Where does gold leaf start in Japan? Well, much earlier than you might think! While historians and researchers can’t pinpoint an exact date, gold leaf can be traced all the way back to the Kofun Period (300 -538 CE). It’s been used in everything in Japan from pottery, jewelry, temple decorations, and even clothing!
Toyotomi Hideyoshi decorated all sorts of buildings with gold, and Tokugawa Ieyasu put a rule into place forbidding gold or silver leaf production in any location other than Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. However, up north in Kanazawa, the Kaga clan decided to defy that edict and, secretly, continue the craft. They also encouraged many other crafts, which allowed them to continue and thrive until today!
In an ironic twist, after Ieyasu and his Tokugawa Shogunate were overthrown, the traditional Edo Gold Leaf tradition was lost, raising the prestige of Kanazawa gold leaf production. Nowadays, over 99% of gold leaf production is in Kanazawa!
Gold Leaf on Display in Kanazawa
While we didn’t have time to visit the Gold Leaf Museum, we did get to visit a very nice shop with an extraordinary display of gold leaf prowess: Hakuza Hikarigura Store in the Higashi Chaya District. Yes, we did miss some of the more historical shops like Sakuda Gold and Silver Leaf Co. and Kinpaku, but we were pretty much flying blind: We didn’t know anything of this craft or its history in the area until we were in the thick of it. It was actually a big wall showing different gold leaf types that tipped us off!
This shop had a great variety of gold leaf items, but two things stuck out: The golden chair room and. the golden garden.
The golden chair room is just that: A room completely gilded in gold with a single chair for you to sit in and enjoy the craft, perhaps even take a fun souvenir picture!
What was the most impressive, however, was the golden garden: A garden with randomly gilded rocks, illuminated by a massive gilded building! It was all contained in a traditional enclosed garden, making it a sneaky hidden treasure for those exploring the area. When I say it was gold in there, I can’t emphasize enough just how sunny and golden the light becomes in that garden. If nothing else, go to this shop to see their garden!
The building itself is called the Ougon no Kura, or Storehouse of Gold. The outside wall was made in conjunction with plaster craftsmen, who restored the wall onto which the gold craftsmen attached their gilding. Inside (not pictured), the wall is mixed with earthen Indigo from Okinawa. All gold used on this building is 24K, according to Hakuza!
Is gilding a tradition where you’re from? Is there a preferred shiny metal (or stone!) other than gold in your culture? Let us know in the comments below!