Kanazawa

EXPERIENCE THE INTRICACIES OF JAPANESE CULTURE IN A TOWN LINED WITH ANTIQUE SAMURAI HOUSES

Words and Photography: Kazuya Baba

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During the Edo period, under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, Kanazawa thrived as a castle town under the exceedingly influential Kaga Domain. It was the most populated city after the three large cities of that era (Edo, Osaka and Kyoto) alongside Nagoya. The streets of Kanazawa still largely maintain their historic feel as they were fortunately spared from any American air strikes during World War II.

Despite the many attractions Kanazawa has to offer, its location on the Sea of Japan side of the country meant that international visitors seldom visited the city since many travellers tended to start their adventures from Tokyo or Osaka, on the opposite side.

However, the situation has changed, with the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen in March 2015, improving access to all the major cities along the Sea of Japan side of the country. With the convenience of the city being located only an hour away from Nagano Station – the entry point to holiday resort destinations popular amongst ski-goers such as Hakuba, Nozawa Onsen and Shiga Highlands – Australian skiers, and other foreigners alike, have started to flock to Kanazawa for short trips during their extended stays over in Nagano.

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The wonder of Kanazawa can be described in a single sentence; it has all the beauty of historical Japan concentrated into one single place. It is a city with multiple facets of beauty – a samurai town structured around the centrally located castle; a lively town of merchants; and a town of temples to protect the area. Just merely walking through the streets of Kanazawa will give you a sense of how gorgeous the city is.

Alongside Asano River and Saigawa River, which flow through the city, are 3 historical places with well-preserved streets of old known as the Chaya Districts (tea house district). Chaya districts used to refer to red-light districts where geisha and courtesans gathered, however, nowadays it merely notates an area comprising of establishments where geisha experiences can be had. Of the three Chaya Districts, the largest and most glamorous of them all is Higashi Chaya District (East Chaya District). Delicate, lattice-roofed tea houses beautifully line the streets of the district. When night falls, it shows its other enchanting side as the lamps illuminate the streets to bring about a mysterious allure. With an array of stylish cafés and accessory shops scattered around, it can be easy to spend a whole day leisurely shopping and seeing the many sights. Some places also offer geisha experiences aimed at international tourists, which are definitely worth looking into at tourist information centres.

The sight of water flowing freely through the city is another distinctive characteristic of Kanazawa. Water is taken from the upstream flow of Saigawa River and brought down before using the inverted siphon method to funnel it up to the castle. This technology was said to be the highly advanced during its time.

Mud walls and cobblestone streets take you on a trip back in time over at Naga-machi Buke Yashiki District, where middle-class samurai of the Kaga Domain once called home. The district allows you to see how the samurai of the time once lived. A walk down through the samurai town also wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the Tera-machi Temple Area, one of the many temple areas in Kanazawa. As a defensive strategy against farmers rebelling against the ruler of the time, temples were erected in the areas surrounding Saigawa River – giving rise to the birth of Tera-machi Temple Area. In a similar fashion, Utatsuyama Temple Area on the eastern side of Kanazawa Castle, and Kodatsuno Temple Area to the south-east at Kodatsuno were also constructed. Myoryuji Temple, a ninja temple famous for its numerous ninja traps, headlines the list of almost 70 temples in the Tera-machi Temple Area.

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KENROKUEN-EN – ONE OF THE THREE GREAT GARDENS OF JAPAN

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Standing proudly alongside Kairaku-en in Mito and Kouraku-en in Okayama, is Kanazawa’s Kenroku-en to make up the Three Great Gardens of Japan. Kenroku-en has rich history as a renowned daimyo tei-en (feudal lord garden) and was constructed throughout many generations of Kaga feudal lords. Located in central Kanazawa, visitors from within and outside of Japan converge on the garden to enjoy the beautiful seasonal scenery.

Kenroku-en is not a “compact style” garden like the ones which are viewable and to be enjoyed from the abbot’s quarters or temples or drawing rooms of castles. Instead, it takes full advantage of the vast area it occupies with a large pond dug into the grounds, tsukiyama (man-made hill), as well as mansions and tea houses dotted around the place. You are able to stroll around to these various attractions in this “go-around-style” garden.

Although the garden was constructed throughout many generations of feudal lords over an extended period of time, the basic vision for the garden stayed consistent all through the years. This was known as the Shinsen Shiso, or the
“Taoist Immortal Vision”. It is the idea to construct a pond to emulate an ocean with an island inside of it to symbolise the immortal island of Taoist belief. The feudal lords were said to have constructed the garden to promote longevity and timelessness.

More details about the origins of Kenroku-en can be found in English on their official website, so it is highly recommended to read up on the history before seeing it in all its glory. The carefully though-out, man-made garden offers a unique sense of charm contrasting with the beauty of Mother Nature’s creations.

HANDS-ON WITH GOLD LEAF AND KIMONO

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The increase of international visitors to Kanazawa in recent times has led to the expansion of various programs for tourists to have cultural experiences relevant to historical Japan. Whilst there are various experiences to be had all over Japan, there are some that are unique to Kanazawa. Noh experiences are one of the more unique ones. The Noh style of Kanazawa was developed from the ceremonial song and dance of the samurai Maeda clan in the Kaga Domain. The style was protected, nurtured and encouraged amongst the masses, leading to the establishment of the Kaga Hosho style. This is why Kanazawa came to be known as, “the town where Noh chants rain from the sky”.

This vast history led to the construction of the Kanazawa Noh Museum to house and display the precious Kaga Hosho Noh masks and costumes. Visitors to the museum can also partake in the actual wearing of a Noh mask during their visit.

Kanazawa is also well renowned for its Kaga Yuzen (Kaga-style dyed textiles) and gold leaf. In fact, almost all of the country’s gold leaf is produced in Kanazawa. Experiences that allow you to don kimono made of dyed fabrics and make your own chopsticks using gold leaf are highly popular. Try out the unique experiences for yourself and take home memories to cherish.
Another spot not to be missed, is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa.
It is one of the few leading ontemporary art museums in Japan and is located right
next to the Kanazawa Noh Museum, so there really is no reason not to go!

THE RABBIT HOLE OF KANAZAWA FOOD CULTURE

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Last, but certainly not least, is the deep food culture of Kanazawa. Along with the plethora of Kaga grown vegetables (Kaga yasai), Kanazawa is also known for how distinct its food culture is from the rest of Japan. The seafood found around the area is especially worth bringing to the spotlight. The location of the city on the Sea of Japan side of Japan means that it has access to a variety of seafood which cannot be obtained from the Pacific Ocean side of the country, this also leads to a unique foodie experience to be had. Of the unique produce found in Kanazawa, nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch) is particularly sought after by Japanese and international tourists alike. It is a white fish with generous fatty deposits, making it utterly delectable.

Nodoguro, along with various other delicious types of seafood, can be found by visiting Omi-cho market in central Kanazawa. Locals visit the market for their grocery needs, however, a large number of tourists also drop by in order to experience life as a local and see all the marine produce on offer. The epicure in you will want to jot down this locale as a spot to check out. You can also taste local produce at one of the many izakaya (Japanese-style pub) located all around the city. Drop by the reception desk of your hotel and ask the concierge for recommendations about which izakaya to visit.

It goes without saying that Nagano provides a great central base to visit Kanazawa, however, now that the city is accessible from both Tokyo and Osaka with a single trip on the shinkansen, why not have a little visit over to Kanazawa on your next stay in one of the major cities of Japan?

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The secret of JAPAN’S RAZOR-EDGED KNIVES

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The secret of JAPAN’S RAZOR-EDGED KNIVES

“A Japanese knife is like the blade of a samurai.” Gaining a reputation for their superb sharpness not just at home in Japan, but also abroad, the secret of their sharpness lies in the near machine-like precision of the craftsmen who make them, and the masterful techniques they apply to their craft.

The roots of Japanese knives can be found in Japanese swords and their same pursuit of high-quality steel in the search for the sharpest possible edge. As swords evolved into the kitchen blades of today, traditional Japanese knives offer traits seldom found in western knives, not just simply cutting ingredients, but also cutting beautifully and leaving the cells of the ingredients intact.

Knives in Japan are made with a painstaking attention to detail, right down to the balance and feel when held. Where it is common in the west to hold down ingredients to cut them, Japanese knives offer the finest cutting experience, allowing you to easily slice through ingredients without applying any pressure.

The knife you use to cut your food also affects the taste. Using a sharp knife keeps the cells of the ingredients intact and leaves a beautiful surface that makes the ingredients shine, and has no negative effect on their taste.

MASTER SKILLS OF THE KNIFE ARTISANS

Hand-crafted knives are unlike those made by machine in that each one is a unique work. The end product is a reflection of the artisan that made it, from their approach to the craft, to their vision and even their individual character. More than anything else, what makes them special are the long years of intuition and experience that go into determining the conditions under which a blade is made, the temperature of the forge, the state of the steel, and more.

Each of the many different types of knives demands different considerations from the artisans that make them. Blacksmith, Mr. Hayao Doi of Sakai Takayuki Edged Tool, which draws on more than 600 years of tradition in the Sakaiuchi style of craftsmanship, says, “When changing the size and the type of the metal (materials) to match the type and size of the knife you are making, there is the right temperature and the right time for each one. It is therefore crucial that the blacksmith is able to trust their instincts to find just the right temperature inside the forge.”

Becoming a fully fledged knife artisan requires training and countless hours of experience. Training involves watching yourmaster closely and attempting to recreate their technique until you get it right. “It’s hard to say at what stage you become a fully fledged knife artisan, but I would say it generally takes around five to ten years to be called a proper craftsman,” says Mr. Doi. “Of course, it takes many more years of training and hard work to become recognised as a truly first-class craftsman after that.”

TREASURABLE BLADES MADE WITH CARE

You need to look no further than one store in Sydney to find knives painstakingly hand-crafted by artisans of the Sakai Takayuki Edged Tools brand. Selling knives and whetstones of the highest quality from Japan, Knives and Stones is the perfect place for those seeking professional wares, offering a wide range of Japanese knives and whetstones for professionals and home cooks alike. These high-quality Japanese knives are well loved by the chefs of popular restaurants in Sydney. Why not make a lifelong companion by making one of these priceless blades your very own?


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Japan’s Unique Tea Culture

Japan’s Unique Tea Culture

In Japan, tea is enjoyed both alongside food or while relaxing on a full stomach after a meal, and also to quench the thirst. It is something that fills a very familiar place in the lives of the Japanese yet presents a world that is as deep as your will to explore it.

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THE JAPANESE IDEAL OF HOSPITALITY

A cup of tea offers an opportunity to relax and to enjoy a moment’s respite. The casual invitation, “Let’s have a cup of tea, shall we?” is both an attractive one, and exemplifies the essential role that tea plays in the Japanese ideal of hospitality. Tea first made its way over to Japan from China along with Buddhism. There, it developed into a unique style of its own focusing on hospitality that drew on influences of Zen philosophy. Taking great care to prepare for one’s guests and valuing the time spent together is both the basic stance and ultimate goal of hospitality. The way of tea is a cultural tradition of Japan based around matcha and later evolved into sencha tea ceremonies in the Edo period and beyond. The etiquette and attitude espoused by the tea ceremony also play a role in day-today life, and have made their way into Japanese society as a whole.

A HISTORY OF TEA IN JAPAN

There are many varieties of the green tea that have come to epitomise Japanese tea, such as sencha, houjicha, and matcha. The history of tea itself is a long one said to have begun with its discovery by Shennong in 2700 BC as noted in an anecdote in the
Chinese treatise on herbs known as “Shennong Bencao Jing”. Green tea originated in Japan around the year 800 after the grand figures of Buddhism in Japan, monks Saicho and Kukai, were said to have planted seeds in Kyoto brought back from their travels to China. At this time, tea was a delicacy only available to generals and their immediate second in line in social standing – the monks. During the warring states period, records of Portuguese visitors to Japan at the time showed that tea masters and generals alike spent an exorbitant amount of their resources on tea rooms and tea equipment. It was only later in the Edo period when tea finally spread and began to be consumed by the masses.

THE ALLURE OF GREEN TEA

Matcha is one of the most popular varieties of green tea, and while it is also a product unique to Japan that first appeared in the 15th century,you can now find variants produced in China and elsewhere as well. Amidst the ongoing global trend towards health and fitness, research into the health benefits of drinking tea and the components of green tea, such as catechin, offers data that backs up long-held beliefs in the powers of tea. The spread of knowledge about these health benefits is in turn driving increased popularity. As matcha is a tea made by grinding tea leaves into a powder, you ingest all the active ingredients of the tea, providing
more health benefits over other green teas where only the tea extract is ingested. Growing recognition of matcha as a super food has led to its growing popularity in Australia and elsewhere outside of Japan. It is more commonly found in menu items, as well as flavourings for various desserts in recent times due to the increased exposure. The dash of sweetness amidst a bitterness common to unfermented tea combines with a refreshing taste to make green tea an attractive choice. The flavour, the unique culture developed over the span of many years, and the customs and values that gave birth to Japanese philosophy and sensibilities come together as one to make green tea a much-loved drink the world over.


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In Japan, this brand can be seen from the moment when you are at the airport arrival gate, when you are walking on the street, and when you are about to board on your return flight to Australia.
ITO EN and Its Australian Business

ITOEN and Its Australian Business

The company that counts the mega brand Oi Ocha as its signature brand is none other than ITO EN, which holds the largest share of the Japanese tea market in Japan and also has a subsidiary company in Australia.

The History of ITOEN in Australia

ITOEN Australia was established in 1994. Beginning to plant seedlings for Japanese tea from Japan in Victoria’s northeast in the late 1990s, ITOEN Australia has been implementing the same cultivation and processing methods as those in Japan since the year 2000. The venture was first launched with the objective of providing sustainable tea to the Japanese market from Australia where the seasons were the opposite to those in Japan, but as the recent boom in matcha shows, the demand for Japanese tea in Australia is rising dramatically. This demand has in turn spurred the sale of Australian-grown Japanese tea with the objective of meeting local consumption.

ITO EN’s products can be found in the green tea flavoured tea bags containing Matcha green tea sold at supermarkets, and in matcha or Australian grown green tea-related items on the menus of cafes , restaurants and many other places, and their popularity is on the rise.

Where to Next?

ITOEN understands that the demand for tea in Australia leans heavily towards consumption of tea bags. Yet, ITO EN has long created a finely crafted tea unique to Japan that is geared towards the Japanese market. Because we are considering making the supply of tea bags the primary focus of our approach to the Australian market, there is no need to go to the lengths of making a very fine Japanese tea. Rather, we are looking to renew the machinery in our factory lines and add the capability to produce matcha and the tea bag ingredients for tea bags. In much the same way as local consumers display a preference for fresh fruit, meat, and marine produce that are local originated, we would like to provide a locally produced green tea that meets the expectations of the Australian people for a safe and familiar product that they can also enjoy.

There is a growing number of organisations suggesting introducing a sugar tax to the food market in Australia. One of our unique products is an unsweetened green tea that contains no sweetening agents of any kind and is thus truly unsweetened, un like zero -sugar products that are made using natural and/or artificial sweeteners agents. This product is growing in popularity due to meeting the needs of these consumers. We plan to make Oi Ocha using 100% Australian-grown green tea in the future, and in doing so deliver peace of mind, a safe product, and also joy through Japanese culture to the local consumers who support ITO EN’s Australian business.

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