Part 1: Background, Ninja Temple, Kenroku-en

Kanazawa Travel Blog

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I went to Kanazawa with four friends of mine. Kanazawa is a city on the Japanese west cost, towards the Sea of Japan. It is capital of Ishikawa Prefecture and the home of half a million people, but that's not why we went there. No, the highlights of Kanazawa and its surroundings are history, traditional culture and nature.

Protected by the surrounding mountains, Kanazawa could prosper even during times of war and chaos. It became the stronghold of the Ikko sect when they were driven our of Kyoto. Later the Maeda clan came in control, and under their rule Kanazawa became a major cultural center outside Kyoto and Edo. They had a great influence on the city, and the Maeda symbol can still be seen everywhere.

Kanazawa is not on any of the major train lines, but there are express trains. We choose to go by overnight highway bus instead, which quite convenient and much cheaper. I had bought a Japanese guidebook about Kanazawa. It is very cute and has everything you need to know to be a proper Japanese tourist: Top-10 sightseeing spots, omiyage (souvenir) tips, hundreds of restaurants and stores for local sweets and a pre-made plan to see everything in one day.

Our first stop was Myōryu-ji, or as it's commonly called, the Ninja Temple. This Buddhist temple was constructed to be a military lookout and defense post as much as a place of worship. It has a large number of tricks to fool the unsuspecting enemy who tries to enter. Everything from three meter deep trap-holes in the floor, many hidden rooms and stairs to a place to hide under the stairs and stab whoever passes by in the feet. In the middle of the temple, easily reachable from almost any room is a well. According to legend there is a secret tunnel from the well to Kanazawa castle. I don't know if the temple ever stopped any enemies, but the builders must have had a fun time!

Perhaps the most famous place in Kanazawa is Kenroku-en, a traditional Japanese garden and commonly held as one of the three most beautiful. Now,when we went there it was raining slightly and the garden was already full of Japanese tour groups. I think the garden has lost a lot of its ancient charm as the narrow walking paths have been widened to adapt to its popularity. Still, it has many good qualities. If I ever get a chance to come back to Kanazawa, I would like to go alone to Kenroku-en in very early morning. Perhaps a sunny winter morning. The change of seasons is very important in Japanese gardens, and I have not yet visited one in snow.

To be continued...

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photo by: masayo