Wonderfully detailed design on the handballs (Photo: Peter Sidell)

Shin-Ise Kinenkan, Kanazawa

Step back to samurai times at this preserved pharmacy

Wonderfully detailed design on the handballs (Photo: Peter Sidell)
Peter Sidell   - 3 min read

One of Japan's most visited cities, Kanazawa has not one but two historical districts. Higashi Chaya is where you'll find the traditional teahouses where geisha used to entertain wealthy patrons; Nagamachi is the place where merchants and retainers to the ruling warlords settled, and one such merchant's house has been preserved here as the Shin-Ise Kinenkan.

Established in 1579, Nakaya Pharmacy was run by the respected Nakaya family, who were prosperous enough to build an impressive residence with a good sized garden. I presume they could also rebuild, because the current house was built in 1878 for a visit by the Meiji Emperor, then renovated in 1919.

The Shin-Ise Kinenkan building
The Shin-Ise Kinenkan building

The first thing you come to inside is the storefront, a recreation of the pharmacy's interior as it would have been in feudal times. There are authentic furnishings and fittings, mannequins of pharmacy staff, and displays of the ingredients and tools used in medicine production, many with explanations given in English.

Round the corner from the storefront there's the lounge, laid out in traditional style with tatami mats and a cooking hearth. When I visited there were displays here of hand-made kega temari handballs, made from silk thread with beautiful colours and intricate patterns; it's a custom in Kanazawa, dating back to that time, for a mother to make such a ball for her daughters to mark their weddings.

Traditional handballs made with silk thread
Traditional handballs made with silk thread

On the upper floor there's a large exhibition space, with a variety of objects on display, from the collections of various other traditional stores in the city. There are ceramics, cards, store signs and lanterns, and also a display of wedding gifts and accessories; when I visited there was a stunningly beautiful kimono, with a design featuring cranes in flight.

Getting there

The Nagamachi district is a short walk west from Tokyu Square, close to the Korinbo stop on the Kanazawa Loop Bus or Hokutetsu Bus.

Shin-Ise Kinenkan is open daily except Mondays from 9:30am to 5:00pm, with occasional closures for exhibit maintenance and the New Year holidays. If a Monday is a national holiday, it's open that day but closed the next day. Admission costs JPY100 for adults, an absolute bargain, with free entrance for visitors of high school age or younger, and for holders of the Kanazawa Cultural Facilities Pass.

Peter Sidell

Peter Sidell @peter.sidell

I came to Japan from Manchester, England in 2003, and have travelled a lot since then, around Japan and in Asia. When I'm not working, I write satire and perform stand-up comedy in and around Tokyo. Check YouTube for a taste.