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Ashigaru Shiryokan Samurai Museum
Nagamachi (Historical Samurai District), Kanazawa, Japan

2013 photos beneath text

The Samurai of Kanazawa

Origin of Kanazawa: Kana means gold and Zawa signifies river.  Kanazawa is very famous for gold mining. It still produces most of the gold foil in Japan.

Around the middle of the 16th century, the Buddhist Ikko sect set up a religious government in Kanazawa with its center at the Kanazawa Gobo temple, which, in 1583,  became the site of Kanazawa Castle built by Maeda Toshiie. The Maeda family governed Kaga (presently Ishikawa prefecture) for 300 years over 14 generations. The family's financial power was based on the harvest of rice. The Maeda lords especially fostered arts and crafts, and Kanazawa became a cultural center like Tokyo (then known as Edo) and Kyoto.   

Samurai tended to live on their own land, but in Kaga all samurai, regardless of income, lived in Kanazawa. When Kanazawa was finished in more or less its final form in the late 17th century, over three-quarters of it was samurai housing.

The ashigaru, or footsoldiers, were the lowest ranked soldiers of the samurai class. This small museum consists of two reconstructed homes, which illustrate the relatively austere lifestyle of the ashigaru.  Ashigaru, form the time of Kamakura Period, were essential during group battle. During the peaceful Edo Period (1603-1867) and reconstruction, the number of Ashigaru was limited.

When the feudal system collapsed at the end of the 19th century, samurai privileges were soon abolished, and many of their houses were destroyed.

Path bordering the museum (on right) - greenery in an urban setting

Aligning path bordering the museum - greenery in an urban setting

Front entrance ... Note rocks on roof

While the sea of black-glazed tiles (Kawara) sparkling in the sun is a common tourist image of Kanazawa today, the traditional architectural style used wooden boards held down by stones; due to the extremely heavy snowfalls of the Japan Sea coast, traditional tiles were considered to be too heavy. The use of tiles on the frontage and boards under the eaves is also to prevent snow damage.

Storage area reached via ladder

Shoji screen.
The size of a room can be changed by altering the partitioning. Sliding panels - fusuma  and shōji - made from wood and paper (washi) were used in place of walls, allowing the internal configuration of a space to be customized to different occasions. Unlike fusuma, paper used for shōji is very thin so outside light can pass through into the house.

Bucket and tray display

Note wooden ceiling: Ceilings customarily are not separately built elements, but rather the underside of the roof is left exposed and acts as the ceiling for the space.

Tokonoma alcove display area - note hanging scroll.
Minimal interior decoration alters seasonally, with a different scroll hanging or new flower (ikebana) arrangement. A recessed space called tokonoma is often present in traditional as well as modern Japanese living rooms. This is the focus of the room and displays Japanese art, usually a painting or calligraphy.

Lack of Western furniture is historically accurate

People usually sat on cushions or otherwise on the floor, traditionally; chairs and high tables were not widely used until the 20th century ... Tatami mats

Note tatami mats, detailed below:

Tatami mats closeup:  Straw foundation, covered with a  woven reed mat; roughly 1 X 2 meters.

Looking into back yard ... Note shoes are removed before stepping up into the raised wooden floor living areas of the house.  In the front of house, shoe removal takes place in the genkan.

Stone water basins (tsukubai) were originally placed in gardens for visitors to wash their hands and mouth before the tea ceremony. The water is provided to the basin by a bamboo pipe, or kakei, and they usually have a wooden ladle for drinking the water.

Stone water basin (tsukubai)

Photos and their arrangement 2013 Chuck LaChiusa
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