All About Japan

Have a Cuppa in Kanazawa’s Old Town

| Historical Shops , Kanazawa

Founded as a castle town by the Kaga Domain’s Maeda Clan, Kanazawa presents a unique culture in arts, craft and food. The city didn't suffer damage during World War II, so many historical buildings and old streets have been preserved. We present to you two teahouse districts where you can find shops remaining from the Edo Period (1603-1868)!

Kuboichi Ototsurugigu Shrine

Kazuemachi is located along the banks of Asanogawa, about 10 minutes by car from JR Kanazawa Station. When you enter the small street, you'll first see Kuboichi Ototsurugigu Shrine.

This shrine has a history dating back to Heian Period (794-1185), when it was called Ototsurugi Daimyojin. It was built as a guardian shrine of the city. The central market of the Kitakaga area was located nearby, and the actual city developed from that market, so the shrine is also known as "the market’s birthplace" or "the city’s birthplace." It's believed to protect the city’s prosperity and development.

Take the Stairs to Kazuemachi

After you see the shrine, continue further along and to the right. The stone steps on the slope behind the shrine lead to the Kazuemachi district. This slope is called Kuragari-zaka (the dark slope), because in the old times the rich gentlemen from the merchant families used to take the stairs secretly in the dark to go to the Kazuemachi teahouse district. At the bottom you'll see a very small street and a district reminiscent of another era.

The Kuragari slope not only leads to Kazuemachi geographically, but it also links the present era with the teahouse district that flourished in the beginning of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), thus serving as a time tunnel as well.

The Kazuemachi District's name comes from Kazue Toda, a prominent historical figure from the Kaga Domain. In 1970, however, the address system was changed and the district became part of the Owaricho Nichome neighborhood, and the old name disappeared. But in 1979, when the city celebrated 90 years since its incorporation as a municipality, signs mentioning the old name and its origin started appearing, and a local movement to restore the name emerged.

As a result of that initiative, Kazuemachi’s old name was restored in 1999, the first such case in the country. Using this precedent, many local towns and districts began their own movements for restoration of their old names. This story says a lot about the people of Kanazawa’s appreciation for good old things.

Kanazawa’s Biggest Teahouse District: Higashi Chaya

When you cross the big bridge over Asanogawa, next to Kazuemachi, you'll reach the Higashi Chaya district—known for its Edo Period atmosphere. It's the biggest among Kanazawa’s three teahouse districts (Higashi Chaya, Nishi Chaya and Kazuemachi), and also one of the most popular tourist spots.

Many old teahouses with latticed windows called kimusuko are lined up on both sides of the stone-paved street. Several teahouses built during the Edo Period, such as Shima, Kaikaro and Ochaya-bunkakan, are open to the public for a small fee. Shops selling sweets, souvenirs, local gold leaf products—as well as cafés—are also popular attractions for domestic and foreign visitors.

After exploring the main street, you can walk around the neighborhood. The back alleys preserve the old spirit, and still accommodate many teahouses and shops for rice, soy sauce or miso.

There are also shops and facilities where you can try gold leaf pasting, as Kanazawa produces over 90 percent of the gold leaf in Japan. Gold leaf is one of the local traditional crafts here.

Kazuemachi and Higashi Chaya are designated as important traditional architecture preservation areas. The little streets aren't suitable for cars, but are perfect for walking tourists, flat and easy to amble. Be sure to visit and get a taste of Kanazawa’s old city!

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