Translated by Tomoka Aono
The Three Beautiful Gates Kanazawa Castle Is Famous For
Written by Osawa Kumi
Kanazawa Castle is a symbol of the historic town of Kanazawa. Although its castle tower was destroyed by fire, there are three gates here that you must see when in Kanazawa.
Kanazawa Castle, a symbol of the historic town of Kanazawa, represents the prosperity of the Maeda clan, who ruled the Kaga domain (currently Ishikawa prefecture) for nearly 300 years.
When it comes to Japanese castles, you might expect to see a tenshukaku (castle tower), the tallest building within the castle compound. Unfortunately, the castle tower in Kanazawa was destroyed by fire and never rebuilt. However, you can still feel the atmosphere of the old days when the castle was complete through the remaining historical buildings such as the old castle gates (mon, 門).
These three gates took years to be restored and are sights not to be missed when visiting Kanazawa Castle.
1. Ishikawa Gate
Ishikawa Gate (Ishikawa-mon) is probably the most known of all the gates in Kanazawa Castle because it’s located near the famous Kenrokuen Garden, one of the three great gardens of Japan. Most of the buildings in Kanazawa Castle have been restored recently, but this gate is an original that was constructed about 230 years ago.
Let’s start strolling inside the compound of Kanazawa Castle through Ichino-mon, the first point of Ishikawa Gate.
After you go through the first gate, you will find a square space like this. Then you will go through the Nino-mon, or second gate, and finally you reach the inside of the castle compound. The two gates and the space, known as masugata (due to their square shape, "masu" in Japanese) were designed to protect the castle from attack.
This is how the second gate of Ishikawa-mon looks from the castle compound side. If you go inside the gate, you will find the watch tower known as yagura on top.
This is the inside of the yagura. If you look up, you will see many broad beams, which almost seem symbolic of the solidity of the architecture.The admission to the yagura is free, but don’t forget take your shoes off when you go inside.
2. Kahoku Gate
If you come from Ōtebori through the compound from north side, you will go through Kahoku Gate. This gate, restored in 2010, is the main gate of Kanazawa Castle, where it is not hard to imagine the feudal lords of the castle passing through here while on sankin kōtai (*1). The first gate you see here is the Ichino-mon of Kahoku Gate.
*1: Sankin kōtai 参勤交代: the program of yearly alternating attendance/residence by feudal lords in the capital.
Just like at the Ishikawa Gate, there is a square space in between two gates.
And this is how the Nino-mon looks from the castle compound side. You can also access the watch tower from here as well. Let’s go up the stairs you see on your right.
If you look outside from the entrance of this watch tower, you will see the roof of Ichino-mon. As Japanese castles typically have dark grey rooves, can you guess why this roof is white?
The reason is that lead tiles are used to build the roof; these tiles are affixed to tile shaped pieces of wood. The lead is originally black, as shown in the picture, but when the lead is exposed to carbon dioxide, it turns white, and, with the light of the sun reflecting off it, these tiles shine a brilliant white. Only at Kanazawa Castle compound has this type of roof survived.
There are a lot of theories as to why lead tiles are used for this castle: some says it’s for aesthetic purposes, others to keep a stock of lead on hand for weaponry or other reasons, and still others say it was done in order to reduce the weight of the roof.
Inside this watch tower, you will find traditional timber construction, with beautifully combined posts and beams. This area is also free to visit.
3. Hashizume Gate
Hashizume Gate, which leads to Ninomaru Palace, is the most elegant gate of all and was fully restored in 2015.
To reach this Ichino-mon, go across the Hashizumebashi bridge over the moat, which is an excellent place to take pictures.
The stripe patterns of the mixed wood and iron is really eye-catching, and if you look closer, you can see even more beautiful decorations in the details.
This is how Hashizume Gate looks from inside Ninomaru compound.
What do you think of these three main gates of Kanazawa Castle? Though its long history was rife with fires that destroyed the various buildings within the compound, those that have been rebuilt were based on the existing historical documents, leading an air of authenticity to this restored castle keep. You can enjoy the atmosphere of the samurai era with barrier-free facilities such as slopes and elevators here as well. Visit Kanazawa Castle, a place we highly recommend to everyone.
Kanazawa Castle Park
Address: Kanazawa, Marunouchi 1-1
Hours: Mar 1-Oct 15: 7:00-18:00; Oct 16-Feb end: 8:00-17:00
(Please check their website for details)
Credit cards: -
Other Languages: English guide available
Pamphlets in Other languages: English, Korean, Mandarin, and Taiwanese
Access: From JR Kanazawa station (金沢駅), take the bus and get off at Kenrokuen (兼六園), Hirosaka(広坂), or Dewamachi (出羽町) stops.
Admission: Free (adult 300 yen, child 100 yen for Hashizume-mon yagura)
Phone number: 076-234-3800
Website: Kanazawa Castle Park