31st January: Kanazawa – Kanazawa Castle

From the Kenrokuen Gardens I walked to the nearby Kanazawa Castle.

Ishikawa-mon Bridge and Gate

This is the entrance from Kenrokuen Gardens, including a bridge over a road.

Kahoku-mon Gate

Kanazawa Castle

The castle is very large and there are several layers of fortification. This is one of the inner walls and moat.

Though it would never have been subsequently attacked, Kanazawa Castle was built as a genuine military castle during a period of protracted civil war. The watchtowers are designed to allow a cross-fire against troops attacking at any point. There are stone-dropping slots in the floors of the “bay windows” and the latticed windows provide a place to fire guns or arrows from. There are also hidden gun holes in the tiles on the walls.

Kanazawa Castle

There were video displays and structural examples inside the castle showing the traditional construction methods which were of extraordinary complexity. For example, two cross-beams would be fitted together using about half a dozen different tongue-and-groove type connections and without a single nail or screw. This kind of construction also allows for greater movement in the case of an earthquake.

The buildings are not necessarily original. There were devastating fires in the castle complex in 1602, 1620, 1631, 1759, 1808 and 1881. Some of the reconstructions are quite recent.

Tree and castle buildings

Kanazawa Castle behind tree

The founding of Kanazawa Castle is closely associated with Maeda Toshii (1539-1599). Toshii’s father was a samurai in charge of a castle in an area controlled by Oda Nobunaga. He grew up under Nobunaga’s wing and eventually became one of his senior commanders.

Gokuraku Bridge

Gokuraku Bridge

Momoyama Period (1568-1600)

Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) was born into the Warring States period and in the 1550s, after some years of military campaigns, managed to succeed his father in effective control of Owari province. The rest of his life was spent in a fluctuating campaign to take over new territory.

The political structure in Japan at the time was remarkably obtuse. At the top was the Emperor, though he might be a child or a teenager with his father retaining effective control as Shadow Emperor. The Emperor though had little power, as had been the case since a brief period in the 1430s. Then there was the Shogun and there might similarly be a Shadow Shogun. Since the late 1400s, the Shogun had little power either, with various clans competing for fragments of power. Below the Shogun were the Shugos, Governors of one or more provinces, who might be either powerful or weak. Oda Nobunaga was a Deputy Shugo, but with little to constrain him from above.

View from the Castle

In 1568 Ashikaga Yoshiake sought support from Nobunaga to become shogun in place of his assassinated brother. Nobunaga obliged but Yoshiake was to be no more than a puppet shogun and the last of the Ashikaga shoguns. Nobunaga was renowned for his brutality and also notable for his enthusiastic battlefield adoption of firearms (arquebuses or matchlocks), introduced to Japan by the Portuguese. Prominent amongst his supporters were Toyotomi Hideoshi (1537-1598) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616). By the time of his death, he controlled about one-third of Japan.

In 1582, he was assassinated by one of his generals who was in turn defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who then became the successor to Nobunaga, though neither actually became shogun. Maeda Toshii became Hideyoshi‘s chief retainer and he was rewarded with Kaga, a han or domain that included Kanazawa. For about 100 years previously there had been a Buddhist peasant republic in Kanazawa but that ended in 1580 when another of Nobunaga‘s generals took the town. Construction of Kanazawa Castle commenced at that time but Toshii was granted the Kaga fief in 1583 and arrived then to take over.

View from the Castle

Hideyoshi continued Nobunaga‘s wars of unification and by 1590 controlled all Japan (well, apart from Hokkaido, which was Ainu territory and essentially outside Japan at that time). He had started life as a peasant and in order to bring an end to the instability of perpetual warfare, decreed that only samurai could bear arms and restricted movement between localities. Ironically, this prevented a peasant from achieving his level of success again for many hundreds of years. Samurai were also forced to live in town and not be farmers.

Extraordinarily, in 1592 he undertook an invasion of China and since the Koreans would not give him free passage, he invaded Korea. The Japanese were successful on land and advanced as far as Pyongyang and the Korean frontier in the north-west but were then driven back to Seoul by a Chinese counter-invasion. The Koreans, meanwhile, had the advantage in naval warfare and were able to strangle the Japanese supply line. Peace talks followed from 1593 and most of the Japanese forces had withdrawn by mid-1596.

In 1597, the Japanese invaded again but this time they were largely pinned down on land by a joint Chinese/ Korean force and defeated again at sea by Korean Admiral Yi Sun-Sin. Hideyoshi ordered a final withdrawal from Korea on his deathbed in 1598 and Japan refrained from foreign military activity for the next 400 years.

View from the Castle

Hideyoshi also arranged for a five-man council to act as regents for his young son, including Maeda Toshii and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Toshii died the next year and Ieyasu moved to take over power, which he achieved with the climactic Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, involving 180,000 men. There was also a final campaign against Hideyoshi ‘s son in 1615, leading to the storming of Osaka Castle.

View of the Castle

During much of the Tokugawa era (1600-1868), the Maeda clan was the leading daimyo clan following the Tokugawas themselves. The Kaga domain was the most productive rice-growing area in the country and Kanazawa at one stage was the third most populous city in the country. However, it did not participate in industrialisation following the Meiji Restoration in the late nineteenth century so there are many larger cities these days. The lack of industrialisation also helped it to escape bombing in the Second World War and largely preserved the ancient city.

Samurai quarter

In an old part of town, this is the Samurai Quarter. The houses were essentially fortified so that characteristic walls of the street are thick and solid, filled with earth and rocks.

Valentine's day presents

Valentine's day presents

If you look hard enough, it is also possible to find artifacts that do not appear to be so ancient. These are like relics from a 60s fairground. You put in a coin and see whether you can lower the pincers and take a prize.

31st January: Kanazawa – Kenrokuen Gardens – Upper Level

After spending some time in the lower garden around the Hisagoike Pond, I ventured to the upper level.  Here there were a great number of people though you might not think so from most of the images.

Kasumagaike Pond and Horaijima Island

Worker knocking snow from upper branches

There were now many workers knocking snow from the branches of the trees and some paths were closed off where that had not been done.

Patterns with branches and snow

Patterns with branches and snow

Looking across the stream, not far from the Kamisaka entrance.

View from Yukumibashi Bridge

Kenrokuen was developed from the 1620s to the 1840s by the Maeda clan, originally as the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle.  Much of it was destroyed by fire in 1759 and reconstruction started in 1774.  It was not open to the public until 1874, following the Meiji Restoration.

Neagarinomatsu or Raised-Root Pine

Statue of Yamato Takeru

Yamato Takeru was a legendary prince from around the second century AD who greatly expanded the Yamato realm.  The Yamato were at this time more like regional war lords but came to be the Japanese royal dynasty.  Takeru was said to have killed some enemies after cross-dressing as a female servant at a dinner party though whether he really existed is a matter of conjecture.  The ancient accounts of his life differ greatly in detail.

Branches carrying snow

The snow stacked high in some of the branches and led to interesting contrasts of shapes and colours.  Here, some of the branches make a shape resembling a swastika.  Although now notorious in the West due to the Nazi association, the swastika was a sacred symbol in the ancient Hrappa civilisation of Pakistan and Northern India, and is widely used in Hinduism and Buddhism.  In Japan, the word for swastika is manji and temples are commonly denoted on maps by left-facing manji.

Kasumigaike Pond, with a corner of Horajima Island

Cherry tree in snow

An edge of Horajima Island

Uchihasitei Tea House, Kasumigaike Pond

Azalea in snow

Japanese pine tree in snow

Two people very carefully crossing a bridge, not far from the Neagarinomatsu pine.

Japanese plum trees

31st January: Kanazawa – Kenrokuen Gardens – Hisagoike Pond

I got up early in the morning and headed to the Kenrokuen Gardens, the primary purpose of my visit to Kanazawa.

Parked in snow

At first it was clear, though there was quite a lot of snow around …

Looks like a Shinto Temple, might be Shinoki Cultural Complex, from across the road in heavy snow

… but before too long, it started snowing quite heavily.

Walking in the snow, near Kenrokuen Gardens

It had been snowing heavily for some days, very unusual for this time of year.

Kenrokuen Gardens, Southern Entrance

This is the entrance where I went in.  I could tell there were few ahead of me from the footprints in the snow.  The gardens were exquisite with their heavy winter coating.

Hisagoike Pond

The surface of the pond is largely frozen, though not on this edge and not on the far side.

Myoshian Tea House, Hisagoike Pond

I stopped for a while in this tea house and had a conversation with a Japanese woman who was an English teacher from Tokyo, visiting on holiday.

Trees and Snow

Trees and Snow

Kaisekito Pagoda and Hisagoike Pond

Kenrokuen is said to be one of the three most beautiful Japanese Gardens – and according to some, the best.  It means “Six Attributes Garden” as it is said to display the perfect combination of spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, water-courses and panoramas.  These are traditional 11th century Chinese criteria.

Hisagoike Pond

Hisagoike Pond, heavy snow again

Kaisekito Pagoda and Hisagoike Pond, snowing

Myoshian Teahouse, Midoritaki Waterfall, Kaisekito Pagoda and Hisagoike Pond

The last image was taken three hours later, in early afternoon.  It’s not snowing at this point and the trees in the background have lost most of their snow, probably knocked out by the attendants with long poles.  The water is evidently not too cold for carp.

30th January: Kyoto to Kanazawa

It had been snowing in Kyoto each day, but only for a few hours each day and melting when it hit the ground.  Almost as soon as I left Kyoto on the train heading north for Kanazawa, there was snow everywhere.  Here are a couple of shots out of the window of the train:

Not far out of Kyoto, from a moving train

Here, we were stopped at a station. Note the giant Buddha in the background.

When I got to Kanazawa, it was snowing heavily and the back streets of the city were a kind of eerie wonderland.

Young businessmen, perhaps. Suits and ties and umbrellas for the rain.

Waiting for passers-by

... Found one!

The young woman here is giving away free small packs of tissues on the street corner with some kind of commercial information on the wrapping, written of course in Japanese.

Some of the local boys ...

Municipal sculpture

A corner of a small shrine in a city street

Kanazawa escaped bombing in World War 2, so the old city survives.  This kind of snow was not typical for this time of the year.  In three of the previous four years, there was no snow at all for the equivalent days to my visit.

(All images with my “pocket camera”, a Fujifilm X100).

Itinerary of Journey to Japan

I traveled in Japan in January and February 2012.

Brief Itinerary

Special Topics

Completed posts