as Kanazawa’s Kitchen.

“Dojo no Kabayaki” is a traditional Kanazawa dish, known for its flavor and its stamina-improving properties.

 

The dojo, called weatherfish or weather loach in English, is a small freshwater fish that resembles an eel. The dish is prepared by first grilling the fish over hot charcoal before dipping it into a sweet soy sauce. Afterward the fish is dipped in the sauce, the fish gets grilled a second time. The sauce is what makes the fish’ taste special, which recipe of course varies from restaurant to restaurant.

“Iro Zuke” literally means coloring. Iro Zuke is grilled seafood dish dressed with sweet-spicy soy sauce. White fish, scallops and squids are usually used for this simple and classic dish. The dish is known for its thick glaze and burnt fragrance which masks strong fish odors and which increases one’s appetite in hot summer days.

One can easily find “Dojo no Kabayaki” and Iro Zuke on skewers at Omicho Market for the road.