One cannot talk about traditional crafts from Kanazawa without mentioning the Maeda clan, the lords of the Kaga region. The Maeda lords invited skilled artisans from Kyoto and Edo to Kanazawa in order to introduce artisan techniques to integrate the dynamism and elegance of the samurai culture. This combination is what defined Kanazawa’s unique artisan style.
The city of Kanazawa has been spared from war and natural disasters since the Maeda lords started their reign over 420 years ago. As a result of the lords’ cultural patronage, crafts, the tea ceremony and traditional chants found their way into citizen’s homes. Many of these local traditions still remain in their daily lives.
Although the history of gold leaf in Kanazawa dates back to the Azuchi Momoyama Period (1568~1603), it was during the Meiji Period (1868~1912) that its gold leaf became famous throughout the nation. The superior technology and the excellent water quality of the water used in the manufacturing process helped Kanazawa gain this reputation. Today, over 99% of Japan’s gold leaf and all of silver and brass leaf production is produced in Kanazawa. Kanazawa’s gold leaf never discolours, nor does it oxidize. This makes it an indispensable item for the production of a wide range of arts and crafts. In recent years a variety of new uses have opened up, such as interior accessories.
Kanazawa lacquer ware finds its roots when the third lord of Kaga Maeda Toshitsune invited the prestigious maki-e artist Igarashi Doho from Kyoto. Igarashi developed a unique combination between the aristocratic elegance and the warriors’ strength. His techniques have been passed down through masters and students from the Kaga clan and to the townspeople from the Edo Period (1603~1868) until today. Kanazawa lacquer ware is not used for mass-producing goods but for item-by-item production of tea utensils and internal furnishings.
The origins of Kaga-yuzen silk dyeing can be traced back to the region's unique dyeing technique called Umezome － a dyeing technique which uses materials from plum trees. In the early 18th century a kimono pattern designer named Miyazaki Yuzensai established the foundations of Yuzen silk dyeing in the region. Its realistic grass and flower patters were very different from the styles used in Kyoto.
Kaga-yuzen established a system in which a single artisan completed every step of production, from the designing to dyeing. Today, the Kaga-yuzen silk dyeing techniques are also being applied to dresses.
The origins of Kutani porcelain can be traced back to 1807 when Maeda Narinaga, the 11th lord ruled over the region. A famous porcelain artist from Kyoto named Aoki Mokubei opened the Kasugayama kiln in Kanazawa. Later, a warrior of the Kaga clan opened the Minzan kiln, his work is considered to be the first Kutani porcelain.
Kutani porcelain is characterized by its miniature paintings of high-viscosity paint and unique red colours. The detailed brushwork gives kutani porcelain a sense of elegance and refinement.
A wide variety of new Kutani porcelain products are being created, such as wine glasses with Kutani porcelain stems and feet.
Kaga embroidery was brought from Kyoto as a decorative cloths and attire technique for the Buddhist ceremony at the beginning of the Muromachi Period (1336~1573). Kaga embroidery was applied on the battle ware of clan lords and their wives kimono’s during the feudal period. With Yuzen silk dyed clothing becoming more popular, greater technical sophistication was required to bring out the dyed patterns. Kaga embroidery uses silk, gold, and silver threads patterns that appear three-dimensional. It is a delicate and time-consuming technique. Today, Kaga embroidery is used on a variety of daily sundries and tapestries.
The Jodo Shinshu Buddhism grew in influence over the lives of the common people in Kanazawa. This resulted in a higher demand for home altars compared to other Japanese regions. Artisans were summoned to respond to the higher demand.
The production of Buddhist altars utilizes a variety of craft techniques by wood workers, painters, lacquerers, engravers and fitting workers. An abundance of gold leaf was also used in the Buddhist altars as Kanazawa was also home to its production. The stately and elegant appearance of Buddhist altars were achieved through the careful integration of various traditional crafts.
Kaga inlaying is a metal decoration technique used for sword accoutrements etc. It was a skill vital to warrior clans. Under the 2nd lord of the Kaga region, Maeda Toshinaga, the inlay technology became highly developed.
Saddle stirrups Kaga inlaying decorations combined a technique preventing peeling regardless of the strength of impact with an ingenious and sophisticated design garnered incomparable distinction.
Kaga inlaying is valued as an artistic handicraft around the world. Excellent pieces can be found in museums around the world.
Ohi ware began as a type of pottery introduced by the ceramics master Chozaemon of the Raku Clan. He accompanied the Urasenke tea master Sen Soshitsu Senso who was summoned from Kyoto by the fifth lord of Kaga, Maeda Tsunanori. The shape of Ohi ware is formed by hand without the use of a wheel. The object is quickly taken out of the kiln while the glaze is still melting. The amber-coloured glaze makes the vibrant green of tea stand out and differentiates it from the black and red gazed works from Kyoto.
Flies for fishing were made by warriors of the Kaga clan during the feudal age. Gold leaf is applied to the wild geese feathers.
The origin of bamboo crafts dates back to the founding of a bamboo workshop during the Edo period. The techniques developed alongside the tea ceremony and flower arrangement.
Miyazaki Yoshikazu, the son of a loyal to the fifth Lord of Kaga, was the first to produce this type of kettle for tea ceremonies. The kettles feature a distinctive rough surface and were produced using an integrated production system.
Kaga paper lanterns were produced as an alternative for torches. Their frames made from bamboo string make them much more resistant to fire.
The production method for gongs was first developed by gong maker Uozumi Iraku, who was a Living National Treasure. His techniques have been handed down for generations. The third master is a living national treasure as well.
Artistic works produced by skilful wood-turners using high quality paulownia. The patterns based on traditional maki-e art from Kaga. The designs are burned into the wooden surface.
Futamata paper was used for public documents under the protection of the Kaga clan.
The history of the dolls dates back to the Edo period when Maeda Toshitsune, the third lord of Kaga, commissioned work by doll creators. Warriors made dolls as a side job. The technique they used to create dolls and other toys has been handed down from generation to generation.
Kanazawa is famous for its Japanese umbrellas which were commonly produced during the Edo, Meiji and Taisho periods (1603~1926) and is made of durable Japanese washi paper.
Kaga fishing rods are lacquer-coating and decorated. They are regarded as the height of sophistication for their elegant appearance and solidity.
Sangen was used to perform background music during plays and in old entertainment districts. The sound of the instrument attracted custumers to the shops in the Higashi-chaya, Nishi-chaya and Kazue-machi teahouse districts.
Some koto instruments are decorated with makie or raden technique for lacquer ware using gold leafing and seashells. They are beautiful artistic works in their own right.
Mizuhiki are objects made from paper strings and have an ornamental function during celebrations. The traditional techniques to make the mizuhiki are still practiced today.
The refined techniques of scroll mounters have been documented since the Edo period and are now used to renovate important cultural assets.