Kanazawa: A Seventeenth-Century Japanese Castle Town

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Kanazawa: A Seventeenth-Century Japanese Castle Town is the first and only book in English to address the subject of the early modern (Edo period) history of the city of Kanazawa - the political, economic, and cultural center of Kaga han, which is today the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture. The book covers the city's political, economic, social and cultural history across the 17th century in great detail, and alludes to the relevance of the trends and processes seen in Kanazawa to the development of other Japanese castle towns in that period, and to castle towns beyond Japan as well.


The book is divided into four chapters. Chapter One gives a Japan-wide overview of the Sengoku period and early Edo period, providing context for the origins of Maeda clan rule in Kaga and Noto provinces, along with a summary of Kanazawa's history in that time. It covers the Ikkô-ikki fortress of Oyama Gobô which preceded Kanazawa Castle, as well as describing the arrival of Maeda Toshiie and the events immediately following.

Chapters Two, Three, and Four cover the periods 1583-1630, 1630-1670, and 1670-1700, respectively. Each chapter is further subdivided into sections addressing political, economic, social, and cultural developments. The book provides thorough details on the geographical distribution of persons and institutions in the city, that is, the establishment and relocations of temple districts, merchant districts, samurai districts, etc. and the extent to which these changed over time. McClain discusses shifts in social classes or statuses (see mibunsei) and the phenomena of people of different statuses living in the same district, as well as that of people changing status levels (e.g. from samurai to chônin). He describes the foundation, organization, and shifts over time in guilds and other merchant organizations, and the rise and fall and rise again of urban entertainments such as kabuki, noh and the pleasure districts.

A brief Conclusion includes a now outdated account of modern Kanazawa, and a return to McClain's thesis, namely, that in Kanazawa, and probably in a great many Japanese castle towns of the Edo period, the development of the town occurred not solely or primarily as a result of daimyô fiat, but as the result of a combination of factors, including organized urban planning directed by the daimyô and his officials, as well as the influences of the chônin and other groups, whose actions, organically, naturally, over time, had a great impact upon the shape of the city.

The Appendices include a breakdown of samurai ranks, translations of two Chônin Codes (issued in 1642 and 1660), and of a 1659 Directive to the City Magistrates.

Book Information

  • McClain, James. Kanazawa: A Seventeenth-Century Japanese Castle Town. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982. ISBN 0-300-02736-2