“wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful! And yet again wonderful” — D.T. Suzuki, channeling Shakespeare from As You Like It
For about one hundred years, until the late 16th century, Kanazawa ruled as the capital of the so-called Peasant’s Kingdom, a nominally Buddhist independent province in west Japan, until the shogun Oda Nobunaga sent his main man Lord Maeda to put down the factious state.
What Lord Maeda took with one hand, however, he gave with the other. After quelling the rebel farmers and monks, the tonosama invited artisans from Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo) to the wealthy castle town, where they mingled with the local samurai to produce a unique artisanal culture. By the 19th century, Kanazawa was Japan’s fourth-largest city.
Today, Kanazawa has dropped out of the top ten cities. What it lacks in citizenry, however, it makes up for in cultural and historical impact. Traditional arts and crafts thrive in the historic streets and alleys of the old town, among well-preserved samurai houses and geisha teahouses. When my wife, R., was still a teen in rural Niigata in the 1980s, Kanazawa was apparently the place to go for Japan’s burgeoning indie music scene. Traditional silk dyeing, lacquerware, and gold leaf ornamentation continue, even flourish, and in 1996 UNESCO recognized Kanazawa as a “City of Crafts and Folk Arts.”
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