Japan's bullet train has made this well-preserved city more accessible than ever

posted on February 6, 2016

In Japan, history is frequently right around the corner: a venerable little shrine, a neighborhood temple that's survived both war and redevelopment, maybe even a castle. But the sense of being immersed in the past is rare.

Even Kyoto, famed as the country's redoubt against modernity, has no large area that meets the Western definition of a historic district.

But there is another city that, like Kyoto, was spared U.S. firebombs during World War II. Kanazawa is not quite a Japanese Williamsburg, but it does contain numerous neighborhoods of Edo period (1603-1868) structures. Long more popular with Japanese than foreign visitors, the north-coast city became much more accessible last year with the opening of a new Shinkansen line. The high-speed trains hurtle from Tokyo in under 21/2 hours. It's a hop worth making.

The train station, like Kyoto's, is emphatically modernistic. But it does bow to the past with a mammoth wooden gate called Tsuzumi, after the hand drum it somewhat resembles. The gate faces east, toward the center city and a large bus plaza. Unlike most Japanese cities of its size, Kanazawa has neither a subway nor trams. The main attractions are mostly within walking distance, but a loop bus circles past them, either clockwise or counter.

Kanazawa means "gold swamp," a name traced to a legend about a peasant who found gold in a bog. The story is unlikely, but the city's craftspeople have taken it to heart. Kanazawa is home to virtually all of Japan's gold-leaf production. Since gilding is essential to Buddhist art, business is golden.

In Higashi Chaya-gai, several shops sell gilded items, ranging from jewelry to cosmetics to postcards. The largest is Hakuza ("gold-foil place"), whose products include gold-infused liquor and green-tea cake edged in edible gold. The shop boasts the world's first gilded outside wall, although the siding - on a small warehouse that also has a glittering interior - is not exactly outside. It's in an interior courtyard, sheltered from the juicy air.

source by washingtonpost
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