A stunningly preserved samurai district in the center of Kanazawa
Kanazawa was once the economic and administrative center of the Kaga Domain (feudal-era Ishikawa Prefecture). Over the course of the Edo period, it grew rapidly – its population growing to over 100,000 – transforming it into one of the largest castle towns in feudal Japan. Its population rivaled that of Rome and Madrid at the time.
With the castle at its center, the town was designed with both its defensive and economic aspects in mind. Members of the upper classes were often given allotments of land for their residences close to that of the feudal lord (daimyo) in the castle, while commoners lived near the town’s edges.
Nagamachi District, located near the center of town, was where the middle to high-ranking samurais lived – which is why it’s sometimes described as the city’s samurai district. Nagamachi literally means “Long Town,” though it’s more likely that it actually takes its name from the surname of a local family, the Cho, which means “long” which can also be pronounced “naga.”
Nagamachi District’s historical value lies in its unusual state of preservation. It has escaped large-scale fires, including the firebombing that damaged other large cities such as Tokyo and Osaka during World War II. Accordingly, it retains many features from the Edo period: narrow streets, a drainage and water supply system that remains in use, and restored samurai houses.
Many of these residences maintain their original earthen walls (tsuchi-kabe), which are still covered in the winter with straw mats to protect them from frost and subsequent cracking. A walk through Nagamachi, where an Edo-period atmosphere still lingers, offers a glimpse into the heritage of Kanazawa and Japan.