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Kaga Hyakuman Koku

          In the Hokuriku region of Japan, there is a city known as the "Little Kyoto." This city boasts traditional streets on par with those of Kyoto, where you can also enjoy geisha performances. It offers unique tea ceremonies, special pastries, and is renowned for its exclusive gold leaf craftsmanship. Beyond these cultural treasures, it hosts numerous distinctive art museums, showcasing the city’s artistic atmosphere. Combining tradition as rich as Kyoto’s and modernity rivaling Tokyo’s, this city is Kanazawa—the largest city in Hokuriku, blending tradition with modernity. Over 400 years ago, when a samurai became the lord of Kanazawa, he laid the foundation for the city’s present character.

        The unit "koku" is particularly associated with explanations of daimyo, provinces, and domains, and the larger the number, the more impressive it seems. While we can imagine it represents national strength and economic scale, what exactly does this word signify? Let's explore the historical unit of "koku" in detail this time!

          In the mid-16th century, Japan was in the Sengoku period, with constant wars among samurai across various regions. In Owari Province (present-day western Aichi Prefecture), a young samurai named Maeda Toshiie was known for his eccentric dress and exaggerated makeup, earning him the nickname "Kabukimono" . Despite his unusual attire, he was a skilled warrior proficient in spear combat. As a close bodyguard to Oda Nobunaga, who nearly unified Japan, Toshiie achieved numerous military accomplishments. After Oda Nobunaga established the Horoshu (Nobunaga's elite guard and personal bodyguard unit), he promoted Toshiie to be the leader of the Horoshu.

         Toshiie was not only a skilled warrior but also honest and loyal, often helping the weak and valuing friendship deeply. During his time as Nobunaga's guard, he formed a strong friendship with another young samurai, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who would later unify Japan. At that time, Hideyoshi had just risen from being a farmer to Nobunaga's close aide, a humble status. Toshiie did not look down on him and instead befriended him. As the leader of the elite guard, Toshiie often supported the poorly paid Toyotomi Hideyoshi, even helping him arrange his wedding and providing his own vacant house for Hideyoshi and his wife as their bridal home. These actions deeply moved Hideyoshi, who remembered them fondly.

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Maeda Toshiie

(1538~1599)

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        As Nobunaga’s power expanded from the Nagoya area to Kyoto and its surroundings, Toshiie followed him in various battles, quickly becoming a prominent general. Nobunaga, aiming to unify Japan, was not content with merely controlling Kyoto and dispatched multiple armies to fight across the country. Toshiie, as the deputy commander of the Hokuriku forces, was tasked with subduing the Hokuriku region. After securing the area, Nobunaga rewarded Toshiie with the province of Noto (around the Noto Peninsula in present-day Ishikawa Prefecture), elevating Toshiie to the rank of Daimyo (feudal lord).

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           However, just as the Oda clan's power was expanding, Nobunaga was betrayed by his general Akechi Mitsuhide and died at Honnoji Temple in Kyoto. Nobunaga’s heir was also killed in the rebellion, leaving the Oda clan in disarray. At that time, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who had become a leading general, quelled the rebellion, stabilized the situation, and eventually replaced the Oda clan as the most powerful lord in Japan. As Hideyoshi’s best friend, Toshiie naturally sided with him. The former friends were now lord and vassal. To repay Toshiie, Hideyoshi granted him the lands of Kaga, Noto, and Etchu (present-day Ishikawa Prefecture and western Toyama Prefecture) centered around Kanazawa. This area, facing the Sea of Japan to the north and bordered by the famous Hakusan mountain range to the south, had high-quality rice due to the moist winter sea breeze and mountain spring water. The annual rice yield of Toshiie’s clan approached one million koku. Additionally, Hideyoshi entrusted Japan’s entire gold leaf industry to Toshiie, making Kanazawa the only city producing gold leaf at that time. The prosperity of agriculture and industry led to commercial prosperity, making Kanazawa as wealthy as Osaka. Toshiie thus became one of Japan’s most powerful lords.

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          In 1598, Toyotomi Hideyoshi died, leaving an eight-year-old heir, Hideyori. Anticipating trouble from another powerful samurai, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Hideyoshi appointed a council of five elders to support Hideyori, with Toshiie as the head to restrain Ieyasu. Toshiie’s presence somewhat deterred Ieyasu, but Toshiie’s health deteriorated rapidly. Knowing his days were numbered, Toshiie instructed his son to support the Tokugawa family in any conflict with the Toyotomi to protect the Maeda clan. After Toshiie’s death, his son followed this advice. When Tokugawa Ieyasu established the Edo Shogunate, the Maeda clan retained their lands, forming Kaga Domain, lasting until the Meiji Restoration.

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Kanazawa Castle

        Kanazawa Castle was initially built in the mid-16th century as a fortified temple occupied by monks and Buddhist followers. In the late 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi awarded the castle to Maeda Toshiie, who became the lord and renovated it. Unlike other Japanese castles, Kanazawa Castle lacks a main keep. In 1602, the castle’s keep was destroyed by lightning. During a period of political transition when the Tokugawa family replaced the Toyotomi as Japan's rulers, the Maeda clan, once close friends of the Toyotomi, were not trusted by the Tokugawa. To express submission, the Maeda family refrained from rebuilding the keep, a symbol of power, and instead constructed a three-story watchtower at the main gate, making it a unique feature of Kanazawa Castle.

        The castle has numerous gates, each with a distinct design. Within the castle, there is a small garden that reflects the lord’s refined taste.

Kenrokuen Garden

          Kenrokuen Garden is just across the street from Kanazawa Castle and is one of Japan’s three most famous gardens, symbolizing Kanazawa. It exemplifies the pinnacle of Japanese strolling gardens. The name "Kenroku" means "having six attributes," referring to the six essential features of an excellent garden: spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, waterways, and panoramas. While Japanese gardens typically emphasize one of these traits, the Maeda lords of Kanazawa aimed to incorporate all six into Kenrokuen.

          Due to their lack of trust from the Tokugawa Shogunate, the wealthy Maeda family continuously invested heavily in the meticulous refinement of Kenrokuen to gain the Shogunate’s trust through their lavish and cultured lifestyle. Over 200 years and multiple expansions, Kenrokuen reached its current state. The garden’s scenery varies distinctly with the seasons, each offering unique beauty, particularly the autumn foliage and winter snow, attracting many international tourists.

Myoryuji Temple (Ninja Temple)

          Located west of Kanazawa Castle, Myoryuji Temple is more than it seems. While it appears to be a regular temple, it is actually a disguised fortress.

During the Tokugawa Shogunate era, the Shogun was wary of the powerful Maeda family, constantly monitoring them. To prepare for potential attacks from the Shogunate, the Maeda family built Myoryuji      Temple as a fortified temple. Shogunate laws allowed only one castle per domain, prohibiting other fortifications, so the Maeda lords constructed lavish temples around their castle to serve as fortresses. Myoryuji features lookout towers, hidden staircases, secret rooms, traps, and tunnels connecting to Kanazawa Castle, resembling a ninja house, hence its nickname "Ninja Temple."

The temple’s intricate design cannot be fully described in words. If you visit Kanazawa, Myoryuji is a must-see, where every step reveals astonishing and ingenious features.

Oyama Shrine

         Oyama Shrine, located in the center of Kanazawa, is dedicated to Maeda Toshiie. During the Tokugawa era, Toshiie’s son sought to enshrine his father as a deity, but this was forbidden by the Shogunate. Instead, he built Oyama Shrine under the guise of a Hachiman Shrine (dedicated to the god of war) and secretly enshrined Toshiie.

         During the Meiji Restoration, Toshiie’s descendants renovated the shrine. Its main gate combines Japanese, Chinese, and Western architectural elements and features Japan’s first lightning rod at its peak. Inside the shrine, there is a bronze statue of MaedaToshiie on horseback, modeled after his appearance as the captain of Oda Nobunaga’s guard.

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