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A Short History of the Maeda Family

The Maeda family is an integral part of Kanazawa's history. The cultural city, known as the "Million Koku of Kaga", was built by successive generations of Maeda lords. One could almost say that the Maeda family's history is Kaga's or Kanazawa's history.

First, let's look at what, exactly, the Million Koku of Kaga is. "Koku-daka" indicates the wealth of the region over which a daimyo (a lord in old Japan) ruled. A "koku" is about 180 litres and was used primarily as a measure of rice. These days the currency is backed by gold, but in the Edo era it was backed by rice. Rice could be exchanged for money, so the financial power of a region was determined by the amount of rice it harvested. Of all the daimyo domains, the Kaga domain was by far the wealthiest. Incidentally, the Edo Shogunate's lands produced eight million koku, which indicates its financial power. A person was called a daimyo if he produced over ten thousand koku per year, so there were many vassals in the Kaga domain who reached the daimyo class. One can imagine, then, how great the Kaga domain was.

Kanazawa is known for Kutani and Ohi ceramics, Kaga Yuzen (printed silk), Kaga Mizuhiki (stiff ribbons made into various shapes for decoration), Kaga Makie (a lacquer ware technique in which metal powder is sprinkled on wet lacquer) and Kaga Zogan (works with inlays of various materials). These famous traditional handicrafts of Kanazawa took shape under successive generations of Maeda lords. They did not materialize overnight. In fact, history shows us that a lot of time and effort went into developing these crafts.

The Maeda family ruled the entire Hokuriku district for about three hundred years. Their rule spanned fourteen generations, beginning in 1583, when Maeda Toshiie moved into the Kanazawa castle from Nanao, Noto Province, and ending with the rule of Yoshiyasu. Toshiie served as one of the Five Great Elders under Toyotomi's reign and earned enough trust to become the guardian of Hideyori (Hideyoshi's son) after Toyotomi Hideyoshi's death. Toshiie died in 1599, at the age of sixty-two, at Osaka Castle.

After Toshiie's death the Maeda family worked hard to secure the welfare of their family, sparing no efforts to gain favour with the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. They devoted themselves to the conservative policy of self-effacement, in an attempt to maintain Kaga as the Million-Koku domain.

In 1600, the second Maeda lord, Toshinaga, fought in the Battle of Sekigahara in the eastern army, on the Tokugawa side, and sent his mother to Edo to be held as a guarantee of his loyalty. He also arranged a marriage between his adopted son and heir, Toshitsune, and Tamahime, the daughter of the second Tokugawa Shogun, Hidetada. Thus began the political strategy of marriage with the Tokugawa family.

Toshitsune, the third Maeda lord, in turn arranged a marriage between his son and heir, Mitsutaka, and the adopted daughter of Tokugawa Iemitsu (the third Shogun). She was actually the natural daughter of Yorifusa Tokugawa, of the Mito Tokugawas.

As the connections with the Tokugawa family deepened, the Maedas visited Kyoto more and more frequently, and inevitably developed an interest in the handicrafts of Kyoto. They subsequently invited many master craftsmen from Kyoto, and encouraged the development of arts and crafts across the whole domain. This was purely a strategy to dispel the Shogunate's wariness of the Maeda family. This cultural policy was most successful during the time of Tsunanori, the fifth Maeda lord.

For the Maedas, taking an interest in the arts and crafts and throwing their financial power in that direction was probably humiliating in one sense. However, by doing this they built the foundations upon which cookery and food-related culture would develop. When one considers this, the Maeda family's contribution to Japanese cuisine is immeasurable.


The Million Koku of Kaga and Rosanjin