金沢市(Kanazawa-city) is the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. 金 means gold, and 沢 means dale/marsh. It is said that the name, 金沢(Kanazawa), came from the legend of the peasant 芋掘り藤五郎(Potato-digger,Togoto) found small flakes of gold when he was washing yam-potatoes in a dale. After that, the place was called the dale of washing gold, and it became the name of the place, Kanazawa.
Kanazawa city was registered as a creative city in the fields of “Crafts and Folk arts” by UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 2009. It is the third city in Japan that was designated by UNESCO. (The first Japanese city is Kobe, and the second is Nagoya.)
Why did UNESCO choose Kanazawa as a creative city?
One of the reasons was Kanazawa’s special product, gold leaf. 99% of Gold leaf in Japan is produced in Kanazawa. Gold leaf is gold that has been hammered into thin sheets by goldbeating and is often used for gilding. In Edo period, making gold leaf was monopolized by Tokugawa shogunate (the government at that time). They prohibited other organizations to produce not only gold leaf but also gold, silver and copper coins in order to control the market of those metals. The only organizations who were allowed to make metal products by Tokugawa shogunate were called 金座/銀座(Kinza/Ginza). Although there are no organizations named Kinza or Ginza anymore, but the name of Ginza still maintains for an area in Tokyo.)
加賀藩(Kaga-han=The local government in Kanazawa in Edo period) secretly allowed their craftsmen to produce gold leaf, and it helped them to improve their skills. After the era of Tokugawa shogunate ended, Kinza and Ginza were abolished. Kanazawa, the city that secretly had improved the skills of making gold leaf, became the only one place where craftsmen can make a high-quality gold leaf. In addition to their skills, Kanazawa has a good condition for craftsmen can make a high-quality gold leaf since Kanazawa is the area with high humidity in whole year (apparently it never go down under 70%). If the humidity in the air is low, gold leaf tends to get dried quickly.
There are many traditional crafts in Kanazawa area that gold leaf is used for the decorations, such as 加賀友禅(Kaga Yuzen), 金沢漆器(Kanazawa shikki=Kanazawa style lacquer work), 輪島塗(Wajima-nuri=Wajima style of lacquer work) etc. Craftsmen need to use gold leaf to make those traditional crafts, and it’s convenient for them if they can get gold leaf without going to a distant place. This is the other reason that Kanazawa became the number one producing area for gold leaf in Japan.
東茶屋街 (Higashi chaya-gai) or 東山ひがし (Higashiyama-higashi)
The area’s official name is 東山ひがし (Higashiyama-higashi), but it is well known as 東茶屋街 (Higashi chaya-gai). Higashi chaya-gai is one of the main sightseeing spots in Kanazawa since it is a preserved district for groups of historic buildings. About 93 buildings out of 140 are buildings constructed by 茶屋建築(Chaya-kenchiku = the special construction for a tea house.) Higashi chaya-gai in Kanazawa and Chaya-machi in Gion, Kyoto are the only areas that many old buildings of Chaya-kenchiku remain.
You can buy goods which gold leaf is used for at several shops in Higashi Chaya-gai. I found that a shop that has panels to show how to make gold-leaf and displays of many gold leaves that made with different purity of gold and other metals.
Golden plates, curtain, accessories, hand bags, etc.
Shampoo, conditioner, body soup, lotion etc.
There are also café shops that serve Japanese desserts and green tea, and I found that there is a shop that had served their desserts for 加賀藩(Kaga-han). The name is 森八(Morihachi), and it has been making desserts since 1625. The head shop is located in Ote-machi in Kanazawa city, and the shop in Higashi Chaya is one of their branches.
Some shops in Higashi Chaya-gai sell small pieces of gold leaf for decorations of food. What I was surprised was some food stands sell soft serve with a topping of gold leaf. It depends on the shops how to use gold leaf, but I saw many advertisements which showed soft serve with a piece of gold leaf, and the price is from 350 to 800 yen depending on how much they use gold leaf.
My recommendation : A mousepad decorated with gold leaf
I decided to buy this beautiful mousepad promptly when I saw it at a souvenir shop. I really wanted to have it not only because the color of gold leaf is beautiful, but the design of a famous painting called 神奈川沖浪裏(Kanagawa-oki nami ura = ”Under a wave off Kanagawa”, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” or simply “The wave”), which was drawn by 葛飾北斎(Katsushika Hokusai) is used for the mousepad. *Kanagawa is not my typo but the name of a place in Kanto region, Japan. Although Kanazawa and Kanagawa sound very similar, they are not related to each other.
The manufacturing company also sells mousepad with different designs such as 赤富士(Akafuji= Red Fuji) by Katsushika Hokusai, or 三代目大谷鬼次の奴江戸兵衛(“The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, “Ōtani Oniji III as Yakko Edobei”) by東洲斎写楽(Toshusai Sharaku). I bought two ; “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” and “Ōtani Oniji III as Yakko Edobei”. They would be nice souvenirs for your family or friends who like Japanese art since they are very thin, light and they don’t need space in your suitcase. If you want to buy something else for a souvenir, I recommend you should buy snacks. Please check my article “Omiyage in Kanazawa” (^U^)