By Cathy Cawood
“You have been to Matsumoto Castle? Then you will not find Kanazawa Castle very interesting. Too new. Too ugly.”
These were the solemn parting words I received from the owner of the guesthouse I was staying at in the city of Kanazawa. I was already perplexed by the seaside city (it is much, much bigger than I had expected it to be), and this ominous warning only deepened my confusion about the place. Still curious, I set off for the Kanazawa Castle Park, and was totally unprepared for the beauty that I found at there.
The original Kanazawa Castle was built in 1583 in order to serve as the residence for Lord Maeda Toshiie. From here, the Maeda clan governed the surrounding areas for more than 280 years. Sadly, most of the original building has been damaged over the years due to fire and freak accidents (in 1602, part of it burnt down after it was struck by lightning), and although the complex has been repeatedly rebuilt, locals regard it as somehow less impressive than Japan’s other, more ancient castle complexes. The park’s oldest object is the Ishiwakamon Gate, which was rebuilt in 1788. The Gojikken Nagaya, or warehouse, followed when it was repaired in 1850s. Both these buildings still remain, and they are, as the guesthouse owner advised me, the only things worth viewing at the Park.
However new the park may be, unimpressive it most certainly is not. Upon entering the Kanazawa Castle Gardens, one is greeted with rolling, finely manicured lawns, blossoming flower patches and the happy sight of locals enjoying the sunny green space. It is an advert for Utopia. Overlooking this pristine garden is the elegant castle tower and its surrounding buildings. To my untrained eye, it was difficult to tell at all that it had been rebuilt as late as 1996. Great care has been taken to replicate intricate details on the façade, as well as on the newer gates that surround the once-ancient site. As for the Ishiwakamon-gate, the proprietor at my accommodation had been right – it is truly magnificent. The mighty wooden and stone construction has a weight of importance about it, and makes a fitting entrance in to this lovingly preserved park.
Kanazawa Castle and Castle Gardens are definitely a jewel in this buzzing city. If you don’t have time to tour the castle buildings, a trip to the gorgeous gardens alone is well worth your time. Don’t let anyone else convince you otherwise.
Please note that the prices listed here are only for touring the Hishiyagura, Gojikken Nagaya, and Hashizumemon Tsuzuki Yagura buildings. It is free of charge to visit the remaining areas of the Castle Park.
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South African born Anna is a writer with a passion for photography, food and travel. After a sojourn in Vietnam, she moved to Edinburgh where she completed her Masters degree in modern literature. Asia has captured her imagination, and she hopes to see much more of the continent in the near future.