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Ishikawa: The land of gold and art

Ishikawa: The land of gold and art

Within the boundaries of the ancient Kaga Province lies Kanazawa City (金沢市 Kanazawa-shi), the capital city in Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県 Ishikawa-ken) of the Hokuriku Region (北陸地方 Hokuriku Chihō). It is said that a defining trait among native Ishikawa people is their deep love for traditional Japanese culture and appreciation for art.


Ishikawa: Where the arts run deep

If one were to trace the origin of Ishikawa’s affinity with arts and culture, we’ll be pointed to the Maeda Clan (前田氏 Maeda-shi)—the daimyo lords who ruled this area in the Edo Period (1603-1868). Thanks to the wealth and influence of the Maeda family, art, architecture, handicrafts, culture, and education flourished—and this love for the arts has been passed down to the Ishikawa Prefecture that we know to this day.


Even today, Ishikawa is brimming with cultural activities such as Sado (茶道 traditional tea ceremony), Ikebana (生け花 flower arrangement), Noh (能 traditional performing arts), and other Japanese music and dance. The prefecture and its people became inseparable from the arts!


A walk down Higashi Chayagai

(Image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture)


To get a taste of the city’s deep cultural roots that is steeped in the arts, visit any one of Kanazawa’s beautifully preserved Chaya districts (茶屋街 Chayagai). For the uninitiated, a Chaya is a traditional tea house that was usually reserved for Geisha entertainment in the past.


In the bygone days, Higashi Chayagai was one of the three Chaya districts where the rich and prominent would gather to be in the company of geisha. (Image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture)

If you have enjoyed Kyoto’s Gion district, you’ll be thrilled to know that Ishikawa Prefecture is the only other prefecture with Chaya districts that are officially recognised as cultural heritage sites in Japan. In fact, Kanazawa has a grand total of three Chaya districts: Higashi Chaya (東茶屋街 Higashi Chayagai) in the east, Nishi Chaya (西茶屋街 Nishi Chayagai) in the west, and Kazuemachi (主計町茶屋街 Kazuemachi Chayagai). Of the three Chaya districts, the Higashi Chaya District is the largest and possibly the best place to experience the charms of Kanazawa’s illustrious past.


Rich merchants and dignitaries will be served refreshments and entertained with traditional music, dance performances, and drinking games by geisha in these wooden tea houses. (Image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture)


(Image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture)


Art is everywhere

From the north to the south, Ishikawa Prefecture is home to several world-class art techniques such as the delicate Kaga-yuzen (加賀友禅) fabric dyeing, Yamanaka Shikki wooden lacquerware (山中漆器), Wajimanuri lacquerware (輪島塗), Kutaniyaki porcelain (九谷焼), and many more. 

Kaga-yuzen and Yamanaka Shikki are just some of the many traditional crafts that were developed and perfected in Ishikawa Prefecture through generations of hard work and dedication. (Image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture)


As one travels north to the Noto Peninsula of Ishikawa Prefecture, be prepared to be amazed by yet another dose of artistic splendour: the Wajimanuri (輪島塗) style of exquisite lacquerware. Developed more than 600 years ago, Wajimanuri refers to a type of lacquerware that is known for its fine lacquering process. Made with a specific local clay from the Wajima area, each piece is meticulously created by the hands of professional craftsmen who carry out 124 processes from start to finish! There are also several art studios that carry out Wajimanuri workshop for visitors to try their hand at making their own simple lacquerware.


 From applying the primer, multiple coats of paint and varnish, to the final steps of polishing the final product, every step is dutifully done by professional artisans who have been developing and perfecting this art for decades. (Image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture)

Down south, you will find Kutaniyaki (九谷焼)—a unique type of Japanese porcelain that was supposedly originated from Kutani of the ancient Kaga Province, now a part of Kaga City in Ishikawa Prefecture. Kutaniyaki-style of tableware are known for their high-quality and durability, as well as their intricate overglaze paintings that often depict natural sceneries and traditional calligraphy in bold colours.


 A collection of finely-painted Kutaniyaki pieces on display. (Image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture)


Rumour has it that the classical style of Kutaniyaki that is known as gossai-de (五彩手) got its bright and vibrant colours because of the Hokuriku Region’s colourless and harsh winters! Yearning for colour and warmth, it was said that the people living in the area started adding vibrant hues of green, yellow, purple, blue, and red to their tableware.


Spot something familiar? Merlion-san has made a guest appearance in this special limited-edition Singapore X Japan collaboration piece of Kutaniyaki plates. (Image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture)


The City of Gold

Around the central region of Ishikawa Prefecture lies its capital city, Kanazawa, which is known for a particular type of art: gold leaf (金箔 kinpaku)! In fact, this city is responsible for producing 99% of Japan’s supply of gold leaf, and this remarkable achievement has cemented Kanazawa’s identity as “The City of Gold”.


(Image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture)


It’s no secret that Kanazawa City really loves her gold leaf. Along Higashi Chayagai, there is a plethora of souvenir shops, handicraft merchants, and restaurants which incorporate gold leaf in their products, crafts, and services. In fact, you’ll even spot the glimmering edible gold leaves on food—from the savoury (sushi) to the sweet (ice cream)!


A hint of gold on your sushi may not add to the taste, but it sure elevates the other senses. (Image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture)


A popular local dessert: Gold Leaf Soft Serve (金箔ソフト Kinpaku-sofuto), a delightful ice cream cone topped with a generous serving of gold leaf. (Image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture)


Exclusive: Hands-on Ishikawa Gold Leaf Crafting Workshop on 24 Oct

If you’re yearning to touch some gold, good news! For this month of October, JAPAN RAIL CAFE has partnered with Ishikawa Prefecture to conduct an exclusive DIY Gold Leaf Online Workshop for JR Times readers. It will be a fun and easy handicraft session where all participants will be guided to make their very own Gold Leaf Water Tumbler, and your masterpiece is yours to keep! The best news is that it is absolutely free-of-charge, and you can simply register and join from the comforts of your own home! Available slots are limited, so register early to avoid disappointment.


Register here today!


Event Details

Date: 24 Oct 2020 (Saturday)
Time: 3:30pm to 4:30pm
Venue: Online Webinar 
Fees: FREE!
Suitable for all ages


  1. Register online here.
  2. Upon receiving the confirmation email, collect your Gold Leaf Tumbler Kit from the allocated venue, date, and timeslot.
  3. On 24th October, at 3:30pm, join the webinar via the provided link.
  4. Have fun and make your own Tumbler!


Terms and conditions:

  • Due to limited slots available, please note that only confirmed participants will receive the confirmation email. First-come-first-serve basis only.
  • All participants are required to collect their Gold Leaf Tumbler Kit during the allocated timeslot while adhering to safe distancing and crowd control measures. We seek your kind cooperation on this.
  • Participants from the 1st batch of registration should collect their Gold Leaf Tumbler Kit from JAPAN RAIL CAFE, and the 2nd batch of registrants will collect from Flavours of Ishikawa Pop up store. Please cooperate by collecting your Gold Leaf Tumbler Kit from the correct venue due to inventory limitations.


This article is written in collaboration with Ishikawa Prefecture.

All information presented is accurate as of 27 September 2020.


Header image credit: Ishikawa Prefecture


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